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Theories and Frameworks: Discover Theories

Where to start

There are many ways to find theories that are relevant to your coursework and research.


To look for a theory for a discussion post or assignment, these strategies are a good place to start.

  • Try searching encyclopedias and books for the concept or subject area you're interestedReview the entries and look for a section on theories.
  • Another strategy is to search scholarly articles on your topic to see what theories are being used in the literature.

Dissertation and Doctoral Studies

Finding a theory for a capstone is a more involved process because the theory must align with your specific research problem. You may find it necessary to use most or all of the search strategies and tools in this guide. 

  • A good place to start is by searching your topic in completed dissertations since theory and its alignment with the research problem is often discussed in more depth than in a published research article.
  • Encyclopedias, books, and scholarly articles are also useful sources.

Encyclopedias & books

Encyclopedias and handbooks

Scholarly encyclopedias and handbooks are great places to find information on theories. The Library has two encyclopedia databases: Sage Knowledge and Gale eBooks. 

Try the following search strategies when searching encyclopedias and handbooks. Review the book's table of contents or index for sections on theory.

  • Search for the subject area you're interested in such as education
  • Search for the specific concept you're interested in such as mentoring
  • Experiment with different search terms such as mentoring or employee mentoring or mentoring theory


The Library also has scholarly books that are available in full text and are another great resource. Search your topic as you would for scholarly articles (one idea/concept per search box). Use the "Advanced search" link and enter your topic in the first search box; in the second search box, experiment with adding theory OR theories. 

Scholarly articles

Searching your topic in the scholarly literature will give you an idea of what theories have been used in the research related to your topic. Take notes on the theories being used so you can investigate them later in more depth. 

Use the Library databases to research theories related to your topic. EXAMPLE: Search articles on mentoring new teachers.  

  1. On the Library homepage, go to the Research by Subject box.

  2. Use the drop-down menu to choose the subject related to your topic. EXAMPLE: Education 
  3. Click on the databases drop-down menu to choose a database related to your search. EXAMPLE: in the Education Databases drop-down menu, choose Education Source. You may need to log in with your Walden email and password.
  4. Now you are on a search page with three search boxes. Break your topic into keywords and enter one idea/concept per box. EXAMPLE:

    In the top search box enter:


    In the middle search box enter:

    first year teachers OR beginning teachers

    Enter related terms/concepts in one search box separated by OR. This returns results that include either of these terms.

    In the third search box enter:

    theory OR theories 

  5. Scroll down the page, and under Limit your results, check the boxes for Full Text and Peer Reviewed.

  6. Review the results and browse the subject terms under each article in the results list as well as the article's abstract to identify articles of interest. Browse those articles for potential theories by scanning the introduction, literature review, and sections titled theoretical or conceptual framework.


Similar to searching scholarly articles, searching completed dissertations and doctoral studies related to your topic can help you locate theories that may align with your own research. You can also review their references to see what theories are being used in those articles. Search your topic as you would for scholarly articles (one idea/concept per search box).

Search dissertations or doctoral studies by degree:

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is another option for exploring theories since it searches broadly across publisher's websites, repositories, and other libraries. Remember, you cannot limit to peer review or full text. By using the Walden Library's pre-configured Google Scholar search, you can quickly see which articles are available in the Walden Library.

For example, a theory search in Google Scholar for mentoring first year teachers might look like this: 

  1. Use the Library's pre-configured Google Scholar search and enter the keywords related to your topic.

    mentoring AND ("first year teachers" OR "beginning teachers") AND theory ​

    Note: The quotation marks search those terms as an exact phrase. To search similar terms/concepts, include the terms in parenthesis and separate them with OR.

  2. Click  the Search button.
  3. Review the results list for relevant articles. Search terms will be bolded. Articles available online or in the Walden Library will have a link next to the article. Learn about accessing full text articles through the Find @ Walden button.

Learn more about searching Google Scholar