Social Work: Search Strategy

Library resources for research and study in Social Work


  • Video Tutorials (includes The Power of AND and OR in Research Databases, Get Full Text for an Article, and more

Search Strategy & Tips

  1. State your topic or research question in your own words. Natural language searches often work well in OneSearch, but for individual subject databases:
  2. Identify the most important keywords (usually the nouns) or short, commonly used phrases.
  3. Think of variations (singular, plural) and synonyms for your terms.
  4. Create an initial search statement using connectors or logical operators (especially AND, OR) and, if appropriate, wildcards.
  5. Try it out in one or more databases and/or Library Catalog.
  6. Look for other good keywords and subject terms in search results.
  7. Try revised searches until you're satisfied with the results.
  8. Depending on the volume of results, consider narrowing or broadening your topic.
  9. If you're having difficulties, contact us.

Find more (broaden your results) with OR and wildcards:
   dementia or alzheimer's   (finds either term)
   teen* or adolescen*   (finds teen, teenager, adolescent, adolescents, etc.)

Find less (narrow your results) with AND:
   homelessness and alcoholism   (finds both terms)

Find less with NOT:
   twelve step* not alcohol*   (excludes records that mention alcohol, alcoholism, etc.)

Sample search statement:
   (child abuse or child neglect) and prevent*

Limiters can help to improve the relevance and focus of results:

  • Narrow results with standard  limiters (peer-reviewed, date; document type; language; etc.)
  • Some databases allows quotation marks for an "exact phrase"
  • In databases for a specific subject discipline, look for specialized limiters (such as age groups in PsycINFO)
  • Try restricting some terms to the title or abstract field
  • Try restricting some terms to the subject or descriptors field. Subject terms can vary from database to database, but using them usually improves relevance so look for them in results displays and detailed records. Some databases include a subject terms thesaurus.


  • Look for different, relevant keywords or subject terms to try
  • Simplify your search by removing less critical search terms or limiters
  • Expand some terms to the all text or full text field, if provided
  • Try a different database or OneSearch


Sample Searches

  • Subject terms, while helpful for focusing results, sometimes are not assigned until after the initial posting of a record. You also may want to try using subject terms as simple keywords (i.e., without requiring them to appear in the subjects field).
  • Don't limit to full text when you're exploring a topic in depth. You'll miss full text that's available via Find It @ UHCL.
  • When looking for research studies, trying relevant keywords in the Abstract field often finds more than looking for the term "research" in the Classification Code Title field; you may want to try both approaches
  • When you limit a term to the Subjects field, the Classification Code Title field will be included, also

Seaches that use subject terms, keywords with wildcards limited to the abstract field, plus limiters for scholarly peer-reviewed journals

Seach that includes research in the CT Classification Code Title field

Relatively simple searches usually work well. To include limiters such as format, language, etc., use Advanced Search.

Sample search for homeless* with a wildcard and alcohol* with a wildcard

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