Systematic Literature Searching in Social Work: A Practical Guide With Database Appraisal

Katheryn-Margaret Pascoe, Bethany Waterhouse-Bradley, Tony McGinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
422 Downloads (Pure)


In response to the growth of evidence-based practice in social work, systematic literature reviews offer significant value to social work but are often met with concerns of time scarcity.

Through a case study search strategy addressing the research question “What are practicing frontline social workers’ experiences of bureaucracy?,” this article seeks to promote efficiency by providing a practical guide for conducting systematic literature searches and an appraisal of database performance in qualitative social work research.

The total citations, unique hits, sensitivity, and precision for each database were calculated before conducting a cross-study comparison with three previously published social work systematic searches to identify emerging performance trends.

Relying on a single database is subject to bias and will not provide comprehensive or sensitive findings; however, due to consistent high performance across four systematic searches, Applied Social Science Index and Abstracts, Social Services Abstracts, and Social Science Citation Index are recommended for future literature searching in social work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-551
Number of pages11
JournalResearch on Social Work Practice
Issue number5
Early online date27 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the University of Ulster and the Doctoral Training Alliance as a recipient of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie PhD Fellowship Programme. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 801604.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • evidence based practice
  • databases
  • bibliographic
  • Social work
  • systematic literature searching
  • evidence-based practice
  • social work


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