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CMHC 630: Exploring Topics

Theory and Practice in Family Counseling (Summer, 2024)

Basic search strategies

As you begin your research, you often want to start with a very broad search. You do this by choosing keywords that are general, such as:

  • family (therapy or counseling)
  • family studies research
  • family therapy meta-analysis

Depending on the database you are using, this strategy can lead to some useful results. Also, this is an excellent way to begin because it can give you articles that are broadly about your topic, or give you more ideas. You can often check the citation trail of these articles, which can lead you to more interesting and relevant articles. (More about citation trails below.)

After you know what you are looking for, you will want to use more specific keywords. In order to do this, think about the following questions:

  • Am I interested in specific interventions? For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Narrative Family Therapy, Genogram and Family Mapping, etc
  • Do I want to focus on specific patient outcomes? For example, improvements in interpersonal relationships, resilience, functioning, 
    quality of life, etc.
  • Do I think that specific methodologies will be more relevant to my topic than others? For example, systematic review, meta-analysis, 
    randomized controlled trials, longitudinal studies, ethnographic studies, etc
  • Do I want to search different regions or countries?

You can try many different combinations of keywords, and see what you find. 

Citation trails

Each piece of scholarly literature- articles, books, chapters, presentations, etc- is part of a conversation with other scholars. 

It exists on a timeline of research and publication: it was written in response to previous articles, and articles will someday respond to it (hopefully!).

We call this the citation trail.

backward citation trail links to previous articles that were used as resources in the first article. You can find the backward trail by looking for the Bibliography or Works Cited. Sometimes the database will provide links, too.

forward citation trail links from the first article to later articles that use information from the first article. You can find the forward trail by using database tools. The Armacost Library will sometimes have a red arrow pointing up to show this:

And Google Scholar will have a link "Cited By":


Search Strategies

From Topic to Research Questions


Learn more about narrowing a topic and developing a research question.

Boolean Operators