Social Work and Human Services: Research projects (e.g. Hons)

Find theses and other research, develop your research skills and more! Tips for postgraduate students and anyone doing a research methods course

Need help starting your research?

Path [Adapted from CC0 Public Domain image sourced from Pixabay]

Like assistance with writing your thesis? Research students can access a range of services and resources offered by the Lecturers in Research Education

Find theses

Why look for existing theses?

  • Ensure that your topic has not been, or is not being, investigated by another researcher
  • Gain knowledge of other related research in your area of study
  • Discover the research that has preceded your topic
  • Explore methodologies and layouts used by other researchers in your field

Available theses

Theses collected and made available generally include doctoral, masters degrees by research and research professional doctorates. For examples of Honours theses consult your supervisor and School research support staff for any available exemplars.

See the Library guide Theses.

Quick start: try these collections


Search across records for hundreds of thousands of theses, primarily from Australian institutions. Many are freely available online.

Search tips: select Advanced search and limit by Format: thesis. On the results page, theses will be listed under Books

Example theses discovered using Trove:

  • Flaherty, A 2013, 'Voices from the field: how do child protection practitioners in the Northern Territory operationalise child neglect?', PhD thesis, Monash University, Melbourne.
  • Duthie, DL 2012, 'Reinvigorating the domestic violence sector: systemically addressing conflict, power and practitioner turnover', PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.
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Explore...research methodology

Find more resources in the Catalogue by searching using combinations of terms such as "social sciences", "social research", "social work", research, methodology, "mixed methods", "qualitative research"

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Research centres

Research centres can be an excellent source of grey literature

Literature review: overview

Conducting a literature review?

Firstly, determine the appropriate type of review

These can be broadly divided into traditional (also known as 'conventional' or 'narrative') or systematic but there are many review types - for a detailed discussion of review types see guides such as Systematic approaches to a successful literature review.

Jesson, Matheson and Lacey (2011, p. 165 - see Selected books) provide the following definitions:

  • Traditional narrative literature review - 'A research method which involves reviewing published and unpublished material. It usually begins with a rational for the review and is written in a narrative style'
  • Systematic review - 'A review with a clearly stated purpose, a question, a defined search approach, stating inclusion and exclusion criteria, producing a qualitative appraisal of articles'

Systematic reviews are an important part of evidence based practice, providing findings that can assist researchers, practitioners and policy makers to make decisions based on the best evidence. A systematic review is a significant undertaking and is usually conducted at more advanced levels. A traditional review (e.g. scoping review) may be undertaken prior to a systematic review to assist in formulating the research question and designating inclusion and exclusion criteria.

A few of the key initial steps in conducting a literature review include:

  • developing your research statement or question
  • defining any parameters or criteria
  • choosing appropriate search tools
  • searching with appropriate keywords and subject headings (descriptors)
  • selecting relevant material

The UniSA Learning Advisers' literature review guide provides a quick introduction on how to produce a traditional review.

  • Record your search strategy so that you (and others) can replicate the process - this is essential for systematic reviews, but is generally advised to ensure transparency and replicability. Document search tools used, date searches conducted, search terms, any limits (e.g. year, language), and number of hits
  • Sign up for accounts with key database providers (e.g. Ovid and ProQuest) so that you can save articles, search strategies, alerts and more for later use
  • Set up alerts so that you keep up to date with material as it is published on your topic
  • To conduct a comprehensive search, go beyond the major indexed databases to locate grey literature
  • Manage and organise your search results using reference management software such as EndNote
  • Systematic review methodology was developed for medicine and healthcare, and some aspects of the approach prescribed in the discipline (e.g. Cochrane) may be inappropriate in the social sciences. Be wary, for example, of attempting to apply the standard 'hierarchy of evidence'. Alternatives such as that developed by the UK Social Care Institute for Excellence may be more appropriate

'Successfully retrieving relevant information begins with a clearly defined, well-structured question'.

Davies, KS, 'Commentary: formulating the evidence based practice question: a review of the frameworks', Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, vol. 6, no. 2, p. 75.

A range of standardised frameworks have been developed to assist in developing focused, answerable questions which can be easily broken down into searchable components for more relevant results.

You may find the following useful in framing your research question.

PICO Population or patient; Intervention; Comparison; Outcome
PICOT Population or patient; Intervention; Comparison; Outcome; Timeframe
PICOC Population or patient; Intervention; Comparison; Outcome; Context
PICOTT Population or patient; Intervention; Comparison; Type of question;
best Type of study design to answer question
PIPOH Population or patient; Intervention; Professionals; Outcome; Health care stting and context
PECODR Population or patient; Exposure; Comparison; Outcome; Duration; Results
PESICO Population or patient; Environment or context; Stakeholders; Intervention; Comparison; Outcome
PS Population; Situation
ECLIPSE Expectation; Client group; Location; Impact; Professionals; SErvice
SPICE Setting; Perspective; Intervention; Comparison; Evaluation
  Davies summarises these concepts as:
PICOCPRST Population or problem; Intervention or exposure; Comparison; Outcome;
Context, environment or setting; Professionals; Research (type of question/study design);
Stakeholders, perspective or potential users; Timeframe or duration

These components may be used as search terms or limits (filters). Depending on the number of results and type of question, it may be appropriate to search with only a selection of components (e.g. P and I, or P and C).

Developing a Research Question (Laurier Library, Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed))

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The literature review: where and how to search

Where you search will be dictated by your discipline, your research topic and a variety of other considerations such as the scale of the undertaking (e.g. Honours thesis v. multi-researcher systematic review) and the nature of the material of interest (e.g. published case studies or policy documents).

Some of the core search tools for Social Work and Human Services, however, include the following:

Databases for related disciplines and key multidisciplinary databases

Subject headings (also known as descriptors) are the most specific terms available from a set list (or thesaurus) to describe the themes of a publication. An indexer assigns these terms and you can then use them in searching.

Not all databases have a thesaurus. Where they do, however, this can be used as an alternative to or in combination with keyword searching to both increase the relevance of your search and ensure that you are finding material on that theme regardless of the terminology used by the author. 


Medical Subject Headings (MESH)


PsycINFO Thesaurus



For example, in MEDLINE a search for drug addiction maps to the preferred MESH heading Substance-Related Disorders. MEDLINE 'Scope Note' - excerpt [Image source: OvidSP]
Searching MEDLINE using this preferred heading will then find all papers that you would have otherwise found using these keywords: MEDLINE 'Scope Note' excerpt [Image source: OvidSP]

Capture your search strategy

Most database interfaces have a Search History function.

This enables you to view all of the searches that you have perfomed in a search session (including any limits applied), edit and re-run searches, variously combine searches and save searches for future reference. You may need to select 'Search History' to reveal the table.

Details can be copied from the Search History to demonstrate the search strategy used for your review. You may also be able to export this in one or more formats (e.g. to Excel or Word).

E.g. for MEDLINE

OvidSP Search History function [Image source: Wolters Kluwer and UniSA Library]

Search specialised databases individually to take full advantage of available limits.

Your selection criteria/parameters this will determine any limits you will apply when searching, e.g. age range, male/female, English/other languages, and/or type of study.

Not all databases provide these limits. You will need to adapt your search strategy to each database (e.g. search for study types as a separate search string, rather than selecting these from a refinement option).


Database A selection of available limits
  • Peer Reviewed Journal
  • Population Group (e.g. Male, Female)
  • Age Groups (e.g. Childhood, Infancy, Middle Age)
  • Methodology (e.g. Literature Review, Empirical Study, Clinical Case Study)
  • Article/Publication type (e.g. Clinical Trial, Review, Systematic Review)
  • Publication dates
  • Languages
  • Ages
  • Sex
  • Languages
  • Human Age Groups (e.g. Infant, Adolescent)
  • EBM - Evidence Based Medicine
  • Clinical Trials (e.g. Controlled Clinical Trial)
  • Clinical Queries
  • Publication Types

ProQuest e.g. Social Services Abstracts

By default, AND is assumed between two or more words entered together

To find exact phrases, use double quotes e.g. "south australia"

Use an asterisk * in any position to find unlimited characters (at the beginning, within, or end of a word) e.g. depress* finds depress, depressed, etc.; *glyc*mia finds hypoglycemia, hyperglycaemia, etc.

Use a question mark to find one character e.g. wom?n will find woman and women

near/n is an adjacency operator that finds words n or fewer words apart in any order e.g. bipolar near/3 disorder

Informit e.g. Families & Society Collection

By default, AND is assumed between two or more words entered together

To find exact phrases, use double quotes e.g. "south australia"

Use an asterisk * in any position to find unlimited characters (at the beginning, within, or end of a word) e.g. depress* finds depress, depressed, etc.; *glyc*mia finds hypoglycemia, hyperglycaemia, etc. Limit the number of characters using *(n) e.g. dog*1 will find dog and dogs but not dogma

Use a question mark to find one character e.g. wom?n will find woman and women

%n finds terms within n words of each other in any order e.g. partner %3 abuse finds partner abuse, abuse by a partner, partner violence and abuse - useful for phrase variations


By default, two or more words entered together are treated as a phrase, however for phrases containing prepositions such as of, a, the, is any term may be found in place of these common ignored terms. You can 'force' an exact phrase search using double quotes e.g. "out of home" will find that exact phrase

Use an asterisk * to find unlimited characters at the end of a word e.g. depress* finds occurrences of depress, depressed, depresses and depression. Limit the number of characters using *(n) e.g. dog*1 will find dog and dogs but not dogma

Use a question mark ? to find zero or one character at the end of or within a word e.g. behavio?r finds occurrences of behavior and behaviour

adj(n) is an adjacency operator that finds words a certain number of words apart (ignoring prepositions) in any order. adj1 finds two terms next to each other in any order, adj2 finds terms in any order with one (or no) words between them, and so forth. E.g. bipolar adj3 disorder finds occurrences of bipolar disorder, bipolar affective disorder, bipolar or unipolar disorder, bipolar ii disorder - useful for variations in phrasing in the literature

Cochrane Library

By default, AND is assumed between two or more words entered together

Use an asterisk * in any position to find unlimited characters (at the beginning, within, or end of a word) e.g. depress* finds depress, depressed, etc.; *glyc*mia finds hypoglycemia, hyperglycaemia, etc. The asterisk can't be used in phrase searching - in this case use NEXT e.g. cognitive NEXT behav* NEXT therapy

Use a question mark to find one character e.g. wom?n will find woman and women

To find exact phrases, use double quotes e.g. "south australia"

near/n is an adjacency operator that finds words n or fewer words apart

Use a space instead of a hyphen when searching for usually hyphenated phrases e.g. evidence based




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Networking, collaboration & communicating your research

Networking at Re:live, Third International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology, Melbourne, 2009 [jonCates, 'DSCF2855', Image source: flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0]

Conferences are meetings of people of people with a shared interest and are often organised by professional/scholarly bodies and organisations.

Potential benefits of presenting at a conference include:

  • exposure of your ideas to a wider audience

  • opportunity to obtain feedback from peers

  • meeting potential collaborators

  • publishing opportunities e.g. you may be invited to contribute a book chapter

Conference papers are the written version of presentations given at these meetings. These may be published in print and/or online conference proceedings.

Not all conference organisers arrange publication of conference papers or proceedings. If you would like to develop your publishing track record check whether your conference paper will be peer reviewed (an indicator of quality) and will be made available by publication (increasing the exposure of your research) before submission.

For more on publishing with impact see the Publishing guide.

For more on building your research profile online see the Promote and share your research guide.

  • Ask colleagues/supervisors/peers for recommendations - where are they presenting?
  • Which conferences are experts in your field attending?
  • Browse current journals for advertised events
  • Sign up for alerts from Conference Alerts: Academic Conferences Worldwide 
  • Browse organisations' websites

Recurring conferences: a selection

Associate Professor Jill Dorrian of the University of South Australia gives tips and advice on getting your research published, such as how to choose the right journal for your research, how to increase your chances of getting published, and how to publish strategically to maximise the impact of your research.

Further information about Associate Professor Dorrian's research and publications.

This presentation was filmed during Publishing with impact: where and how, a workshop presented by the University of South Australia Library, in 2014. For further information see the UniSA Library Publishing guide.
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