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Research 1

Course Number: SK504

Subject: Social Work

Table of Contents

1. Literature Review  2. Searching  3. Preliminary Searching  4. Research Question  5. Worksheet


This guide accompanies an in-class workshop about literature review.

OBJECTIVE: draft a working plan for reviewing the literature.


1. Literature Review

THE PRODUCT: A literature review is a survey of research about a particular topic.

  • It's specific - focuses on a well-defined research question.
  • It's selective - includes a curated selection of research.
  • It's a synthesis - brings together discussions from across the research.
  • It's a starting point - identifies where your research fits into the picture.
  • It shows accountability - demonstrates how you're tuning-in to others' work and voices responsibly.

Example: see "Beyond the Family Binary" in The Journal of Marriage and Family (p. 942-946).

Tip! Adapt a synthesis table template to compare studies.

Tip! Consider your reading strategies and continue developing them.


Question: How many sources should you include in your literature review?


THE PROCESS: There are different ways to review literature. Your methods need to fit your goals for the project at hand.

  • Where's the best place to search?
  • What keywords will get you good results?
  • What search tactics will help you identify relevant studies?


Question: Where do you tend to search for peer-reviewed articles?


Literature Review Goals for a Research Proposal

Goals for your literature review

Image description

Goals for your literature review. 1. Define your topic. It’s common to begin with a broad topic, but how will you develop a more specific focus? 2. Develop your understanding of the literature. Can you map out themes, outcomes, methodologies, controversies across a body of literature? 3. Identify where you fit in the conversation. How are you contributing to knowledge in your field? Throughout all 3 stages, you'll be finding relevant studies.


2. Searching

a. Article Databases

There is a list of databases relevant to Social Work. Choose databases to search for your topic based on the descriptions.

  • Limit results to peer-reviewed.
  • Discover key articles.
  • Recognize key scholars.
  • Avoid missing important results.
  • Cut out irrelevant results.


Question: what's 1 database I might search for a topic about children experiencing PTSD following a natural disaster?

b. Keywords

What are the major concepts in your topic? What are some synonyms or alternate terms you can use? 

  • Consider the terms typically used in research literature.
  • Google "synonyms for ..."
  • If you have an on-topic article, see what terms get used in the title/abstract.


Major Concept Keywords
Natural disaster

Natural disaster, hurricane, flood, earthquake, tornado, fire


c. Field Searching

  • Use the drop-down beside a search box to find terms in specific areas of results. Codes beside each field tell the database where to search for a term.

Example: ti("adverse childhood experiences") in PsycINFO (all results will have the term in titles).


d. Limits

  • You can limit results to peer-reviewed or scholarly.
  • A date limit is also sometimes useful.


e. Search Tactics

Try using some of the following database search tactics to get better results.

What is the tactic? What does the tactic do? Examples
Boolean AND

Use AND to ensure that all terms appear in every search result.

depression AND home care

Boolean OR

Use OR to ensure that at least one term appears in every search result.

transgender OR LGBTQ OR GLBT

Phrase searching Use β€œquotation marks” to find more than one term in a row.

β€œbrain cancer”

Truncation Use an asterisk* at the end of a term to include multiple endings.


trauma, traumatic, traumatically, traumatize, traumatized, traumatizing

Wildcard Use a question mark ? within a term to search for variations of a single character.


decolonize, decolonise


These are controlled terms from a database thesaurus that are assigned to articles.

Databases have different thesauri, which affects the subjects you use.

MESH.EXACT("Health Services for Transgender Persons") in MEDLINE

(MH "Transgender Persons+") in CINAHL


Question: What is the CINAHL subject for teenager?


3. Preliminary Searching

  • Before brainstorming a research question, it's helpful to learn a bit about your topic. 
    • Do some preliminary database searching: what questions are researchers are asking?
      • From your search results, read just article titles and abstracts where the titles sound interesting.

Example: ab("natural disaster") AND ab(child*) in Social Services Abstracts.


4. Research Question

  • A well-defined research question gives direction to your searching.
  • Frameworks can give guidance about what to include.
  • Pick any elements from the frameworks below that work for your topic.
PICO (for clinical topics) 

Patient, population, or problem - Who is my question about?

Intervention - What is the intervention?

Comparison - Is there a comparison intervention?

Outcome - What is the outcome?

PEO (for qualitative topics)

Population - Who is my question about?

Exposure - What issue am I interested in?

Outcomes - What do I want to examine?

CLIP (for health policy topics)

Client - Who is the service aimed at?

Location - Where is the service sited?

Improvement - What do you want to find out?

Professional - Who is involved in providing the service?

Developing a Research Question

5. Worksheet

Page Owner: Meredith Fischer

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Last Updated: September 28, 2023 1:28pm