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Research in Education

Guide to doing research at the Graduate level in Education


There is a lot of research conducted in the field of education, both theoretical and applied, using a variety of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods approaches.  This research may be presented or published in a wide variety of formats as well.

This guide is designed to help researchers in any field of education--but especially those in graduate programs--find what has been published on their topic.  Beginning with an overview of how to construct and refine your search strategy, each section of the guide will assist you in adapting that search to databases and resources that specialize in finding articles, books, dissertations & theses, and other internet sites.

Constructing your search strategy

1. Break up your topic

Try to think of your topic as a combination of factors that will all come together in the ‘perfect’ article, rather than a single sentence.

Eliminate parts of the topic that are implied by the database (e.g., you don’t have to search ‘education’ or ‘students’ when everything in the database will relate.)


2. Cover all your options

Brainstorm different words or phrases that could be used for each part of the topic.

If the database has a thesaurus (for example, ERIC), use the database thesaurus functionality to help you find the 'right' words used in that database or to broaden or narrow your concept.

If you do a simple search and find a few articles, look at the Subject Headings (or Descriptors) to see what words the database may use for your topic.  In many databases, there will be filters or limits beside your results that will show you the most popular subject headings used.

Remember to expand acronyms, for example:  FERPA = Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Search for each part of the topic, combining synonyms or near-synonyms with OR. 

Using an asterisk * at the end of a word or part of word will save time by finding all the endings.

Searching for phrases will be more precise if you enclose "phrases in quotation marks"


3. Put it all together

Combine all parts of your topic (the ‘OR’ searches above) using AND to require that at least one term from each concept is in each result.  Using the Advanced Search option often helps do this efficiently.

Didn’t get anything?  Try leaving out the most specific or peripheral parts of the search… you may be breaking new ground!

In some databases (Education Research Complete, Google Scholar), you can search within the text of the article for your words… be prepared to get a lot!

Get too much?  You can be more specific by looking at the database limits, for example, by publication year, type, grade level, language, audience, etc.

Still too much?  You may need to add in more specific criteria, or you could try your search again using only the databases’ approved ‘Subject’ terminology.


4. Clean up... dealing with Search Results

Read abstracts to determine what is really relevant.

Store records (or add to your folder) so that you can e-mail the results to yourself… include the search history with your e-mail if possible.

Use the Find It @ UToledo to see what is available.  If you come across the full text of an article, you can save it or print.


5. Follow up

If you find particularly good articles, be sure to follow up on their lists of references.  Also, follow up on articles that may have cited your article using the Social Sciences Citation Index database.

All-in-one (mostly) searching - UTMOST Discovery Service

You can search a wide variety of our research databases (including all three major education-related research databases discussed on this guide), plus the library catalogs of the University of Toeldo using this search.  One major database that is not included is the Proquest Dissertations & Theses database discussed elsewhere in this guide.