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Social Work: Basic search skills

Guide to locating relevant resources for Social Work assessment tasks and projects.


Preliminary literature searching or scoping, establishes a basis for later more complex searching

  • It can clarify a topic and broaden knowledge for more focus and assist with keywords for a search strategy
  • Can help direct and refine a research question

Use the Library's search tool found on our homepage to discover books, articles, journals, databases and more from



Define your research question – make it answerable, make it specific and not too broad. 

What are the keywords in your topic/question?

Align those keywords or phrases with your key concepts/ideas. Think of alternate terms. As you begin your preliminary searching, note down terms authors are using in their publications.

  • Use these words to begin your research. Use a table (like the one below or similar) to record your plan
  • Start simple and then develop a more complex search strategy when searching databases


youth  australia detention
"young people"   incarceration
teenager   recidivism


There are a number of ways you might increase the number of relevant results if you didn’t find many relevant results in your initial searches. 

  • Check for spelling mistakes or other errors in entering the search terms
  • Use synonyms or alternative terms 
  • Use truncation* and find variations of your terms
  • Combine keywords with subject headings. To find items by subject, use Advanced search functions in the Library's search tool, Google Scholar or databases. Select Subject from the drop-down list options, and enter your terms in the search field
  • Make sure you are using the Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) correctly to combine search terms

infographic of Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT