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SWK 3140 - Social Work with Groups

Searching a database is different than typing your question into Google.

You need to be precise in your language and communicate using the language of the database.
You can learn to be an expert searcher with these strategies. 

Developing Keywords

Be Creative with Search Terms

There will always be multiple words or phrases you can search with to find material on a topic. Each will bring up different results. We call these keywords.
Take the time to brainstorm possible keywords in order to find more relevant articles.

Sample Topic: Group Therapy for kids struggling with a death in their family.

Step 1 - Identify the main ideas - Group Therapy for kids struggling with a death in their family

Step 2 - Brainstorm other possible search terms. Consider broader, related, and narrower terms, especially those that an expert might use.

Group Therapy Kids Death
Group Counseling Children Grief
Group Psychotherapy Adolescents Loss
Family Counseling Primary education Bereavement


Terms that might help find group work will vary by topic. Broadly applicable terms include group work, support group, group intervention, group therapy, group psychotherapy, and group counseling. 

Advanced Searching

Boolean Operators

Use the Boolean Operators AND, OR and NOT to create search statements to enter in databases, Spartan Search, Google, etc.

Peanut Butter AND Jelly: only results with both peanut butter and jelly; Peanut Butter OR Jelly: results with peanut butter, with jelly, and with both; Peanut Butter NOT Jelly, results with Peanut Butter only


  • College AND Technology AND Learning
  • (College OR Higher Education OR University) AND (Technology OR Computers) AND (Learning OR Instruction)
  • (Technology AND Learning AND Elementary ) NOT College



Wildcards allows you to search for multiple terms with the same root at once by using an asterisk. 


  • Educat* = Educate, Education, Educational, Educator
  • Child* = Child, Children, Childish


Phrase Searching

Search for exact phrases using quotation marks.


  • "higher education": returns results that contain the exact phrase "higher education"

Putting It Together

Put Together a Strong Search

Use advanced search to construct an effective search with your search terms.

  1. Go to your preferred search tool or database.
  2. Open the advanced search view. This will show multiple search boxes.
  3. Put one key concept on each line using advanced search techniques, adding a new line if necessary.

A screenshot of an advanced search reads: Any field contains "group therapy" OR "group counseling" OR "group work" AND any field contains child* OR adolescents AND any field contains grief OR grieving OR bereavement

This example search asks the database for material that mentions all three of the key concepts from our sample topic -- children, grief, and group therapy. Using OR in between words on a single line tells the database any of those options would be useful. 

This example uses quotation marks around keywords with multiple words. This ensures the database finds that exact phrase and thus returns relevant results.

There is also an unexpected character. The word child with an asterisk at the end asks the database for the word child or a word that starts that way. This includes a lot of possibly useful terms: child, children, childhood, and childcare. It could also be too broad -- pulling in words like childless or childbirth. This can always be removed if it's not working as intended. 


Troubleshooting a Search

Found too many results?

Add more keywords.

Adding additional keywords to your search can help to further narrow your topic.

Example: college AND first-generation students AND academic performance

Use a filter

Look on the left side for ways you can filter your materials. Here are a few to consider, depending on your needs.

  • material type - such as a book, newspaper article, or review
  • peer-reviewed - to find scholarly articles
  • date - typically to find the most current materials
  • subject - to find articles about a certain topic


Found too few results?

Try different search terms.

What other words could you use to describe this concept? Brainstorm related terms, synonyms, and slightly different forms of your word or phrase. Also brainstorm broader categories or concepts it belongs to, as well as narrower elements or examples. 

It may also be useful to consider the official, academic, or formal way to write that term. This is more likely to be used in academic writing.

Use fewer search terms.

Sometimes less is more! The more words, phrases, or subjects you ask the database to find, the fewer sources will meet the criteria.

Use OR.

Broaden your search by using the boolean operator OR to link your terms.

Example: (college OR higher education OR university) AND first-generation students AND (academic performance OR student success)


Still not working? Learn more about search methods or ask a librarian for personalized help.

Citation Chasing

Citation Chasing and "Cited By" Searching

Finding one article on your topic can often lead to a lot more! Browse the references of the article to find sources cited in their literature review. The authors are likely experts on the topic and have already done the searching for you! 
Some tools can also help you find sources that have cited the one you are reading since it was published. By nature, these will be more recent!

There is often a feature built into library databases that provides a linked list of references. In Spartan Search, click the red arrows next to the article's title to find the article's References (the downward-facing arrow), and articles that have cited this title (the upward-facing arrow).

screenshot of article record in Spartan Search highlights tools on the upper right with arrows pointing up and down


Don't see that option? You can manually copy that title into Spartan Search, ideally in quotation marks, to look for the full text. If you don't find your article, you can try searching on Google Scholar to see if there is a free copy available. Free copies are linked to the right of the article title.

Still can't find it? Create a request in your TIPASA Interlibrary Loan Account.




Library Information

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