Finding research evidence

Two women having a positive discussion

The first thing you need to do is narrow down the focus of your search into a specific question to help find relevant research evidence.

Think about:

  • who: the group of people you are most interested in e.g. apprentices, older people, or care home managers
  • what: what you are intending to do e.g. to redesign a service, provide training, or retain staff
  • why: the outcomes you are wishing to achieve e.g. to save money, learn what to avoid, or understand best practice.

The 'why' question can be thought about in three ways:

  • general - you know the problem but have no solution in mind
  • specific - you know the problem, have a solution in mind and wish to check it out
  • comparative - you know the problem, have several solutions in mind and need to decide between them.

Once you have narrowed your focus think about the key words and search terms you will use to find relevant research evidence. Consider alternative terms that could be used such as synonyms, abbreviations, related terms, acronyms and plurals.

Consider how you can combine and exclude terms. For more information on this see the Google help page.

Once key words are identified, you need to narrow down your search with a specific strategy.

Write down your:

  • research question
  • keywords and alternatives
  • where you are going to search (see find research evidence section below)
  • any limits to your search e.g. between certain dates, UK publications or English language, focus on particular outcomes or settings.

It’s really useful to record how you searched, where you searched and the dates on which you searched and record for future reference.

When you’ve identified your focus and search strategy, you need to think about how to find your evidence and where to look for answers. 

Broadly speaking research evidence can usually be found online, via the following places.

Search engines

Google is a very good starting point for an initial search. You are likely to receive lots of results, but if you are a regular user the ones most relevant to your usual search activity will be presented first.


  • DARE (Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects) contains details of systematic reviews that evaluate the effects of healthcare interventions and the delivery and organisation of health services.
  • DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) is an online directory that indexes and provides access to quality articles free of charge in open access, peer-reviewed journals.
  • Google Scholar provides access to a database of scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites.
  • NICE Evidence Search provides free open access to a unique index of selected and authoritative health and social care evidence-based information.
  • SCIE Social Care Online is the UK’s largest database of information and research on all aspects of social care and social work.


British Library search allows you to search, view and order items from nearly 57 million records, or search the contents of the Library's website.

There is a specific social welfare portal that is likely to be of interest to those working, or supporting people, in social care.

University libraries are also useful and often allow membership access to alumni.

Individual websites

There are a number of relevant organisations whose websites are good sources and signposts of research evidence.