Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Link to Libraries homepage
Link to Libraries homepage
Rutgers University Libraries

Social Work Research Guide: Online MSW Program: Search Strategies and Tips

This research guide is customized for students enrolled in the MSW online program in Clinical Social Work.

Step 1: What is your research topic?

It  is useful to begin by formulating your research topic as a question:

  • How are children effected by witnessing  domestic violence?
  • Do abused women benefit more from group therapy  or individual therapy?

Step 2: What are your main concepts?

Choose the words that have substantive meaning  in your question:

  • children, domestic violence, witnessing
  • abused women, group therapy, individual therapy

Ignore words such as effects, relationship, impact, benefits, words that point to a relationship among concepts.  The main concepts will be keywords used in your search!

Step 3: Develop Alternative Terms/Keywords

It is helpful to think of synonyms or related terms for your main concepts:

  • children-- youth, teenagers, adolescents
  • domestic violence-- family violence
  • witness-- exposure, exposed
  • abused women-- battered women,  battered females, partner abuse

Step 4:Use the Boolean Connectors OR/AND to Combine Your Terms

OR broadens  the search; use it to combine synonyms or related terms:

  • domestic violence or family violence
  • witness or exposure
  • abused women or battered women or battered females or partner abuse

AND narrows the search; use it to combine your concepts:

  • domestic violence and children and witnessing

Step 5: Construct Your Complete Search

(domestic violence or family violence) and (children or youth or teenagers or adolescents) and  (witnessing or exposure)

(abused women or battered females) and (group therapy or individual therapy)

  • Terms connected by the OR should be in parentheses ()

  • Using truncation will retrieve variations of words and is a good way of broadening your search.  The truncation symbol directs the database search engine to search for the root word and any ending. The most common sympbol is the asterik (*). For example, typing parent* would retrieve records containing parent, parents, parenting, parental, etc.  So, for the search on children witnessing domestic violence, you could type:

(domestic violence or family violence) and (child* or youth* or teen* or adolescen*) and (witness* or exposure)

(a) Getting better search results using AND & OR


MORE Database Search Tips

  • Here's a handout on using truncation and the Boolean connectors, OR/AND.
  • Searching for an exact phrase-use "" quotation marks.
  • Look at the subject headings on the full record for an on-target  item-these can help you generate new keywords, concepts, etc.
  • Finding too many articles on a topic?  Try searching for your keywords in the Title field of the item record.
  • Finding too few articles on a topic?  Decrease the number of concepts searched; Increase the number of synonyms or alternatives for a term.
  • Found an excellent article on your research question?  Make sure you check the references to find more relevant articles...citation chaining!






Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, an equal access/equal opportunity institution. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to direct suggestions, comments, or complaints concerning any accessibility issues with Rutgers web sites to: or complete the Report Accessibility Barrier / Provide Feedback Form.