Skip to Main Content

Social Welfare Research Resources

Information resources for research on social welfare topics

Create a Search Strategy


Choose search terms

Start to build a search strategy by determining search terms. Search terms or keywords can be people, events, theories, concepts, ideas, periods, movements, eras, places, techniques, media etc. Use terms that describe the concepts in the research question and their synonyms. You can consult a reference text, such as an encyclopedia, for additional background information and to identify additional terms.

For example, if you are interested in researching housing interventions for formerly incarcerated individuals after release, in addition to "prison release" some additional key words might be "reentry," "probation", "parole", and "post release."

You may have to test a few terms to see which terms retrieve the most relevant results. You can look at the subjects or keywords listed in the "details" section of your results for additional terms to try.

Boolean operators


Venn diagrams of Boolean Operators, AND, OR, and NOT, created by a librarian

Cecelia Vetter, CC BY-SA 4.0

AND includes both terms

Example: "prison release" AND "housing"

OR includes either term

Example: "prison release" OR "housing"

NOT excludes term*

Example: "prison release" NOT "housing"

*Note that NOT may exclude results with the term even if a result contains a search term you want included

Database syntax

Using database syntax can help you refine your search. For example using "double quotations" will narrow searches by searching only for that specific phrase rather than each individual term. Using truncation (*) or wildcard (?) can expand your search by expanding the scope of a single term. Note the wildcard (?) symbol doesn't work in Search@UW.

Symbol Use Function Example
"..." Double quotation marks Searches exact phrase "prison release"
* truncation Adds none or more characters sentence* searches sentence, sentenced, sentences, sentencing, etc
? wildcard Adds none or one character wom?n searches "woman" and "women"

Different database platforms (i.e. EBSCO, ProQuest) may use different syntax. Review a more complete list of database syntax.

Building a search strategy


A search strategy (or search string) are the keywords, terms, and syntax used in your search. A typical search strategy includes 2-4 concepts, but may include more keywords.

For example, an initial search for information on housing interventions after prison release:

"prison release" AND housing

But you may want to expand your search to get results on housing interventions after prison release, but also narrow results to only formerly incarcerated women. So instead you might try:

("prison release" OR reentry OR parole OR probation OR post-release) AND (hous* OR home*) AND (wom?n OR female*)

Mind mapping, topic development, and pre-research

Watch the three videos: 1.Mind-mapping to Plan Your Research 2. PREsearch Before you REsearch, and 3. Brainstorming Keywords. Use the arrow commands below the media player to move on to the next video.