Hidden gems: systematically searching electronic databases for research publications for social work and social care

Brian Taylor, Martin Dempster, Michael Donnelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Context: Electronic bibliographic databases are an important source for professional publications about social work and community care more generally. This article describes and evaluates a method of identifying relevant articles as part of a systematic review of research evidence. Decision making about institutional and home care services for older people is used as an example.
Method Four databases (Social Science Citation Index, Medline, CINAHL, and Caredata) that abstract publications relevant to health and social services were searched systematically to identify relevant research studies. The items retrieved were appraised independently using a standard form developed for the purpose. The searches were compared in terms of sensitivity, precision, overlap between databases, and inter-rater reliability.
Results: The search retrieved 525 articles, of which 276 were relevant. The four databases retrieved 55%, 41%, 19%, and 1% of the relevant articles respectively, achieving these sensitivities with precision levels of 54%, 48%, 84% and 94%. The databases retrieved 116, 73, 24 and 15 unique relevant articles respectively, showing the need to use a range of databases.
Discussion: A general approach to creating a search to retrieve relevant research has been developed. The development of an international, indexed database dedicated to literature relevant to social services is a priority to enable progress in evidence-based policy and practice in social work. Editors and researchers should consider using structured abstracts in order to improve the retrieval and dissemination of research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423
Number of pages439
JournalThe British Journal of Social Work
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Jun 2003


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