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LibCal SOP

Advanced Search

  • Show an Advanced Search during the appointment. Having the search boxes already set up on an advanced search page makes it easier to break up the main ideas of complex dissertation topics.

Gap in the literature/developing a topic

  • A student will need to dig into the literature on their topic to identify a gap. As they do exploratory research, they will see the research that has been done on the topic. This may help spark ideas for ways to focus their topic and more easily recognize a gap. They should start with a broad topic, let the literature guide them, and look for opportunities to build on existing research. When they start to see that there is not a lot of research on a particular area of their research, that could be a good lead. For example, under-researched populations or a specific region (county, state, country, etc.) may have been unexplored.
    • Example of starting broad and narrowing:
      • "drug use" AND teen* (300,000+ articles) >>>
      • "marijuana use" AND teen* (58,000+ articles) >>>
      • "marijuana use" AND "high school athlete*" (600+ articles) >>>
      • "marijuana use" AND "high school athlete*" and Texas (100+ articles)
  • Students will want to examine the limitations, conclusions, and suggestions for future research sections in existing studies. For example, the phrases "further research", "further examination", "further study", or "further exploration" combined with their broader topic will retrieve articles that have suggestions for further research in their conclusion. It can help point in the direction of a gap. 

Framework and theory

  • Theoretical framework is a single theory typically used in quantitative research. The theory is the primary way a research problem is investigated and understood.
  • Conceptual framework includes one or more theories (in part or whole), empirical findings, and other concepts typically used in qualitative research. It shows the relationship between these ideas and how they relate to the research problem.
  • Discovering and searching for theories
    • Look in encyclopedia and book databases, such as Ebook Central, Gale Ebooks, Credo Reference, SAGE Research Methods, and SAGE Knowledge, to get an overview of a theory.
    • Use an individual database or EDS to search peer-reviewed articles by
      • a general keyword search for theory combined with the topic
        • i.e., "psychologist burnout" AND (theory OR theories)
      • a topic search combined with a specific theory
        • i.e., "psychologist burnout" AND "self-determination theory"
      • a topic search combined with a specific framework
        • i.e., "psychologist burnout" AND ("conceptual framework" OR "theoretical framework")
    • Search dissertations in ProQuest Dissertations & Theses to see how the theories are used. Additionally, dissertations will likely mention or highlight seminal works of the theory.


  • Methodology terms can be searched as keywords combined with the dissertation topic since they're typically used to describe a research article's results.
  • Sage Research Methods
  • Qualitative
    • action research
    • appreciative inquiry
    • case study
    • Delphi technique
    • ethnographic
    • ground theory
    • narrative
    • needs assessment
    • phenomenological
    • program assessment
  • Quantitative
    • correlational
    • experimental
    • quasi-experimental
    • ex post facto
    • factor analysis
    • q-methodology
  • Mixed-method
    • multimethod
    • mixed methodology
    • qualitative AND quantitative
  • Systematic review (healthcare, nursing) can be found in:
    • Cochrane Collection Plus
      • contains full-text systematic reviews
    • CINAHL Complete
      • advanced search screen has a Systematic Review limiter in the Publication Type box

Problem statement

  • Starting with a broad topic and letting the literature guide the student is the best way to approach searching for a problem. If a problem is formulated without exploring the research first, there is typically no or not much research to support their statement. Often the student is working in a career or field related to their topic and has experienced or observed problems in their industry. However, the literature may not support their assumption of a problem. The problem statement needs to be grounded in the literature, not formulated from personal experience.
  • Students will want to look at the literature first, and they should simultaneously review statistics and data; it's easier to use something already found rather than data that might not exist.

Statistics & datasets

  • Statistics refers to data that has already been analyzed. Statistics provide evidence that can help support a position or argument, especially a problem statement.
  • Datasets are data collected by someone else and require the student to conduct analysis.
  • Stats and data can be found through:
    • government websites
    • library resources such as:
    • research organizations such as non-profits
    • professional organizations
    • individual researchers
  • You can direct students to our How Do I Find Statistics guide.
  • Suggested keywords for searching for statistics in articles:
    • findings
    • results
    • analysis
    • data
    • statistic*
    • ProQuest has a Statistics/Data Report limiter in Advanced Search on their Document Type list.

Literature review

  • Uncheck the Full Text box. Students will need to exhaust the literature, so they will need to see everything, not just what is in the library collection; this is also a good segue to talk about the Request a Document service.
  • Students will need historical information; however, most of their research cannot be more than five (5) years old; if possible, limit the results to three (3) years to ensure that by the time they start writing and using the research it’s not too old and unusable.
  • Google Scholar
    • Citation chaining - searching backward and forward in time for materials cited by and citing an article or resource a student may have already chosen for their research. One article links you to another, which links to another, and so on to create a chain of relevant literature. On the search results page, click the Cited by link to demonstrate citation chaining between articles.
    • Related articles – click the Related articles link under an article citation on the search results page retrieves a listing of articles that are not necessarily connected by citations but are related in topic/subject.
    • There is no way to refine to peer-reviewed results only; the student will need to confirm peer review in Ulrichsweb when selecting research from Google Scholar.



Exhausting the literature

How to know when to stop researching. The student will:

  • be familiar with key theorists and theories, seminal research, and recent developments and trends within the topic
  • confirm all related databases, as well as dissertations, have been searched
  • confirm all search terms and strategies have been undertaken
  • perform citation chaining
  • start to see the same research over and over again