SW 450-550 Research & Evaluation: Develop your Question

What is Your Research Question or Topic?

Searching for literature on a topic requires flexibility. Sometimes you need to do some broad topic searches and read through some abstracts to figure out what you really want to focus on. Other times, you might have something in mind that is *so* specific, it's hard to find much. The following are a couple examples of research questions that would be hard to search efficiently: 

"Are video games bad for children?"
Problem: Concepts like "bad" need to be defined as something measurable (e.g. increase violent behavior).

"Are homeless teenagers in Portland addicted to drugs because they experienced child abuse?"
Problem: Too many variables (homelessness/drug abuse/child abuse) and too limited population (Portland).

An easier question to search would be: 
"Does exposure to domestic violence impact children's social development?"
This question has specific components (like independent and dependent variables) and specifies a population: 
domestic violence / social development / children 

Once you have a sense of what you want to search, spend some time brainstorming keywords. If you can't think of any, go ahead and search with the terms you know, and pay attention to article titles and abstracts for additional terms. For example: 

  • Domestic violence 
    • Intimate partner violence 
    • domestic abuse
    • family violence

Brainstorming Keywords from Your Topic Video

This quick video explains how to turn your topic into keywords while searching for library resources and sources on the Web.

Social Work Encyclopedias

Encyclopedias are tremendously useful resources because they give 'executive summaries' of an area of research to get you up to speed quickly: important research findings and researchers, discussions/critiques of theoretical models and methodologies used. The 2-5 page summary is followed by a bibliography leading you to the original articles, books, etc to continue your research.

Using Wikipedia

Wikipedia can be a very useful resource, as long as you keep some things in mind:

  • Wikipedia is good at providing a basic introduction to a topic, and it also often provides you with important details such as key researchers and articles. Be sure to look at the references at the bottom of the page;
  • Wikipedia pages about controversial issues (e.g. gun control, abortion) are often revised, sometimes with a lot of inherent bias. Keep your critical reading hat on! Often on these articles you will see a message from Wikipedia that the article's neutrality is disputed.