Philosophy, Religion, Catholic Studies, and Peace & Conflict Studies Librarian at the University of Manitoba
My hope is for you to experience the library as something that is:
Useful: it helps with your research and university experience.
Usable: it is not difficult to figure out.
Desirable: you enjoy your experience in the library or using library systems.
Aside from this, I want to make questions like, "How do I know what I know?", "How is authority and/or credibility established?", and, "What perspectives have been excluded or included in this information?" more prevalent in your research.
1. Determine a topic: Pick something that interests you and try to find an aspect that you can narrow down. This is a good time to use encyclopedias/reference sources (e.g.,Encyclopedia of Canadian Social Work , CREDO Reference, SAGE Research Methods Online, Blackwell Reference), Google Scholar, Google, Wikipedia, news publications, and blogs.
2. Formulate a focused research question/thesis: neither too broad nor too narrow. This is tricky and will take practice. You can start by answering "who," "what," "why," "when," "where," and "how" questions. Set some parameters (e.g., dates, geographic location, demographic information), but be ready to change them. Here are some more strategies.
4. Identify possible types of useful information: scholarly articles (including research articles), systematic reviews, literature reviews, statistics, legislation, government reports, and or public policy documents.
5. Make a list of sites and databases where you can find these types of information. The Social Work Subject Guide is a good place to start. You can also do a general search in the library catalogue. This is a very important step.
6. Combine keywords, phrases, subject headings into search queries: Try many different searches and combinations of terms. Expect that it will take at least 10 different searches to get a good feel for what is out there.
7. Keep track of interesting articles! (see slide on Zotero below)
The guiding principle of searching:
If you have issues finding results in Step 6, go back to Step 2 and make some adjustments.
- Often have their own database-specific subject terms/ controlled vocabularies. Sometimes they bring up more results than the catalogue.
- Subject terms can be organized and structured to show relationships between terms (e.g., "Child Welfare" is broader than "Child support")
- Has articles from a variety of databases, but the coverage may not be 100%. It is worth checking both databases and the catalogue.
- Subject terms are not presented hierarchically (no relationships)
- Usually defined by librarians or information specialists
- Allow linking articles by topic instead of the specific terms used in a given article
- It is easier to find articles related to your general topic
- Sometimes inappropriate or out-of-date
- Based on everyday language
- Effective searching relies on knowing synonyms and commonly used terms
- Can generate irrelevant results. Based on the frequency of the keyword rather than relevancy
- Searches all available or selected parts of a resources (e.g., title, author, etc..)
Example of a database subject term
This is an example from Academic Search Compete's Thesaurus (EBSCOhost database)
How do you find the right database?
Provide you with field-specific information and resources:
- Encyclopedias and dictionaries
- Research, writing, and citation tools
- Relevant associations
- Other helpful info
Here are some guides that might be useful to your research
Phrase searching: most search engines allow for phrase searching. This means that you can search for whole phrases (e.g., "child welfare") instead of individual words (e.g., "child" + "welfare). Just put the phrase you want to search in quotation marks. This will help narrow your results!
- Identify synonyms: When you are using keywords, remember that authors do not always use the same words for the same concepts. For example, you may want to look up "substance use", "substance abuse," "substance misuse" and "addiction*". Given that each of these terms is or has been in use, it is helpful to look them up. For "child welfare" you may also want to look up "child protection," "child safety" or "family service*" (which is a related term)
**You can find some video tutorials on search strategies here
- Truncation: * (asterix) symbol is added near the end of a word to find all variations of that word (e.g., "Indigen*" will find results for "Indigenous," "Indigeneity," and "Indigenism"). This will increase the amount of results. Not always the same symbol in every search engine. Be sure to check.
- Wildcards: # (pound) symbol can be added within or at the end of a word to represent 0 to 1 characters (any character). This means you would add a "#" symbol for each character you want to search. For example "wom#n" will look up "women," "womyn," and "woman;" "friend####" will look up "friend", "friends," and "friendship" (etc...). This will increase the amount of results. Not always the same symbol in every search engine. Check.
Boolean Operators (AND/OR/NOT): These are words that cause search engines to modify their behaviour according to the given word or "operator." Let's look at this diagram to get a better idea.
A search for trauma AND "social work" will find results that contain both terms and will exclude results that only have one of the two terms.
A search for trauma OR "social work" will find results that contain either of the search terms. This will generate more results. Handy for synonyms.
A search for trauma NOT "social work" will find results that contain trauma but do NOT contain "health care." Use this sparingly and play around with it.
Let's test our catalogue with this query:
"child wefare" AND "social Work"
Note: When you open a result, click on the details tab to look at the "Subjects" field to find related materials
- Built-in features in databases and catalogues that allow you to limit results. Limiting may seem strange, but when there are tens of thousands of results available, you need to narrow your search. Limiters are an easy way to do this!
Limit to peer-reviewed and full text online
Limit to resource type (e.g. articles)
Limit by publication date
Limit to location if you want print resources
Let's try the same search in a database:
- Go to Social Work Subject Guide, click on the "Social Work Databases" Tab
- You will see a list of recommended databases with descriptions (it's good to experiment with different databases)
- For now we'll pick the EBSCOhost Full Text (pick some relevant databases)
Since this a test let's put in the same search in the general search bar:
Let's try using subjects to search
- In this database, go to the "Subjects" tab
- There are different subject term searches available, but let's go with the Academic Search Complete subject terms
- Search for "child welfare"
- Click on the "child welfare" heading to see broader terms, narrower terms, related terms, and terms that are included the subject "child welfare" ("Used for" terms).
- Check the "CHILD welfare" box and click ADD.
- Now search for "Social Work." It does not appear, but rather suggests to use "SOCIAL Services." Click on that and select some relevant sub-topics (e.g., "SOCIAL work theory")
Subject search demo
Here's a search just using subjects
Scholarly (Peer Reviewed Journals)
Publication Date (e.g., 2012 to 2017)
Subject: "child welfare"
Add "(single OR lone)" to subject search
Add "("systematic review" OR "meta-analysis" OR "meta-analytic" OR "literature review")" to subject search
1. Backward footnote/reference chasing (looking at cited literature--looking backward): Some databases, including our catalogue, provide direct links to literature cited in the article you are reading. Scopus, Web of Science, and GoogleScholar can provide more advanced features. Keep in mind that some books have detailed bibliographies of both archival and published sources.
2. Forward citation searching (looking at literature that cites the article you are reading--looking forward): See #1. This is a bit more difficult to do than #1 (relies on heavily on search technology). Here is a highly cited example in Web of Science. GoogleScholar also has this functionality.
3. Journal searching: Straightforward. If you find or know of a relevant journal, you can then search within it. For example if you want articles on Canadian social policy and/or Social Work, you can search within (i) the Canadian Social Work Review or the Canadian review of social policy. This can simplify search queries. For example, in the case of the above two journals this means that you do not have to find ways to limit your articles to Canadian content (this is not always the case, but it is a handy tool).
3. Area or collocation scanning: If you are looking at physical books, you can go the the shelves and see what near a book you know is of interest. Our catalogue let's you do this virtually, but I recommend going the sift through the physical books if you have a chance. For example Finkel's (2006) Social Policy and Practice in Canada has other titles such as Social welfare in Canada in the 1980's : The challenge of social growth next to it. You can also "virtually" scan areas by looking at subject headings (see above slides).
4. Author-based searching: If you find an author that has written a decent article or book on social welfare policy, then there is a good chance that they have written other works on the same and/or similar topics. Most databases, including our catalogue, have an advanced search option that allows searching by author name. Google will also let you do the same thing (depending on whether the author has a GoogleScholar profile, this database can be very effective--allowing to see citation counts and related articles). Regardless, try multiple sources (no database has perfect coverage).
Grey literature is information that is usually not purely academic nor is it usually commercially published. This includes publications from government departments/agencies, non-governmental organizations, and industry.
Types of grey literature include reports, white papers, policy documents, data sets, dissertations, standards, etc...
Finding grey literature
Grey literature is found in a number of places (e.g.,our catalogue, databases, Google, GoogleScholar, organizational/government/industry websites)
Here are a few places to look:
Go to Google and put "site:" + the general web address of the entity you want to search + a space + any keywords OR phrases you want to look up
site:www.policyalternatives.ca "social welfare"
For example, to search CCPA:
Top 4 results
(1) Trafficking in persons in Canada, 2014 - Statistics Canada (2)The Daily — Trafficking in persons in Canada, 2014 - Statistics Canada (3)Juristat – Trafficking in persons in Canada, 2014 - StatCan (4)Towards the Development of a National Data Collection Framework to Measure Trafficking in Persons, 2010-StatCan
site:www.canadianwomen.org "sex trafficking"
Top 3 results
(1) End Sex Trafficking | Canadianwomen.org, n.d. (2)[pdf] AN ASSESSMENT OF SEX TRAFFICKING IN CANADA, 2012 (3)Day 15: Sex Trafficking is a Human Rights Issue, 2015
Handy tool: CRAAP Test
- Currency: When was the information published? If it is a website, has it been updated recently? This criteria is dependent on the purpose of your research and your instructor's guidelines (e.g., published within the last five years).
- Relevance: Is the information appropriate for your research? Does it relate directly to your topic? Does research contained match your purpose (e.g., is it academic or a blog post)?
- Authority: Who is the author and what are their credentials/expertise? Are articles peer-reviewed? Are books self-published or published by academic presses? Authority will depend heavily on subject.
- Accuracy: This is difficult to figure out, but you can look for signs, such as citations in the source (the number and type) and the number of times a source has been cited. Is the claim verifiable? Is there an effort to "make a case" for the perspective put forward?
- Perspective/purpose: Is the purpose of the information clear? Does it acknowledge other perspectives/arguments and take time to address them? Is there a clear bias or is it balanced?
There are plenty of Academic Libraries that use a version of the CRAAP test. My take was inspired by this particular one from Western University.
- Often times you will re-use good information in multiple assignments. This is fine, but don't plagiarize yourself!
- It is helpful to have an organized list of articles that you want to use.
- Instead of re-writing citations down every time you use them, there are tools that make this work easier! Some tools even extract citation information automatically from databases and individual books and articles.
- Multiple citation styles available
- Keep a list of resources on your e-shelf and organize them into folders
- Attach PDF versions of articles
- Automatically create citations
- Plug-in for Word
- Open source/free
- Multiple citation styles available
- Keep a list of resources on your e-shelf and organize them into folders
- Not always an option
- APA style is not always available
- Sometimes you can create lists, but this is usually within specific database providers (e.g., EBSCO and ProQuest).
- Free through UoM
- UoM APA Quick reference guide
Religion and Social Work Librarian
Elizabeth Dafoe Library
1. Once you have a general topic, choose something more specific that interests you about it. You may have come across something while you were browsing reference sources
2. Ask the 5W's+H (see previous page, section).
3. Identify the main issues/problems/areas of your topic. Are there any controversies?
4. Do some scoping research (see previous page, section 1) and see if there are major authors or articles that come up frequently.
5. Start formulating a research question. Generally, avoid questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." Keep questions open-ended! Avoid questions that include a conclusion (bias).
6. Your question should contain identifiable keywords based on your knowledge of the topic (through your scoping search).
Clear, focused, and appropriate in scope
Unclear, unfocused, and inppropriate in scope
- How can we cure addiction?
- How effective are Canadian harm reduction programs or strategies for managing alcohol-related substance abuse?
-Numerous identifiable keywords based on terminology.
-Scope is somewhat focused geographically (could be more specific) and topically (i.e., not simply all substances)
-Few keywords. Not using appropriate terminology.
-Question does not seem to be informed by any scoping/exploratory research
-Broad and ambiguous
Example of a concept map for the research question: “How can nations justify the ascription of refugee status to
Red = MAIN CONCEPTS
Blue = SYNONYMS
Orange = RELATED TERMS
Social Work Search Strategies
By Dom Taylor