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Doctor of Education (EdD) Program Guide

Setting up a search strategy

Your literature review should be comprehensive in scope:
  • you want to give your readers an understanding of the evolution of your topic
  • as well as an overview of the current scholarly literature as it relates to your topic. 
  • Your literature review will be broader in scope than your actual research question – this will help you understand the issues contributing/surrounding your (more focused) research question.
Let’s say you’ve decided upon the following research question:
How have US community colleges used succession planning strategies to cultivate leaders from within and which strategies are most effective?


Before you start searching for information on your topic:
  • Think about the concepts and ideas that are contained within your research question as well as those that are broadly related.
  • Your literature review needs to demonstrate an understanding of all facets of your topic.
Someone researching our example might want to examine the following topics in support of a literature review (this is not an exhaustive list):
  • Leadership development theory
  • Succession planning theory
  • Community college leadership roles
  • Community college leadership history/current state of affairs
  • Succession planning strategies
  • Succession planning assessment
In addition to identifying the major facets broadly related to your research topic, you need to look closely at your research question and brainstorm keywords to search in the library.
Look at our example question, we can break it down into potential keywords that we might use to search the library databases. 
  • The library databases don’t work well when you type questions or long strings of words into them like you might do with Google.
  • We need to search for only the most critical terms of our research question.
How have US community colleges used succession planning strategies to cultivate leaders from within and which strategies are most effective?
community colleges
succession planning
United States
junior college
leadership development
community college presidents
rates of advancement
two-year college
succession leadership
The table above shows:
  •  some of the synonyms that might be helpful to search in the library’s databases as keywords.
  • It is important to remember that one person might write about a topic using one term (like “community college” but another author might write about the same topic using “two-year college.” 
  • To be thorough, you need to be exhaustive with your searches and synonyms.  After an initial search you might become confident that the literature is using one term over another – but start out by being thorough.
Once you have thought about keywords and synonyms, it’s time to start searching in the library.
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