Skip to Main Content

Social work, Social care and Community Studies

The importance of using good quality literature

It is incredibly important to find and use good quality, up to date literature and evidence!

You need to develop good research skills to ensure that you can find the most appropriate evidence to base your assignment answers upon and then translate this into your professional practice.

The resources here will help you to develop these skills:

  • how to construct search strategies.
  • how to apply the approach in multiple databases.
  • how to evaluate information.

Within this section, you will also find information related to:

  • understanding research methodology.
  • critical appraisal tools.
  • research terms.
  • how to keep a record of your research. 

If you find you need to use evidence-based resources in your work, we encourage you to take a look at the Health guide linked below.

Lets get started!

There will be a lot of reading and researching.

When you study and work within health and social care, you will need to engage with a broad range of research and sometimes this will involve a high level of reading to make sure you are making decisions and basing assignments answers  on valid, accurate, appropriate, academic and professional level information.

Use our expertise

SearchStart is a good place to begin, as it has a lot of information about how to begin your research journey and is aimed at new to Hallam students.

As you progress through your time at Hallam, the complexity of assignments will increase and you will need to use a variety of research skills and approaches to ensure you are effectively and comprehensively finding the evidence you need to get the top grades!

To support you at all the stages of your research, we have created a handy reading list of books covering researching in this field.

The list has been created by the subject librarians who support departments related to health and social care. Many of the books are available as eBooks with print copies in either Collegiate or Adsetts Library. Most of these titles begin at the basics so it's a good idea to get yourself into a couple of them before you start!

The list is accompanied by a range of videos covering how to get the most out of key databases.

Developing your research skills

SearchStart is a good introduction to how to search but for students on health and social care courses you need to have more in-depth skills.

The resources in this section focus specifically on the skills you need to search for evidence comprehensively and effectively. These skills are transferable across all the databases you will need to use. Remember, you should search across a range of databases relevant to your research topic, to ensure you are capturing all of the available evidence and literature.

The videos in this box will help you to develop the skills you need in finding and evaluating your evidence.

  • The search process - this tab takes you through the process of searching for literature, from identifying your keywords, to applying the techniques you need to use to a database search.
  • PICO and SPIDER - this tab identifies two techniques you may find helpful in unpicking your topic to form your search strategy
  • Evaluating - this tab looks at how to assess the suitability of the sources you find and how to read academic articles effectively.
Planning your Search Strategy Workbook

To compliment these resources, you can use our handy workbook to help you work through constructing your research strategy. The workbook is called Planning Your Search Strategy and is available to download here: Planning your Search Strategy Workbook

Introductory text to researching in Health and Social Care

The book below (available through the library as an ebook and in print) provides a step-by-step guide simplifies the process of reviewing published literature, provides a guide to searching, appraising and comparing literature, and offers practical tips on writing up. Why do a literature review? What literature is relevant? How do I appraise my findings? How do I present my literature review?

The search process

These really short videos talk you through the process of constructing a literature search. Beginning with the theory of why you need to use good quality academic resources and the process of searching for literature and evidence, they move through identifying key concepts - which form the basis of your key words and phrases - and onto the resources you need to use to find literature and evidence to support your work.

The theory
Identifying concepts 
The resources

Searching with PICO or SPIDER

PICO and SPIDER are methodologies you can use to help you identify your research articles. The one you use depend on the type of research you are looking for. The below articles outline how to use two of the most popular research methodologies for Health research - PICO and SPIDER. You may be asked to use them to evidence your research strategy.

Evaluating the evidence

Once you have found your evidence to support your literature review, you will need to evaluate what you have found. Here are some useful resources to help you do that:

How to read an academic paper

This short video by TedEd talks you through some tips on how to make sense of the information you are reading: how to read an academic paper. This is a very specific skill you need to develop, to be able to make the best use of the information you find in an academic paper.

How to read a scientific paper

This short infographic briefly explains how to read a scientific paper: how to read a scientific paper

Comprehensive literature searching

We have covered how to construct a literature search.

You now need to consider how comprehensive you need your literature searching to be! Some assignments will require you to be incredibly comprehensive with your searches and this is what this section of the guide will cover.

With each new assignment, you will need to find new keywords and then refine your search. Databases are full of useful tools to help you do this. This video show you how to apply your search strategy in the database, Medline, and then refine your search using the filters.

This is a transferable skill!

You can use these techniques in many databases or professional resources.

Another useful technique to use is citation searching. Citation searching can also be know as:

  • pearl growing
  • snowballing

Citation searching is essentially following the research trail! You use one piece of research like a journal article to find other research related to the original journal article. It can be particularly useful if you are struggling to find research on your assignment or research area.

Keeping a record of your research

It's really important when you begin your research to keep a record of where and how you found your information.

Sometimes, you may want to refer back to information either to:

  • clarify or check your understanding.
  • share with a classmate or tutor.
  • check the information details to ensure you can cite and reference it correctly.

Which means, if you don't know where you got it from, it will be difficult to do the above!

There are other benefits related to keeping a record of your search strategies

  • it is evidence that your academic work is developing and using good quality resources.
  • you may need to replicate or evidence your research strategy as part of your assignment. If this is required, it will be covered in your assessment brief along with what information is required and how it should be presented.

There are multiple ways that you can keep a record:

  • export your search history
  • make notes
  • use a table where you can map your research strategy.

Here is an example of how a table could be constructed:

Name of resource

Search terms used Add in any alternative search terms used. Add in if database heading used.

What limits or filters have been applied?

Number of results found

What can we change to improve the search?

Medline anxiety AND fast heartbeat No alternative terms or headings used. No limits applied 3 articles Try other key terms
Medline (anxiety OR worry OR panic) AND (fast heartbeat OR tachycardia) [tachycardia - database heading]

worry, panic, fast heartbeat

tachycardia - database heading

Date - 2010-2020

Language - English

327 articles Review the articles and see if the search is returning relevant information.

The design of the table is flexible and you can amend it to suit how you work. For example, adding in a column for the date the search was run is a really useful way to improve the above table.

PRISMA Flow Diagram

If you are required to or would like to use a PRISMA flow diagram for recording your research, there is information about this in Section 4: PRISMA Flow Diagram of the Developing Your Research Skills box above.

Critical Appraisal Tools

What is a critical appraisal tool?

That is a really good question! Critical appraisal tools are items that can help you assess research. They could take the form of worksheets or checklists.

If you are unsure whether the use of these tools is appropriate or required for your assignment, please check with the person that set your assignment.

There are many different critical appraisal tools you can use. Here are a few of the most commonly used:

How to reference a critical appraisal tool

You can cite and reference the tool using the website format in the version of APA your course is using either 6th or 7th.

Use this handy evaluation checklist

Lets talk evaluation!

You have run your searches and found lots of information but how do you know if it is good enough for use at university?  Take a look at this handy evaluation checklist to help you decide if the information you have found is what you need!

Systematic Reviews

Systematic reviews are a specific type of research.

It is highly unlikely that any student assignment within an undergraduate and postgraduate programme will be a systematic review. If you have read an assignment brief and think that you are being asked to write a systematic review please check with the person that set the assignment to ensure you are following the assignment requirements.

You may have been asked to do the following:

  • take a systematic approach to reviewing the literature
  • systematically review literature 
  • apply element of the systematic review process

but this does not mean that you are writing a systematic review.

There are useful elements of systematic reviews that can be applied to literature searching and the following books below cover this but do stay within your assignment brief.

Planning Your Research Project

This section relates to your final year, end of year project or dissertation.