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Social Service Research Guide

Guide to resources for NCSSS


Welcome to the Social Service Research Guide! This guide will help you jumpstart your research and provide some resources on social work. Starting Research provides information on how to begin the research process, how to start searching, and evaluate resources. The List of Library Resources gives a variety of sources including books, online sources, and a finding legislation handout. Additionally, there is a section with resources on how to write a literature review, a page on open access resources, and a page about citing in APA style.

Formulating a Research Question

When beginning your research, start by thinking about broad topics in the field of social work. Make a list of protentional topics that interest you and that there is potential to find source material on it. 


Crisis Intervention  Grief Counseling 
Trauma  Homelessness 
Mental Illness  Substance Abuse

Once you have some general topics, formulate a question or thesis statement that focuses on something specific within that general topic. 

Example: Using substance abuse from the previous example, we can develop the following thesis:

Substance abuse in adolescents is impacted by their upbringing . 

This statement can also be written has a research question:

Is substance abuse by adolescents impacted by their upbringing?

After writing a thesis statement or research question, one can start searching for sources that support or even potentially contradict the statement. See the Finding Sources section below to learn where to find different sources. 

Finding Sources

Before starting your search, develop some search terms that will help you find sources about your thesis statement or research question. Try taking keywords from a developed thesis or research question and add related terms. For example here are some search terms created based on the thesis statement: 

Substance Abuse  Risk factors  Parenting 
Adolescents  Drug Use  Parents & Parenting
Teenagers  Drug addiction   Parent Background
Children  Adverse Childhood Expierences Parent Child Relationship

Once you have a general question or a rough thesis statement, then you can start searching for sources. A great place to start is Searchbox, Mullen Library's catalog. When searching this catalog, it brings up resources from a vast variety of locations including: Mullen Library, other libraries in Washington, D.C., databases, open access resources, and more. Directly below are a list of helpful general call numbers and subject headings related to education. 

There are other places to search for source materials. Another tool for searching are the Library's databases. Databases are organized collections of information which include abstracts, articles, bibliographies, ebooks, indexes, and more. The Library has general, multidisciplinary as well as subject specific databases. Here are some social service-focused databases that may be of interest:

The Library's databases are a great way to find relevant, peer-reviewed information and to narrow down search results. 

A final place to consider searching is Google Scholar. Google Scholar searches retrieve articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions that Google has indexed. This is a great place to start your research or to find a citation. Please note that not everything found in Google Scholar will be accessible for free. Use the Library website to see if that resource is available through the Library. If not, make an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) request.

Evaluating Sources

Once you have found a source that you can potentially use, you should evaluate its credibility. While a source may seem useful for your research, it may be produced by an unreliable source or the information in the source may be misleading or false. So it is important to critically analyze sources, and there are a few different methods for doing this. For this guide we will use the CRAAP. CRAAP stands for Credibility, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose. 

Currency- When was the information published?

  • Was it published recently?
  • Has other updated information been added since this source was published?

Relevancy- Does this source fit with the research you are doing?

  • How does this source relate to your research topic?
  • How does this source help answer or advance your research?

Authority- What are the author(s) qualifications related to the subject?

  • What background do the author(s) have?
  • What have they previously published on this topic?
  • Do they have an advanced degree related to their topic?
  • What have other prominent experts in the field said about the author?

Accuracy- Is the information in the source verified to be correct?

  • Does the author(s) backup their claim with reliable evidence?
  • Has their research been fact checked and/or peer-reviewed?

Purpose- What is the author(s) reason for creating this information?

  • Does the author have an affiliation with a group or organization that may impact their point of view?
  • Is the source an opinion piece? Is there a clear bias? 
  • Does the author or publication make it clear why they have created this information?