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Researching a Theory

Learning about your Theory

Once you find a theory, understanding its development is the next step. This part of the research process helps you better understand the key theorists and the disciplines from which a theory developed. It also provides a grounding for how a theory might apply to your own research. During this part of the research you will consult books, book chapters, and articles that will reach back to the foundational documents a theorist wrote. In some disciplines, theories are first proposed in an article, while in others it might be a book chapter. This step can also involve a lot of citation tracking using reference lists or Google Scholar's Cited by feature.

The following resources include online encyclopedia entries and books related to the history and evolution of theories. We recommend you search SAGE Knowledge in addition to searching WorldCat through Lavery's Big Red Box. The two search examples detail the steps taken to find resources used to inform the historical foundations of a theory.

Example Search: SAGE Knowledge

Where to start

Sample theory: Social Cognitive Theory

Search "social cognitive theory" in SAGE Knowledge.

sage knowledge search box with quotation marks around the keywords social cognitive theory

Reviewing the Results

The results include book chapters, books, encyclopedia entries, and more. You can use the filters to narrow your search by content type, discipline, and more. Once you find a resource you want to read, select the section title. In the example below, the first result is a book chapter titled: Social Cognitive Theory.

sage knowledge results page with quick filters highlighted yellow, top result titled: Social Cognitive Theory, boxed in red

Read the Entry

Once you select an entry, you can read the entire section either online or downloaded as a PDF. Make sure to note any key theorists or works mentioned throughout the section so you can review the references list for additional resources.

book chapter titled Social Cognitive Theory written by Albert Bandura, highlighted links for how to save and download

Review the References

Look at the references at the end of the entry to find citations for the theorists and works you noted while reading. These will be key to learning more about your theory.

regerences list image

One more thing

While reading about a theory, you may discover a new theory based on the original that is a better fit for your topic. Remember, theories are built upon theories.

Example Search: WorldCat through Lavery's Big Red Box

Where to start

Sample theorist: Benner "novice to expert"

Search WorldCat through Lavery's Big Red Box. If you know a specific theorist, search the theory and the theorist together, for example: Benner "novice to expert". Use the drop down menu to the right of the search field to limit your search to WorldCat.

Big red box image searching Benner "novice to expert" using drop down menu to search in WorldCat

Reviewing the Results

Use the filters on the results screen to limit your results, for example, limit to Print or eBooks. Select a book on your theory, perhaps even a book written by a key theorist. In the example below you can see the book From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice by Patricia E. Benner is a good starting point.

WorldCat results list with print and ebook filters checked and From novice to expert book outlined

Selecting a Book

Open the item record by selecting the title. You can read a summary of the book and see if Lavery Library holds a copy of the book. In the example below, the link to view access options through Lavery Library is highlighted on right-side of the image. You just need to select this link to see how you can access a copy through the library. If the library does not have a copy, use the blue Request Item button to borrow the book through Interlibrary Loan.

From novice to expert detailed record page with book outlined and link to St. John Fisher College Lavery Library highlighted

One more thing

Don't forget, if Lavery Library doesn't own the book you need, you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.