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SPCE 691: Supervising Human Service Staff in ABA

Get research tips and database suggestions for the topics you need to include in your SPCE 691 training manual project.

About this guide

undefinedYou have a large project in SPCE 691 -- your Training Module project.  To complete it you will have to do research in a number of areas, especially as you work on Section II, on Training Methods & Acceptability.

This page of the guide provides general suggestions for doing research on a variety of topics in your field.  It's a good place to start so that you understand the tips I'll refer back to.

The rest of the guide is meant to provide you targeted research advice for three of the more difficult topics: 

Reminder: Use library databases, not Google!  It will save you time in the long run, and you're entitled to use them as BSU students!

Be patient!

For starters, please remember that doing library research can take a long time.  Allow yourself a big chunk of time, so that you can find the resources you need.  And remember that some documents may need to be requested from other libraries (through Interlibrary Loan), which takes several days.

Additionally, bear in mind that research is an iterative process, requiring you to continually search, evaluate and revise.  As you search and read what you've found, you're able to improve your searches using terms and ideas you've found in your results.

Choosing a database

When you're doing academic research, start on the Ball State University Libraries' homepage.  Then look for the Databases link.  Use the options under the "Subjects" drop-down menu to explore the available resources.

There are two principle research databases in the field of applied behavior analysis: ERIC (under the Education category) and PsycINFO (under the Psychology category).  Try both of them, but depending on your topic, you may find that one is more helpful than the other.

While you can use the same general search techniques in both databases, be alert for differences in terms used.

OneSearch, the Ball State Libraries' discovery tool, allows you to search many, many of our article databases, all at the same time.  It's also vital to know about.

Consider search terms for your topic

The words you use as your search terms have a big effect on the relevance of the results that you get.  So choose carefully!

  • Start with terms used in the topic description.
  • Then think of other ways you can describe that topic such as: 
    • direct synonyms (ex. teenagers, adolescents)
    • related terms (ex. mainstreaming, inclusion)
    • broader or more specific terms (ex. autism, developmental disorders)
  • It may be helpful to consult:
    • a thesaurus,
    • class readings,
    • titles or description of articles you find in a database that look promising. 
    • Subject headings are super-helpful!

Focus on the Subjects field

Unlike Google and OneSearch, library research databases like ERIC and PsycINFO assign subject headings to each record, indicating the focus of the article.

When you're trying to come up with good terms to search on, THIS is the place to look!

Pro tip: Use quotes

When searching in a database, put quotes around phrases of two or more words where it's important to keep the words together.  Then your words will be searched as a unit; it prevents the database from searching for the words individually.

So, when searching on a topic this can be important:

  • "zero tolerance"
  • "experimental function"
  • "applied behavior analysis"

It's also helpful when searching for a title -- of a governmental act, an organization, an article, etc.

  • "education for all handicapped children"
  • "national autism center"
  • "evidence-based practice in autism educational research: can we bridge the research and practice gap"


undefinedCHOP, DROP, and OR is a method for constructing your search on a topic.  You use it with a database's Advanced Search form (which has multiple search boxes).  While your topics may not always be complex enough to really need it, it's a technique that's really good to know about.

Here are links to CHOP, DROP, and OR tips:

Use a database Thesaurus

image of a key with the word "success" on itLibrary databases very often have a list of terms they use in describing what each entry in their database (be it article, book, etc.) is about.  This list of terms is called a Thesaurus and the terms in the thesaurus are often called subject headings or descriptors.

The reason having agreed-upon terms is useful is because authors may use different ways to refer to the same thing.  Having one accepted term applied to all items on the same topic allows one search to bring up everything on a topic, regardless of the words the authors may have used.

For example, there are many ways to refer to the act of helping someone in choosing a career.  Some authors may call this career guidance, or career counseling, and others may use vocational counseling, or vocational guidance.  By consulting the thesaurus in the PsycINFO database, we can learn that PsycINFO uses the term occupational guidance.  All the records on this topic will have the phrase "occupational guidance" in the descriptor field, regardless of how the authors may have expressed it.  This is very  powerful!

A thesaurus is also helpful because it can help to guide you to related terms, as well as narrower or broader terms to help you to construct good, strategic searches.

Too many results?

What if I find a ton using these techniques?

  • Narrow your list by using terms that show up in the Descriptor/Subject heading field, AND changing the drop-down menu to say “Descriptors” or “Subjects” (depending on the database you’re using).   That tells the database to only retrieve articles where my terms show up in the subject field, and (therefore) are the focus of the article.
  • Remove some of the OR terms which are not your favorites.
  • Consider removing an entire set of terms.  For example, remove the "ethics" component.

Too few results?

What if I need to find more articles?

  • Look for more possibilities by mining the list of references at the end of an article that has been helpful (Just take an article title and plug it into OneSearch with quotes around the title to see if we have access to it.)
  • See if anyone has cited an article you like by using Web of Science and searching on your article title (in quotes! Of course).  Then click on “Times Cited” to see records for articles which cited yours.
  • Add some more synonyms or related terms with OR.