Skip to Main Content

Social Work


On this page we'll attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions in relation to research and referencing for your final year research project. If you can't find the answer you need here or have tried following the advice and are still having issues, then please speak to your supervisor in the first instance.

How do I select my keywords?

You should already have your research question (or be working on it). Use this as the starting point. Break it down into the areas you need information on. For each of these areas consider not only the terms you are using but what alternative terms other authors may use to describe the same information areas.

Be sure to include the wider areas within which your information sits and also the narrower terms for particular aspect within your information area.

Using a Thesaurus can help identify synonyms. Similarly, some of the databases (particularly the EBSCO ones) will suggest alternative terms as you type them into the search box. You may choose to use these to compliment the terms you have come up with.

My search is returning too many/too few/irrelevant results?

The most frequent cause of getting too many or too few results is not setting up your search string correctly. Pay extra attention to how you are using brackets, search connectors and speech marks. Here's a reminder of how they work:

  • Search connectors: AND will refine your search (use this to connect each information area). OR will expand your search (use this to present your alternative terms within each area). NOT will exclude unrelated terms (be careful you don't take out articles that will be useful)
  • Brackets: Use brackets to group together the alternative terms for each information area.
  • Phrases: Use speech marks around search terms which have more than one word. This will increase the specificity of your search and only return results which contain all words within the speech marks, together, in that order

An example search string using these techniques may look like:

("social work" OR "social care" OR "social worker") AND ("mental health" OR "mental illness" OR "psychological distress" OR wellbeing) AND (child* OR youth OR adolescent OR "young person" OR teenager)

Double check that every opening bracket has a matching closing bracket. Similarly make sure that every opening speech mark has a matching closing speech mark at the end of the phrase. Also check for any accidental additional brackets or speech marks. Small things like this can have a huge impact on how effective your search is.

What is an Audit Trail?

An Audit Trail is a document you use to track your search activity and will help feed into the start of the PRISMA process.

Simply create an Excel spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Date of search - you may record the same search on different dates to see if additional materials have become available
  • Database/eResource used - you should be searching across 4 or 5 different databases
  • Search string - copy the full search string entered including connectors, brackets and punctuation
  • Limiters applied - record any limiters ticked such as publication date, peer reviewed etc.
  • Number of records retrieved - the total number of results returned from the combination of the database, search string and limiters

What databases should I search?

The Databases tab of this LibGuide will give you a list of subject-specific, academic databases that you can choose to search across, familiarise yourself with these. Selecting the right tools can make your searches more effective and efficient. Google and even Google Scholar are not useful tools for this project and you should not be using them to identify research articles.

How do I add citations to RefWorks from databases?

All of our databases will have some way for you to import your results into RefWorks but each one is slightly different. Below are instructions for the main databases you will use:

CINAHL, Psychology Articles Combined, ERIC (and other EBSCO databases)

  • Individual articles can be imported to RefWorks by going into the article and selecting the Export option and then clicking "Direct export to RefWorks" from the list of options.
  • To export all citations in the search results click on "Share" at the top of the results list.
  • Then select "E-mail a link to download export results". From the options then presented, select RIS, put in your University email address and click "Send". You should get an email with a link to download the RIS file.
  • You can then go into RefWorks and import the RIS file to add the citations into your chosen folder.

Applied Social Sciences Index & Abstracts (ASSIA)

  • Select the results that you wish to export the citations for to RefWorks
  • Click on the speech mark icon at the top of the results list. You will also find this alongside each result for exporting individual records
  • Click the RefWorks button under "Export to a citation manager or file"
  • In the "Export/Save" window click the "continue" button at the bottom
  • This will open up RefWorks in a new window. Select which folder you wish to add the citations to and click "Import"

Emerald Health & Social Care

  • Select the results that you wish to export to RefWorks
  • At the top of the results list you will find an option which says "Citations: download RIS"
  • Click on this to download an RIS file of all the citations selected
  • You can then go to RefWorks and import the file to add the citations to the folder of your choice
  • If you just want to individual citations once you're in the full text of the article you will find a "Download as RIS" option below the abstract