Understanding Social Research
Research Guide



This guide will assist SWK 3710 students with locating resources that support their course-specific research assignments. This

guide contains instructional materials that will explain some of the more difficult concepts involved with finding, evaluating, and citing resources.

NOTE: This guide viewed best using Mozilla FireFox with a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. This tutorial contains multimedia elements with sound (make sure that your speakers are activated). All videos require Adobe Flash Player to play.

NOTE: If you have a disability requiring alternate formats of these materials, please contact the Reference Desk at 910.521.6656 or at refdesk@uncp.edu.

Developing A Topic


Sometimes the most difficult aspect of academic research is coming up with a topic. Most instructors at the graduate level will set the initial range for your research topics, but you decide the specific focus of your research.

Here are a few general tips to help you develop a topic:

1) Look at the course lecture notes - is there anything that interests you and that you can relate back to a situation or trend in your classroom, library, or school?

2) Look at your textbook - examine the chapter headings and subheadings in the table of contents. Does anything catch you eye?

3) This website http://www.socialworkers.org/research/default.asp may give you some ideas for topics. Try a Google search using "social work issues" or "social work topics" or "social work links" to search for other useful sites.

4) Use Journal Finder to browse online social work-related journals: http://journalfinder.uncg.edu/uncp/search-subj.asp?subj=44

5) Is your class using the discussion board in BlackBoard? If so, browse through the postings and see if anything sparks your interest.

Developing Keywords

Once you have a general idea for a research topic, check with your instructor who can provide you with feedback regarding the viability of your topic and ways in which you might narrow the focus of your research.

Next, you will need to develop a set of keywords that you can use to search for journal articles and books.

What are the main ideas of your research topic? Example, you are interested in researching drug abuse by Hispanics in high school. What are the key concepts of this topic?

1) drug abuse

2) Hispanics

3) high school

Are there other words that describe these concepts?

1) drug abuse = substance abuse, drug addiction, crack, crystal meth, heroin, marijuana, etc.

2) Hispanics = Latinos, minorities, race, etc.

3) high school = secondary school, adolescents, teens, etc.

Are there other words that would help narrow the focus?

When looking at "drug abuse" and social work, you need to consider other words such as counseling, courts, intervention, rehabilitaion, residential treatment, or treatment.

Using BraveCat


BraveCat is accessed via the World Wide Web. No login or password is necessary. Go to the Library's webpage at www.uncp.edu/library. Click the BraveCat link. Then click the Search BraveCat link.

BraveCat provides a number of ways to search for materials in the Library. The most common searches are Keyword, Author, and Title.

NOTE: Searching by Subject can be very difficult because subject searching uses a very specific language called Library of Congress Subject Headings. You may want to use the keyword search instead of the subject search.

Keyword Search

The Keyword Search is a very broad type search. You can search for any combination of words in the various parts of a catalog record: the title, the author's name, subject terms, and the notes fields. You can search for single keywords (e.g. aggression) or combine keywords with AND (e.g. child and physical abuse ). You can interchange different words with similar meaning (such as teenager and adolescent) using OR (e.g. teenager or adolescent).

You also can search keywords as a phrase inside quotation marks (e.g. "no child left behind"). You can also truncate words with an asterisk * (e.g. prevent* = prevented, preventing, prevention, and prevents).

When BraveCat opens, make sure to select Pembroke (see image below). You can always search the consortium later if you require more resources.


Note: in BraveCat (or any other database) do not search using large phrases. Group concepts together using AND. Example: Do not search mental health as a factor of homelessness. Do search homelessness and mental health (see image above).

Result Page

Below are results you would get with the homelessness and mental health search. This search finds 16 items, arranged by relevance. The results page shows 12 items on each page. To see the next page of results (with items 13 to 16, etc.), click on the hyperlinked page number or the Next link.


Item Record

Most materials in the Library have an item record, which provides important information about contents and location, as well as basic citation information. Simply click the title link on the results page in order to see an item record.

The Location (see image below) tells you the collection in which the item is contained within the Library (or at FSU or UNCW). General Collection means that the item can be checked out. Some other locations are General Collection Folio, which contains oversized books, and Juvenile, which contains children's books. Folio and juvenile items can be checked out. Other collections, such as Reference and Special Collections, contain items that cannot be checked out.

The Call # tells you where an item is located within a collection. You need to write down the entire call number in order to find an item.

Available lets you know if an item is available for checkout. If an item has been checked out, you would see a due date instead of Available.


Placing A Hold

If an UNCP item is checked out, or if you want to request items from FSU or UNCW, then you need to place a hold using BraveCat. In order to do this, you will need a library Personal Identification Number (PIN).

To place a hold request, you must be in the BraveCat record for the item that you want. Click the Hold Item button, located at the top of the screen (see image below).


You will need to use your login and PIN in order to place holds on items in BraveCat or use electronic databases from off campus.

All library-related login screens (with the exception of Course Reserves and Document Delivery) contain three login boxes. Put your first or last name (not both) in the first box. Enter your University ID (your Banner number - if you do not know your Banner number, then log into BraveWeb https://braveweb.uncp.edu/ to locate it.) in the second box, and enter your PIN in the third box and click the Submit button (see image below).


You will receive a brief confirmation. To return to the item record click the Regular Display button. To return to the result page click the Return to List button.

You will be notified when your items are available for pick up at the Circulation Desk in the Library. If you are a distance education student then click here for more information.

For assistance with PINs, access to electronic resources, or help with your research, please contact the Reference Desk, by email at refdesk@uncp.edu, or by phone at 910.521.6656. You can also use the Ask-A-Librarian webform, which is available at http://www.uncp.edu/library/ask.html.

Using Social Services Abstracts

Social Services Abstracts provides bibliographic coverage of current research focused on social work, human services, and related areas, including social welfare, social policy, and community development. The database abstracts and indexes over 1,406 serials publications and includes abstracts of journal articles and dissertations, and citations to book reviews.



Social Work Subject Page

The Social Work subject page www.uncp.edu/library/electronic/social_work.html lists all relevant electronic resources that you will need for your research assignments (see image below).


Off-Campus Login

Click the Social Services Abstracts link. If you are off campus, you will need to use your login and PIN in order to place holds on items in BraveCat or use electronic databases from off campus.

All library-related login screens (with the exception of Course Reserves and Document Delivery) contain three login boxes. Put your first or last name (not both) in the first box. Enter your University ID (your Banner number - if you do not know your Banner number, then log into BraveWeb https://braveweb.uncp.edu/ to locate it.) in the second box, and enter your PIN in the third box and click the Submit button (see image below).


Advanced Search

Social Serices Abstracts will automatically open to the Advanced Search screen, which will allow you to combine and experiment with various sets of keywords. First, make sure that you limit to Journal Articles Only (see image below).

For example, if you were researching "health care access issues for Hispanic populations," then you would use the first group of boxes to enter keywords that represent what is at issue (health care), and in the second group of boxes enter keywords for the poplation (latino or hispanic) and in the third group enter keywords for the specific variable that you are researching (in this case it is access).


Results List

At the top of the results list you will see that the search yielded 193 items. The list displays 25 results on each page. To see the next page of results, click the Next link (see image below).



Articles in the results list are arranged by date published with the most recent articles listed first (see image below). Some of the records include the complete article (or full text), but this database mostly provides just citations to article.

Citations to articles contain important identifying information, such as article title, author, journal title (source), volume number, issue number, and page numbers (see image below). Many articles also provide abstracts, which are summaries of the article's contents.



Journal Finder

When the full text of an article is not available in the database, click the Check Journal Finder for full text availability link (see image below).



The Journal Finder screen will then open. Journal Finder is an electronic resource that indicates if a particular journal title (e.g. Journal of Education) is available in the Library or in an electronic database. NOTE: You do not search Journal Finder by topic - it is not an article database. Click the book icon to see if a title is available in the Library. Click the monitor icon to see if a title is available in an electronic database (see image below).


NextNext, click the link for full-text access. Make sure that you pay close attention to the notes in the two righthand columns (see image below).


This example shows how to locate the full text from SpringerLink - other databases will look and function differently. Click the correct volume and issue link (see i9mage below).


Next, click the correct article - use the PDF format (see image below).




Play the Using Journal Finder video

Searching PsycINFO

PsycINFO, which is available at http://www.uncp.edu/library/electronic/social_work.html, from the American Psychological Association (APA), contains more than 2 million citations and summaries of scholarly journal articles, book chapters, books, and dissertations, all in psychology and related disciplines, dating as far back as the 1800s. 97 percent of the covered material is peer-reviewed. Journal coverage, which spans 1887 to present, includes international material selected from nearly 2,000 periodicals in more than 25 languages. Although it looks a little different, PsychINFO works alot like Social Services Abstracts.

PsycINFO will automatically open to the Basic Search screen. However, it is suggested that you use the Advanced Search. Click the Advanced Search tab at the top of the screen in order to combine and experiment with various sets of keywords. For example, if you were researching "substance abuse among Hispanics" then you would use the first two Find boxes to enter the main keywords (substance abuse or drug abuse or alcohol abuse) and (latino or hispanic) and then the third Find box to limit experiment with various sets of keywords (e.g. adolescents or teens* or rural or urban or treatment or intervention) (see image below).


Scroll down the Advanced Search page and under Age Groups you can focus on a particular group (see image below).


Scroll further down the Advanced Search and use the Methodology limit to focus on a particular research methods (see image below).


Under Methodology the limits most commonly used by Social Work students are:

NOTE: After you have learned to search PsycINFO, then you will be able to search the Social Work Abstracts and SocINDEX databases, which are available at http://www.uncp.edu/library/electronic/social_work.html.

Other Web Resources




Here is a ist of Web resources that may be useful for your research:


National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP)
"The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization at Columbia University. Our mission is to identify and promote strategies that prevent child poverty in the United States and that improve the lives of low-income children and families. Concentrating on the links between family economic security and child development, we research policies that promote three goals: Economically secure families; Children entering school ready to succeed; Stable, nurturing families.

Child Welfare Information Gateway
"Formerly the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information and the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, Child Welfare Information Gateway provides access to information and resources to help protect children and strengthen families. A service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services."


Geriatric Social Work Initiative
"The Geriatric Social Work Initiative, supported by the John A. Hartford Foundation, collaborates with social work education programs to prepare needed, aging-savvy social workers and improve the care and well-being of older adults and their families."

United States Administration on Aging
"For over 35 years, the AoA has provided home and community-based services to millions of older persons through the programs funded under the Older Americans Act." Provides many different types of resources concerning older Americans.


National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health (Georgetown University)
"The National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health provides national leadership to the maternal and child health community in three key areas--program development, education, and state-of-the-art knowledge--to improve the health and well-being of the nation's children and families."

National Housing Institute
"The National Housing Institute is a 28-year old independent nonprofit organization that examines the issues causing the crisis in housing and community in America. NHI examines the key issues affecting affordable housing and community development practitioners and their supporters. These issues include housing, jobs, safety, and education, with an emphasis on housing and economic development, as well as poverty and racism, disinvestment and lack of employment, and breakdown of the social fabric."


Minority Health Project
"The overall purpose of the Minority Health Project (MHP) is to improve the quality of available data on racial and ethnic populations, to expand the capacity of minority-health researchers to conduct statistical research and develop research proposals, and to foster a network of researchers in minority health."

National Center for Health Statistics
"Welcome to the National Center for Health Statistics' Web site, a rich source of information about America's health. As the Nation's principal health statistics agency, we compile statistical information to guide actions and policies to improve the health of our people. We are a unique public resource for health information–-a critical element of public health and health policy."

HIV InSite
A project of the University of California, San Francisco AIDS Research Institute, this database is designed as a gateway to in-depth information about particular aspects of HIV/AIDS and provides numerous links to many authoritative sites.

United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention
"CDC seeks to accomplish its mission by working with partners throughout the nation and the world to monitor health, detect and investigate health problems, conduct research to enhance prevention, develop and advocate sound public health policies, implement prevention strategies, promote healthy behaviors,
foster safe and healthful environments, provide leadership and training."

Native Americans:

Indian Health Service
"The Indian Health Service (IHS), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for providing federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives....The IHS currently provides health services to approximately 1.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to more than 557 federally recognized tribes in 35 states."

North Carolina:

National Association of Social Workers (NASW): North Carolina Chapter
"NASW is a membership organization that promotes, develops, and protects the practice of social work and social workers. NASW also seeks to enhance the effective functioning and well-being of individuals, families, and communities through its work and through advocacy."

North Carolina Center for Health Statistics
"SCHS is responsible for data collection, health-related research, production of reports, and maintenance of a comprehensive collection of health statistics. We provide high quality health information for better informed decisions and effective health policies."

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
"The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) serves the 7 million North Carolinians, protecting health, fostering self-reliance and protecting the vulnerable. We work in local offices, schools and hospitals, building a stronger North Carolina by strengthening our citizens in all 100 counties."

North Carolina Division of Social Services
"The NC Division of Social Services is responsible for various programs and services: Adolescent Parenting Program, Adoption Services, Child Placement Services for Children, Child Protective Services, Child Support Enforcement, Community Based Programs, Crisis Intervention, Emergency Assistance, Energy Assistance, Food Stamps, Foster Care, Fraud, Independent Living Program for Foster Children (NC LINKS), Interstate Compacts, Interpreting Services, Licensing, Child Placing Agency, Family Foster Homes, Maternity Homes
Residential Child Care Homes, Problem Pregnancy Services, Refugee Assistance, and Work First Family Assistance."

Research and Demographics:

Population Index on the Web
"Population Index is the primary reference tool to the world's population literature. It presents an annotated bibliography of recently published books, journal articles, working papers, and other materials on population topics. This website provides a searchable and browsable database containing 46,035 abstracts of demographic literature published in Population Index in the period 1986-2000."

PRAXIS: Resources for Social and Economic Development
"Welcome to PRAXIS, the international development homepage of Prof. Richard J. Estes of the University of Pennsylvania. PRAXIS provides access to a vast array of archival resources on international and comparative social development. The intellectual commitment of PRAXIS is to the promotion of positive social change through informed action."

United States Census Bureau: American Factfinder
"American FactFinder (AFF) is an online source for population, housing, economic and geographic data that presents the results from four key data programs: 1) Decennial Census of Housing and Population - 1990 and 2000 Coverage: Most geographic areas, e.g., metropolitan area, state, county, city/town, place, ZIP Code, down to census tract for most data, and down to block or block group for some data. Topics: Population, race, ancestry, income, disability, education, employment, language, marital status, occupation, poverty status, housing characteristics and more. 2) Economic Census 1997 and 2002 Coverage: U.S., metropolitan area, state, county, place, ZIP Code Topics: Industry, establishments, sales, receipts, revenues, shipments, expenses, products, payroll, employees and more. 3) American Community Survey - 1996-2003 Coverage: States, and 800 local areas, including 239 counties, 205 congressional districts, and most metropolitan areas of 250,000 population and over. Topics: Population, race, ancestry, income, disability, education, employment, language, marital status, occupation, poverty, housing characteristics and more. 4) Population Estimates Program - July 1, 2003 to July 1, 2004 Coverage: State, metropolitan area, county , city and town
Topics: Estimated total population for the previous year for geographic areas above; estimates by age, sex, and race/ethnicity are available for selected geographic areas."

Resources for Methods in Evaluation and Social Research
"This page lists FREE resources for methods in evaluation and social research. The focus is on 'how-to' do evaluation research and the methods used: surveys, focus groups, sampling, interviews, and other methods. Most of these links are to resources that can be read over the web. A few, like the GAO books, are for books that can be sent away for, for free (if you live in the US), as well as read over the web."

Rural Social Work and Poverty:

Institute for Research on Poverty
"IRP is a center for interdisciplinary research into the causes and consequences of poverty and social inequality in the United States. As one of three Area Poverty
Research Centers sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it has a particular interest in poverty and family welfare in the Midwest. "

Rural Social Work Caucus (The University of North Carolina at Pembroke)
Maintained by Dr. Stephen M. Marson, this site provides application for membership to the Caucus, information about related conferences, a database of Caucus membership, a discussion group, a history of the Caucus, a draft of the NASW Rural Policy Statement, grants information, and various links.

Substance Abuse:

Center for Substance Abuse Research (University of Maryland)
"Conducts policy-relevant research and evaluation studies, disseminates statistical and other information, assists in training students in substance abuse research methods and policy analysis, and provides technical assistance to agencies and organizations working in substance abuse related fields." Provides various full text reports and scholarly studies.

Office of Applied Studies: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Statistics
"Provides the latest national data on 1) alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other drug abuse, 2) drug related emergency department episodes and medical examiner cases, and (3) the nation's substance abuse Treatment system."


ACRL: Women's Studies Section: Women and Gender Studies Web Sites
"The purpose of WSSLINKS is to provide access to a wide range of resources in support of Women's Studies."

Citing Resources

The following resources will help you with creating bibliographies and works cited pages. Please keep in mind that assistance is also available from the UNCP Writing Center (http://www.uncp.edu/etl/writing.htm).

RefWorks - RefWorks is an online research management, writing and collaboration tool that is designed to help researchers easily gather, manage, store and share all types of information, as well as generate citations and bibliographies. Note: RefWorks requires free on-campus registration before you can use this resource. Contact Michael Alewine if you are a distance education student.

Citation Builder

Using American Psychological Association (APA) Style

Using American Sociological Association (ASA) Style

Other Style Manuals and Guides


This ends this guide. However, it is very important that you remember that help is always available for you at the Reference Desk.


For comments or suggestions concerning this guide, then please contact Michael Alewine.

Michael Alewine
Outreach / Distance Education Librarian