Research Methods in Social Work


Use this guide in conjunction with the Resources for Social Work Research guide.  

Help:   Sharon Munro    
            Information Services Librarian
            Room 108 – Information Services Department
            Leddy Library – West Building          

           Telephone: (519) 253-3000, extension 3850    

Leddy Library's Home Page:
The Leddy Library's Home Page is your gateway to a wide range of library resources and services. 

Types of information available:  books, journals, newspapers, theses, videos, dvds, statistics, etc.  A lot of  information is available online, including electronic books, but there are also many print materials including books and older journals.

Library Hours: See the Leddy Library's Hours web page for up-to-date information about the library's hours of opening.

Accessing the Online Databases, Journals, and Books:  off-campus, you will be asked to sign on using your UWindsor ID and email password. If you are having access problems, please send an email to or call (519) 253-3000, extension 3209.

Leddy Library's Home Page:

Links to a wide range of library resources and services can be found on the Leddy Library's Home Page including the following:

Resources by Subject: this web page is a good place to start as it connects you with databases, research guides and information on library services for specific subject areas.  It also connects you with the subject specialist librarians for those areas. 

Databases:  go to this web page if you are looking for journal articles, books, videos etc. for your research topic. If you do a Subject search for Social Work, you will bring up a selection of databases with materials of interest for Social Work topics.  You can do a Title search to find a specific database and you can use the Resource Type option to indicate the type of resource that you are interested in, for example, abstract and index database or ebook collection or journal collection etc..  Remember that topics for Social Work can overlap with other subjects so, depending on your topic, you may also want to look at resources for other subject areas such as Psychology, Education, Sociology, Nursing, Women's and Gender Studies etc..
Search the Library Catalogue (Omni) to get access to books, videos, DVDs and materials on course reserve.  As well as print books, the Leddy Library is now providing access to electronic books.  Not all of these books are in the library catalogue yet, so you should also search for books in any of the Leddy Library's e-book collections that are relevant to your topic(s).  To search in our ebook collections, just go to Databases and choose Ebook Collection for Resource Type and then you can search for e-books by title or subject.

Journal Search: go to this web page if you are looking for a particular journal article and you already know which journal and volume it is contained in, e.g., if you have a bibliography in your textbook or on your course outline.  Type the title of the journal into the search box to find out if the library has the issue of the journal that contains your article.

Order from Other Libraries: if the Leddy Library does not have a journal article or book that you need, you can order them free of charge. You should allow about a week, sometimes longer depending on the request. Journal articles, electronic book chapters etc. ordered through Interlibrary Loan will be sent to your e-mail inbox.  Books and other library materials will need to be picked up at the Circulation Desk unless they are owned by other OMNI libraries and you have arranged to pick them up from another OMNI library.  For book requests published within the last year, email Sharon Munro directly.

Writing Support Desk:  this web page has information about the Writing Support Desk which is located on the main floor of the Main Building of the Leddy Library.  It includes access to writing support links; writing support video tutorials; workshops and information about how to book an appointment with one of the Writing Support Desk Academic Writing Advisors. 

Additional resources for research help: go to the Tutorials web page for access to the following tutorials: 

  1. Getting started at Leddy Library
  2. Quick intro to Leddy Library
  3. Supporting your arguments using scholarly sources
  4. Using Omni - Leddy's academic search tool
  5. Finding books
  6. Peer reviewed articles
  7. Find style guides
  8. Manage your citations

You can also look at the Research and Course Guides web page for access to research and course guides created by the Leddy librarians to provide you with research advice and expert information.

Finding journal articles

For research papers, you should generally be looking for scholarly (preferably peer-reviewed) journal articles. These report research findings, are longer, more in-depth, and have bibliographies.

The most efficient way to find them is to search bibliographic databases (aka journal indexes): basically large collections of records that describe individual journal articles. Each bibliographic database tends to index a different bundle of journals.

Some examples of bibliographic databases:

  • Social Services Abstracts:  focuses on research pertaining to social work, human services, social welfare, social policy and community development
  • Social Work Abstracts:  this database is produced by the National Association of Social Workers and covers social work and related topics such as child and family welfare, aging, substance abuse, legislation, AIDS, homelessness etc..
  • PsycINFO:  covers research pertaining to Psychology and related disciplines such as social work, psychiatry etc..
  • ProQuest Social Sciences allows you to search many social science databases at once  -  good for multidisciplinary topics
  • See the Leddy Library's Databases web page to get access to a wide array of social work resources.

Developing an Effective Search Strategy:

  1. Identify the major concepts of your research topic
  2. For each concept: think of synonyms, related/alternative keywords, broader/narrower terms, variant spellings
  3. Combine and group your keywords (see below) and then type them into the search box(es) of the database.

Some Common Search Tips For Most Databases:


Returns results that contain any, some, or all of the keywords

Capitalization is often optional (but not with Google)

e.g.,  women OR female OR gender



Returns only results that contain all of the keywords

Capitalization is often optional

e.g.,  addiction AND teenagers AND counselling

 Phrase Searching

Returns results that contain the keywords together

Quotation marks denote a phrase and are often optional (but not with the Library Catalogue or Google)

e.g.,  "social policy"

e.g.,  "eating disorders"


Returns results that begin with the same keyword stem.  Useful for word and spelling variations.

The asterisk * is the most common symbol used for truncation

 e.g., behav*

Will retrieve:  behave, behaviour(s), behavior(s), behaving, behavioral etc..


(eating disorder* or anorexi* or bulimi*) and (teenage* or adolescen* or youth*)

"social policy" and homelessness

In some databases, you can limit your search to peer-reviewed articles only. You may also want to limit your search by date.  Always check the limit options for whatever database you're using as these can help you to do a more focused search.  Choose the Advanced Search option for whatever database you are using as this gives you far more limits and other options for focusing your search. Check the Help screens for whatever database you are using so that you make full use of search options and strategies for that database.

When you get your search results: if there is no direct link to the full text of the article, click on the Get It button. This software will try to link you to the full text that we may have through another vendor/publisher.  If the Leddy Library can't give you access to the full text, you will be given a link to the Leddy Library's interlibrary loan system.

As you go through your list of search results, bring up the full record for any search result that looks interesting.  There are three main reasons for doing this: 

  1. The author or authors' names become hypertext links and by using these links, you can check to see if the database that you're using has any more references on file by these authors.
  2. You get the abstract for the journal article.
  3. You get the subject headings for the journal article - you can use these words and phrases to do further keyword searches or to do subject heading searches.  

For any search results that are of interest, check to see if there are links to similar articles.  For example, there may be links for "cited by" (will take you to articles that have cited that article) and there may be links to references for your search results.

Finding books

Use a similar search strategy to find books and videos/DVDs by choosing to use Advanced Search in the Library Catalogue (Omni)

e.g.  addiction AND teenagers

e.g.  “eating disorders”

You may want to limit by date (see Start Date and End Date on the Advanced Search screen)

Remember to search the Leddy Library's e-book collections for any electronic books that may be relevant to your topic(s).  Go to the Databases web page and limit your search to Ebook Collection under Resource Type 

Finding theses

Students who decide to write a thesis or major paper should try to check that their research topic has not already been done. There are a number of databases to search.  Go to the Databases web page and choose Theses and Dissertations for Resource Type. The most important of these databases is arguably:

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (index 1716 onwards; fulltext 1997 onwards)

Even for students doing a shorter term paper, theses are useful because they usually have excellent bibliographies and comprehensive literature reviews on the topics covered.  For more information and access to additional resources, see:  Finding Theses & Dissertations 

Finding statistics and data

The Academic Data Centre provides access to a wide array of resources for finding and using statistical information.  The Centre has also developed several useful research guides including: 

For information about additional data research guides - see the section for Data and statistics research guides on the Academic Data Centre's website.  Staff at the Academic Data Centre can also help you to find data and to analyse it.  Email for help.  The Academic Data Centre itself is located in Room 1104 (near the Leddy Library's cafe) on the first floor of the Main Building of the Leddy Library.

This web page was originally developed by Katharine Ball for Human Kinetics and adapted for Social Work by Sharon Munro.

Send us a message 

Your Contact

Sharon Munro's picture
(519) 253-3000 ext.3850
Leddy Library 108 - West Building
Office Hours
  • As of September - School of Social Work, Windsor Hall, Room 107 - Wednesdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m..
  • As of September - Human Kinetics Building, Room 141 - Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m..