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Social Work

10 Steps for Effective Research

10 Steps to Effective Research

  1. Understand your assignment. Make a copy of the rubric/assignment and refer to it often. Ask your professor to explain. Clarify what types of research materials are needed – scholarly journals, websites, books, periodicals, encyclopedia articles? How recent? Is it an argumentative paper or an analysis? How many sources are needed?
  2. Choose your topic wisely. Sometimes your topic is assigned. If not, pick something you’re interested in. Scan current journals/news items in your field to find “hot topics.” Find an interesting, manageable aspect of your topic. Make sure you can find enough sources but not too broad. What would be the title of an ideal article on your topic? Can you think of 2-3 important keywords or key phrases? If it’s an argumentative paper, what might reasonable people disagree about?
  3. Schedule your research. Put deadlines on your calendar and make a to-do list. Give yourself credit for small tasks (asking your professor a question) and cross them off your list. Research takes time – keep the workflow moving.
  4. Explore your options. Do background reading. Wikipedia is fine for familiarizing yourself with your topic. Books and websites are also good. The Encyclopedia of Social Work may have an article. Study the terminology and list common synonyms. Consider opposite terms: compliance/noncompliance, teaching/learning. Brainstorm search ideas.
  5. Use a variety of sources. Books, websites are good for background reading. Scholarly journal articles explore very specific topics. Videos, interviews, photographs, and other sources may be used if your assignment allows them.
  6. Library databases. Useful for in-depth research on a topic. Pick 1-3 databases. Google Scholar can be used as a database. The Social Work Library Research Guide can identify databases. Split your topic into 2-3 keywords/short phrases and jot them down. Open a library database and put one term in each search box, then [search]. Mark and save the best articles from your results list. Download key articles so you can find them later. Use the database [cite] button to format your references and copy to a Word document.
  7. Tackle one piece at a time. Know when you’ve spent enough time on one part, then move on. No, it won’t be perfect, and you can’t find everything.
  8. Take good notes. Copy useful sources to an electronic folder (hard drive, Google drive, Zotero, for example) or a paper folder, if you prefer. Write sections and save to Word as you research so you don’t forget key points. Notice gaps in your research.
  9. Citation-citation-citation. Use your APA manual, APA Style, Purdue Owl to cite correctly. Include the doi if available – citing correctly makes your sources easy to find. If you do a lot of research, use a citation manager such as Zotero to store your sources in “folders” (optional).
  10. Ask for help. Ask your professor early to clarify the assignment. Ask your subject librarian for help identifying sources. Ask the Student Technology Centers/ITS Service Desk for software/hardware problems. The Writing Center can assist with grammar and writing style.

Then – turn it in. Yay :) !!!

This checklist was adapted from Emily Gabriel's Welcome to the WKU Libraries.

Library Database Searching

Closed captioned video showing WKU Libraries website navigation, One-Search, database demo, and Social Work Research Guide. 15:35.