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International Social Work year 1 - searching and finding reliable literature: 3. Search methods

Search methods

Until now you have probably always searched using the best match method: you type a few words into the search bar and press enter. This is called the quick & dirty search method, also called the best match method. That's fine for a first step in your orientation, but there are ways to structure your search to improve the quality and efficiency of your literature research. Working systematically and using search methods helps you control your search queries. Below you will find an explanation of the four most commonly used search methods: best match, snowball and citation search, and the building block method.

Snowball and citation method

Snowball method (= backward searching)

With the snowball method, you use source references. You use the reference list of a text to further your search. You use the references you find in the text to search for new articles, books, etc. One disadvantage of this method can be that the information that you find is increasingly out of date.

Citation method (= forward searching)

When you turn the snowball method around, you search for references to a particular work. Say that you have found a good article; you then search for sources that cite that good article. This way, your information becomes increasingly more up-to-date. When displaying search results, the search engine Google Scholar and the database Web of Science tell you which other information sources reference the source in question.

Building blocks method

With the building blocks method, you divide your search question into elements.  You define search terms for each element. You should come up with related terms, broader and narrower terms, synonyms, wildcards, etc. Then you put the elements in the search diagram.

This makes it clear at a glance how AND and OR operators can be combined in your search query, because terms that are on the same horizontal line can be combined with AND, and terms that are vertical (in the same column) can be combined with OR.

For example: “What are the effects of using social media in higher education on student learning behavior?”

Best match method

When using this method, you type as many relevant terms as you can in the search bar, one after another. This is how many search engines work.

The best match method is most effective when you type in lots of terms. When you haven’t yet started using a systematic search method, this is an easy way to get some search results. Make your search terms as specific as possible.

The best match method is a good method to use in the orientation phase.

Tip: Various catalogues (including the HAN Study Centres catalogue) give you the option of narrowing down your search result.