The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

Searching for Prior Literature for SoTL Projects: Beyond Electronic Data Bases

1 Comment

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

It has been the experience of many SoTL researchers that finding relevant past studies and theory for their SoTL projects can be a difficult task. First, for most of us, this is usually not the literature we know from our traditional disciplinary research or theoretical understandings and/or we may be in a work situation where we have little opportunity to conduct any research (and literature reviews). Second, published or presented past SoTL studies do not have ‘their own’ electronic database and do not appear with any frequency or consistency in any one other electronic database. Third, our SoTL work is, most often, context specific (in terms of the discipline of our students, our institutional characteristics, the characteristics of our course and students, etc.) so we may feel there is no extant relevant literature. Given such constraints, what strategies can we use to find prior SoTL studies relevant to our projects?

  • Think about what types of past studies or theoretical pieces could be relevant to your SoTL project. Past work with the same or a related teaching-learning problem or question regardless of approach taken? That uses the same theory you hope to use? That uses a similar methodological approach though the project’s topic might be a bit different than yours? That has a similar question and/or method but in a course in a different discipline? Depending on your questions and purposes, intended audiences, and intended ‘making public’ outlets, any or all of these areas of literature could be relevant to your SoTL project.
  • Have an idea, based on your SoTL project, journal mission statements, etc. of the specific publications or conferences or websites to which you plan to submit your SoTL work. You want to be careful to find and cite related work from those outlets or venues.
  • At your institution’s library or online, read the titles/abstracts of articles in recent issues of major SoTL journals (cross discipline-general, cross discipline specific, and in your discipline) looking for related work. You can find one list of such SoTL journals with links at .
  • Depending on the topic of your SoTL project, consider looking at prior literature in more traditional education journals.
  • Work with a library faculty member at your institution. They are experts at doing literature searches.
  • Online, go to the sites of major SoTL conferences such as ISSOTL, the SoTL Commons, STLHE, and Lilly conferences, and check for proceedings or materials or lists of presentations of recent conferences looking for related work. If bibliographies are not posted, email the presenters of related work for their ideas about sources and their paper or presentation or a bibliography.
  • Online, go to sites that are ‘repositories’ of SoTL work such as the Visible Knowledge Project at Georgetown, the Carnegie Foundation Keep Snapshots of Carnegie Scholars and other SoTL work, and the University of Nebraska course portfolio site looking for related work. If citations or bibliographies are not posted, email the creators of the posting for their ideas about sources.
  • Attend SoTL conferences and talk with other SoTL scholars who are doing work in the same or overlapping areas for their suggestions of literature.
  • When you have found a useful, recent article or other source, carefully review the bibliography of that piece for other useful sources.
  • Use multiple search strategies—electronic databases, interpersonal contacts, ‘hand’ searches, ‘snowballing’ of references from a relevant article, etc.

One thought on “Searching for Prior Literature for SoTL Projects: Beyond Electronic Data Bases

  1. Pingback: TLI Update and Resources for Successful Publication of SoTL Work | The SoTL Advocate

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s