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International Social Work year 1 - searching and finding reliable literature: 1. Search question and search terms

Your search question

In the search query and search term examples, we have used a case study about a little boy with autism. Suppose you're going to write a report on this subject. You will probably start by browsing the internet. (Remember this is not the same as searching for information in databases). This gives you some insight into your subject and how current it is. You may already find several synonyms that you can use later on.

You start narrowing down your search question: what do you want to know, what’s your query, what’s at the heart of the results you want?

We use our case study as an example to formulate the search question:

"How can you, as a social worker, communicate well with children with autism?"

Your search query can consist of a main question and a number of sub-questions. Make sure they are open queries and that they are clearly framed, e.g. in terms of target group, age, etc.

Research question

Determine search terms with HANQuest

When you put your search terms / keywords in the HANQuest's search bar, you will be shown related terms. If you have typed in your search query you can also find suggestions under the filter 'subject' and refine your search terms.

Determine search terms with other resources

Your search terms

You can now filter the most important search terms from the above question and put them in a search diagram. See the diagram below.

Why is it important to use a search diagram?
It provides structure and helps you with the next step, which is to find synonyms for your search terms. Different authors use different words to indicate the same thing (synonyms). Author A, for example, uses the term ‘self-reliance’ in his journal article, and author B talks about ‘empowerment’ in his book, but with the same meaning as author A.

Where can you find synonyms?
In the boxes on this page about "Defining search terms", we give examples of how to search in different databases for synonyms, broader/narrower terms used for your topic and related topics that may be important in your search.

Enter the search terms you find in a diagram to gain insight into the terminology that’s important for your search question.

The search diagram is also used in the building block method in the search strategies section.

With our example and the corresponding search question: "How can you, as a social worker, communicate well with children with autism?" your search diagram could look something like this:

Autism Children




ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, ....

Minors, ...
Broader terms Development disorder, ...
Narrower terms

Asperger syndrome, PDD-NOS, ....

Toddlers, Adolescents, Teenagers, ...
Related terms Youth, ...