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Business & IT Theory: Business & IT Theory

Search for relevant Business or Information Technology theories

There are a lot of different ways to expand your search to find relevant theories. The first step is to review the theories being used in the literature on your topic. You can also review completed dissertations or doctoral studies to see what other researchers have used. Once you've collected a list of relevant theories, spend time researching their seminal author and how the theory has been used over time. This will provide you more context as to whether or not a particular theory is going to work for your research. If you're not sure if a particular theory is appropriate for your study, be sure to reach out to your Chair. They will be able to provide more guidance.

This guide will provide more information about searching for business and information technology-related theories and theorists.

  • Search the Library's databases or Google Scholar for literature on your topic and survey the theories used by the authors.
  • Review completed dissertations or doctoral studies to see what kind of theories they used and how.
  • Use the Library's encyclopedias and handbooks to learn more about your theory or framework.
  • Keep a list of theories you find in the literature and take notes about how they were used and why.

Search the library's databases or Google Scholar for literature on your topic

It's helpful to start by searching in Google Scholar for a particular theory. Google Scholar will give you the big picture on how often literature on your topic uses your theory. It can also be immensely helpful in locating the seminal work. The databases are still useful when drilling down your search but it's helpful to start broad. 

Below is an example theory search in Google Scholar for employee motivation:

  1. In the Search box enter the keywords related to your topic.

    For example:

    "employee motivation" AND theory

    Note: The quotation marks ensure that the exact phrase is searched and not separated as individual terms.

  2. Click on the Search button.
  3. Review the results list and choose articles that are relevant to you. The theory keywords entered in the search field should be in bold in the result abstracts.

This same search could be done in any of the Library's databases. To learn more about locating theories and theorists in the Library's database, please click on the link below.

Review completed doctoral studies for theories

Searching for Dissertations and Doctoral Studies related to your topic can help you locate theories that may be relevant for your own research. You can also review their references to find more articles by theorists you're planning to use. You can look at doctoral studies from inside or outside of Walden University. 

Locate dissertations or doctoral studies by degree:

Locate the seminal work by the theorist

Once you've found a viable theory, you can search for that theory in Google Scholar and review article references to find that seminal work.

The example below reviews an article discussing Herzberg's Motivation Theory. This article was found in the previous search done in the Google Scholar search example in the Search the library's databases or Google Scholar for literature on your topic box


Resurrecting the motivation-hygiene theory: Herzberg and the positive psychology movement

DA Sachau - Human resource development review, 2007 -
… Keywords: Herzberg; motivation-hygiene theory; job satisfaction; employee motivation; positive
psychology … would also be wise to consider using or reusing Herzberg's theory as a … Managers
who operate from a theoretical paradigm have an easier time organizing research …
 Cited by 296   Related articles   All 3 versions 


Once you open the article, review the Introduction or Literature Review. This piece is usually at the beginning of the paper. In this example, the theory is mentioned almost immediately along with the in-text citation. Review how the theory developed and how it was used. (You can make notes in the Theory Search Log found in the Keep a list of theories you find in the literature box.)


The next step is to review the reference list to find the citations for the most likely seminal articles.

It will be up to you to determine which of the articles is the seminal work. The next box talks about locating theories in our encyclopedias. The entries in the encyclopedias can provide context as to which article is actually the seminal work. 

Search Google Scholar for earliest mention of a theory

Once you've found a viable theory, search for that particular theory in Google Scholar ( This will help you work backwards to find the seminal work. You can limit the dates to look for earliest dates of the theory and theorist. 

The instructions below will walk your through an example of how to search in Google Scholar for a particular theory and work backwards in time.

  1. In the Google Scholar search field, enter your chosen theory. In this example, we are using the following theory:

    herzberg's motivation hygiene theory
  2. Once you've entered the theory title, click search.

  3. To work backwards in time. Click on Custom range... under the Any time column on the left of the results.

  4. In the second box under Custom Range... enter an early date around the time your theory may have been developed. In this example we are entering the year 1970. Then click Search.

  5. There will be a list of results related to your theory from the year 1970 or prior. This will help limit your results to the seminal work.

You can also search by the theorist if you have the author's name. The example below shows a theorist search for Herzberg:

author:"F Herzberg"

Note:  author: will search for the author's name specifically. The quotation marks search for that exact phrase. 

This will provide a list of articles written by the author. This approach can also help you locate the seminal work by the theorist.

Use the library's encyclopedias and handbooks

You can learn more about a particular theory by searching in the encyclopedias to get an overview of the theory. Encyclopedias may also help you find the seminal work. Please note that the encyclopedias don't have all theories but it's worth checking.

Below is an example search for the Herzberg's Motivation Theory we found in our search results. 

  1. Find and open SAGE Knowledge (formerly SAGE Encyclopedias) (Learn how to locate our encyclopedias).

    You may be prompted for your username and password. This is the same information you use to log in to your myWalden portal.
  2. In the search box type:

    Herzberg AND theory
  3. Click the magnifying glass to run the search.
  4. Review the results and find information related to your theory.  Click on the first result to review the content.

  5. Once you've skimmed the entry, you will see more information about Herzberg's theory mentioned. In some cases, you may see an alternative name for a theory or information about name changes for the theory over time. The author(s) may have also developed a different, more popular theory.

    Continue looking through the encyclopedia to learn more. The entry will have an overview of the theory. If you scroll down the page, you will see the original works cited. Sometimes there might be links below the citations that will take you to the article if we have it in our Library.

While reviewing content, you may learn new information about particular theories. For example, you will see that Herzberg's Motivation Theory is also called the Herzberg's two-factor theory. In other locations, it may be called the Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory.


Keep a list of theories you find in the literature

As you go through the literature on your topic, keeping a list of theories you’ve found can be very helpful. You can track which theories are being used in the literature. This will prevent you from duplicating any work. You’ll find a link to a sample theory search log below. Feel free to use the log and edit it for your own purpose. It is not a standard or required document, just a useful tool for you to try.

Video and tutorial references

Video: Introduction to Researching Theory for Business & Information Technology (YouTube)

Recorded March 2020 (45 min 11 sec)