Some publications are easy to trace - they are on the library shelves,
in bookshops, or in the journals which may circulate around your agency
or university. Others are less easy, either to acquire knowledge of
their existence or then to track them down. Sometimes the task can be
quite expensive, for example to buy conference proceedings or pay for
a lot of inter-library loans, or to pay to have a computer search done
Computer searching - Most people now start their searches
by using a computer. The general strategy is that you use your key words
to define the topic you are searching. You can also define by date of
publication and other advance search features. Computerised searches
are certainly convenient, but they do not do the preliminary thinking
for you. You still need to have a very clear idea of what you want to
search for. In some ways you need even greater clarity if you are using
a computer because if you do not define your parameters narrowly enough,
the computer will simply generate hundreds, or even thousands, of references
in a very short space of time. You will then have to sort through these
in order to get closer to the information you are seeking. So if you
have not done so already, read the previous section on Searching
Manual sources - If you cannot or do not want to use a computer,
then it is usually a good idea to start with journals, taking the most
recent and then working back through previous editions. Remember the
key words you have identified as part of your clarification process.
Most journals have annual indexes so turn to these first. You may need
to do some detective work, such as tracking down a government report
or some conference proceedings by following up a brief reference in
a journal news item. It is getting quicker, but it still takes time
for references to get onto the main computer databases, so skimming
the journals, especially the professional ones, can be the way to get
at the very latest publications.
There are six main types of literature that are normally available
in published hard copy format (that is, on paper rather than electronic):
- Theses and dissertations
- Conference proceedings
- Research reports
- Government publications
These are often not particularly helpful when you are trying to find
out what has been going on in the topic area you are interested in.
Research studies, by and large, tend not to be written up as books.
It's also worth noting that books take a long time to write and to get
published, so even if one seemed relevant it is probably not up-to-date.
The exceptions to this are handbooks and directories of research, which
can put you in touch directly with people who have conducted appropriate
research. Handbooks and directories are often compiled on an annual
or bi-annual basis. Recent textbooks may provide you with helpful lists
of basic references.
These are probably the most helpful resource and you should be aware
of the main journals in your field. There are two main sorts of journal:
academic and professional. It is in the former you are most likely to
find papers on research projects. The latter are very useful for getting
a feel for what are live issues, but they often contain articles which
reflect a point of view rather than research conducted according to
acknowledged methods and principles. A problem with academic journals
is again one of time scales. The chances are a paper published in a
journal that comes out quarterly refers to research conducted at least
two years previously. The social work journals include:
On the journal websites you can find indexes and abstracts for articles
in each edition. Full copies of articles can be purchased (expensive)
so it is better to find a library that subscribes to the journal either
in print or electronic form. It is very important to have at your finger
tips information on the key journals you should look at.
Theses and dissertations
Looking at theses and dissertations is worth giving some time to, although
they can be lengthy and not that user-friendly as they are written to
meet a specific set of academic requirements. Dissertations completed
by qualifying or post qualifying and doctoral social work students may
often be exploring an issue that is of local concern. Such material
is also sometimes difficult to access, however, because it is not usually
on open library shelves, but in archives. A recent one may provide a
good bibliographic source, so it might be worth looking at the reference
list rather than working through the whole document page by page - or
just read the conclusions chapter. Some institutions will only keep
such material for a time limited period, for example 5 years, before
it is destroyed.
Published conference proceedings are a useful topical source. They
will also give you contact names for research that has been presented
at the conference. Sometimes they are published commercially, but often
they are produced by the organisation sponsoring the conference. Increasingly
you can find out about them, and sometimes see their contents on the
WWW. The European Union (EU) for example, puts much of its output into
electronic format. Increasingly key note speeches are available in text,
PowerPoint or even video versions on websites. So even if you could
not afford to be at a conference you can still access some of the materials.
Links for an example.
Many organisations publish their research reports and these often appear
soon after the research has been completed. You usually find out about
these from research handbooks and conference proceedings and websites
like SCIE and rip, although these often do not provide information on
smaller studies or those that have not been peer reviewed. Not all studies
reach a peer reviewed stage but this does not reflect on their validity.
As time passes they might also be referenced in other publications.
Increasingly research organisations including universities are using
their websites to disseminate research findings, which quicken the access
We now live in the age of E-government, which has made access to government
reports, guidance, research and performance monitoring reports and summaries,
press releases, legislation and a plethora of related information a
much more open affair. Every government department - the Cabinet Office,
10 Downing street, etc. - has a website that ensures the opportunity
to know what is out there; and importantly how you can contribute to
consultative and similar processes.
Inevitably some government reports will also come into the sources mentioned
previously. It is worth just mentioning statistical reports/digests
and publications such as Green and White Papers (Green Papers are consultative
documents about planned legislation; White Papers are final policy documents
that shape legislation). Statistical reports and digests will not give
you information on research projects in the same way as a journal article,
but they are an invaluable source for background information. Some reports,
such as Social Trends, interpret statistics and present them textually;
others only present the data in tabular format - an example is the Ten
Year Census Reports.
Other key government publications are Green and White Papers in the
health and social care arena. For example, the 1990 NHS and Community
Care Act was preceded by the White Papers, Working for Patients (1989)
and Caring for People (1989). White Papers are very useful for helping
you to understand policy issues and to set priorities for research.
Many organisations now offer registration to regular e updates, which
means you are notified on a regular basis when new research reports
are produced. Examples include The Policy
Hub run by the Cabinet Office, SWAP,
rip and the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation. These do a lot of the hard work for you!