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Social Work Courses & Research

Project Topics

Doing research: Workshop

Searching like a researcher (Part two)

Now that you have a bit more of a grasp on the topics you are going to need to research for your group's literature review, we can start digging into the research.

1. Locate peer-reviewed articles from your field.

For Social Work research, you are going to find SocINDEX to be your preferred database. While it's a different database than you may have used in the past, much of the functionality will be the same.

2. Track your research process.

For this research project, you are tackling multiple topics that you need to research individually and in relation to each other. One calculated search cannot return all of the results you need. Instead, you will need to explore each topic area on its own and then perhaps in combination with each other. Add to this the fact that you're working with a group, and if you don't have a record-keeping system, you are going to lose track of what you've done and haven't done.

I personally use a research log when I am working on a big project like this. It is a helpful reminder of where I've been and where I'm going. While my process doesn't have to be your process, I strongly encourage you to find a way to track your searching.

3. Remember, research isn't linear. It's iterative. 

As you do research, you will learn new information that will change the questions you ask and the topics you research. It's okay (and recommended) to reconsider and make changes to your research strategy. The topics that end up in your literature review may not be the ones you set out to research. Let the scholars that came before you teach you something!

Preparing to do research: Workshop

Searching like a researcher

There are a lot of feelings that come up for folks who are digging into a topic for the first time. One of those is being overwhelmed! It's okay to not know how to talk about social issues or social work yet. We are all learning. I can watch the nightly news and listen to my peers of color and know issues surrounding race are real, without yet having the vocabulary to vocalize it. 

1. Start with a reference source.

The Encyclopedia of Social Work is available digitally through Vogel Library. Be sure to use the search box on the left of the page. The one at the top of the page searches all of Oxford Reference and not just the Encyclopedia of Social Work. I might start by looking up "racism."

screenshot of left side of screen search bar on Encyclopedia of Social Work landing page

Mine the encyclopedia article.

Specialized encyclopedias are a useful tool for a better understanding of your field of study. These encyclopedia articles can help you formulate a specialized vocabulary that matches experts in the field, recognize unknown related concepts, and give you insight into more narrow subdivisions to a topic. I might be surprised that "racism" is not an entry in this encyclopedia. I will start my pre-research by mining the entry on "oppression."

screenshot of oppression entry in the Encyclopedia of Social Work

2. Gather what you can from the agency web presence.

Some organizations will have multiple websites, from local to national aims. Many nonprofits struggle to maintain their website presence but are active on social media. These sources can give you lots of insight into their organization. For Black Lives Matter, I can find a national organization website, but the local Des Moines Chapter keeps active Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.

Chase down media reports that give insight into local work.

Follow links that take you to news outlets that have covered your agency's events. Many websites include direct links to these articles and videos. You can also use ProQuest Central and narrow your search by "Newspapers," if you aren't finding much on their website.

Look for Government insight into the agency or the social issues the agency is addressing.

Often you will not locate agency-specific information in scholarly sources, especially for our smaller agencies. It will be your job to piece those pieces together. For my organization then, I would locate information about Black Lives Matter as a national organization, the local Des Moines chapter, and also statistics on police brutality in the state of Iowa and nationally. 

Helpful website searching tip

Use Google to your advantage, so you don't have to weed through millions of results on your searches. If you want to search all government websites, add to your search. Your results will only return results that are on a .gov page. In addition, you can use the "Tools" button to limit your timeline.

This also works for an individual website. 

More help!

Vogel Library, Wartburg College   |   100 Wartburg Blvd, Waverly, IA, 50677 |   Phone: 319-352-8500   | Email: