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Social Work Research Guide

Overview of how to get started with research and sources for finding basic information.

Boolean Logic - A Refresher for Searching Strategies & Techniques

Boolean Logic

  • Boolean searching is a technique to help researchers expand or restrict a search by using three language operators, AND, OR, NOT. Venn diagrams provide a pictorial representation of these concepts (see the Venn diagram below).

  • Most research databases supply a search template with boxes which can be connected by one of the three operators to help you organize your search logic.

Use Boolean Operators (AND, OR) to Combine Terms (or keywords, subject headings)

  • Use AND to search for specific terms, usually retrieves fewer results.  

  • Use OR to search for synonyms or variations of terms, usually retrieves more search results (i.e.. expands a search).

  • The operator NOT also narrows a search but can sometimes result in eliminating relevant items and should be used with caution


    beaver AND duck = platypus


Searching Multiple Databases at One Time


To expand your search results, consider searching in general and multidisciplinary databases or search for multiple databases with the same platform.
For example, when you search the Social Work Abstracts database, click on the "Choose Databases" link. This will allow us to search all or selected EBSCOhost databases in tandem (see image). Duplicate records are usually removed.  The drawback is that subject headings cannot be used when using this tactic.

How to Expand Your Search: Techniques to Find Similar & Potentially Relevant Articles

If you found an "ideal" article, here are two ways to expand your search Web of Science database

  • Retrieve the "ideal" article on the Web of Science database or in Google Scholar.  Then, examine the record for articles that cite your "ideal" article (that is, click on the "Times Cited" articles on Web of Science). 
    This citing reference searching is a quick and efficient way to find more related and newer articles. 

  • Look at the references (e.g. "Cited References" or bibliography of the article) in your "ideal" article as these articles may be related in some fashion; and will be older than your "ideal" article.