Planning Your Research
Even in a graduate level class, making sure you understand your assignment and all the resources your instructor wants you to use OR not to use is vital to doing effective and efficient research. Do you need books? Studies? Statistics/Data? Popular literature or only scholarly sources? Websites? Primary sources? Also, knowing your deadlines is important. The more in-depth your research and extensive your bibliography, the more research time you will need.
Having a clearly defined research question BEFORE you jump into research will save you time, effort and aggravation. If you try to research a subject area like social worker burnout, you might find yourself flooded with information, and the sheer task of identifying the best and most valuable resources for your research will be staggering. However, a clearly defined research question, e.g., "Do support groups for workers in social services prevent or significantly delay professional burnout?" will help focus your research task and save you time and effort.
With a question in mind, you can do some preliminary searching in the Libraries' catalog or a periodical database just to get some idea of the literature that will be available for your research. This first rough search can give you some ideas for modifying your search, if necessary. For example, a quick search in Academic Search Complete, a general periodicals database, using "social workers" and "burnout" in as keyword search terms yields over 90 items, over 30 of which are from peer reviewed journals. Finding this many articles in a general periodical database, is a positive sign. You are likely to find enough to support your research in a more scholarly, specialized database also.
So, a little planning time before saves a lot of research time afterwards.
It might seem funny to think about search strategy before you even begin to search a database. However, thinking about key words that define your question, synonyms, and ways of combining these keywords beforehand will help you modify your search results on the fly, depending on what you are retrieving.
Consider search words and phrases and combinations you might use to search for information on your topic. Most databases allow keyword searching, which basically allows you to enter any word(s) or phrase(s) or combinations thereof for very broad search results. Databases also allow searching by controlled vocabulary such as subject headings or descriptors. The most widely used subject headings are the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH); we have the most recent set of LCSH in the Young Ready Reference Collection (LC 26.7 :). A subject database might have its own thesaurus. If a database you are searching offers a thesaurus or subject heading list, consider consulting it for language to make your search targeted and precise. Often a thesaurus offers suggestions for broader, narrower and related terms that can be used to modify your search, if needed.
Check out Database Searching for tips to help you do the most efficient and effective searching whether you are searching Google or any of the UK subscription databases.
Reference and Information Services
William T. Young Library
Responsibilities: General Reference, Information Literacy and Library Instruction, Reference Collection Management, Academic Liaison for Social Work