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SLWK 601: Human Behavior in Social Environment

Theory Search Examples

There are many ways to search for theories, including terms like framework, model or approach.  Here are a few example search strings:

  • behaviorism OR behaviorist
  • biopsychosocial OR "psychosocial spiritual" OR "bio-psycho-social-spiritual" OR "biopsychosocial spiritual" OR "biopsychosocial-spiritual" 
  • "conflict theory" OR "conflict perspective"
  • "social constructi*" OR "constructi* theory"
  • "empowerment theory" OR "empowerment model"
  • "family theory" OR "family systems"
  • "humanist* theory" OR "humanist* approach" OR "humanist* framework"
  • "symbolic interaction*"

Biopsychosocial Spiritual Search Tips

  • Note the many variations of your concept that might be used. Your best bet is to enter this entire search string into one box:
    • biopsychosocial OR "psychosocial spiritual" OR "bio-psycho-social-spiritual" OR "biopsychosocial spiritual" OR "biopsychosocial-spiritual" 

Hmong Search Tips

  • Start with relatively few concepts to see what is available.  "Hmong" is an important search term, but consider broader concepts as search terms, such as "cultural competency" or "western medicine".  Additionally, you might add geographic/demographic terms like "Laos" or "Laotian"
  • Add other terms as you go along if you need to narrow down the search.  Consider terms that target information you're needing, whether it be "psychological" OR "psychosocial" OR "spirituality" OR "tradition"
  • Try searching in different fields.  For example, narrow your search to find "Hmong" in the Abstract.

Search across databases simultaneously.

Social Work is an interdisciplinary field.  Consider adding other relevant subject perspectives to your search.  You will find more results for your research if you search multiple databases simultaneously.

You can start with Social Work Abstracts. Look for "Choose Databases", which will open a new box enabling you to select other EBSCO databases like SocINDEX, APA PsycInfo, Social Sciences Abstracts, etc. Click OK.  EBSCO will now search these databases in one search for you.  

Screenshot of EBSCO Search InterfaceScreenshot of EBSCO Choose Databases Menu

Developing Your Search Terms

Quotation Marks

With any phrase, use quotation marks to find that exact phrase.

  • For example, adverse childhood experiences [without quotation marks] would find those three words throughout, regardless of whether the concept as a whole was discussed. Instead, search "adverse childhood experiences" to find relevant results.

Boolean Operators

Don't let the jargon scare you!  Boolean Operators are the secret to good search strategies.  Remember:  AND, OR, NOT

  • AND = results must include both words
    • For example, "housing insecurity" AND school will return results that mention both housing insecurity and school.
  • OR = results should include either word
    • For example, transgender OR "gender identity" will return results that mention either transgender or gender identity.
  • NOT = results should not include word
    • For example, adoption NOT bill would eliminate results where a bill was legally adopted, but it could also eliminate results including bills about adoption.


Truncation helps you find variations words after the asterisk.

  • For example, child* would retrieve child, children, childhood, childish, etc.

Research is a process!

Be flexible and willing to try out various terms, fields, etc. Start without selecting fields and revise as necessary.  For example, you may want your theory mentioned anywhere in the article, but you want your population to be the focus of the research.  An example is pictured below:

Screenshot of theory search strategy