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

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Context: 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. Purpose: 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. Method: 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. Results/Conclusion: 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
Number of pages11
JournalResearch on Social Work Practice
Early online date27 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Jan 2021


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


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