Using Research to Improve Theory and Practice: A CIP Approach

By James P. Sampson, Jr.

CIP Theory

Thirty years ago, cognitive information processing (CIP) theory was formally introduced (Peterson et al., 1991) and much has been learned in the intervening years by the original three developers, and the individuals affiliated with CIP theory’s community of practice. From the outset, one of our most important responsibilities as theorists was to design and deliver effective career resources and interventions to the persons we serve. The effectiveness of the resources and interventions we provide is improved when we integrate career theory, research, and practice together (Sampson et al., 2020a). We have used this integration in creating and implementing CIP theory at the Florida State University Career Center and within the CIP theory-based community of practice that has grown around the world (Osborn, 2020). Research plays a key role in keeping the theory up to date through the study of vocational behavior, and by creating an evidence base that demonstrates the impact that CIP-based resources and interventions have on clients.

For us as theorists, the study of vocational behavior includes how cognition, affect, and action, combined with family, social, economic, and organizational factors, influence career choices over a lifetime (Sampson et al., 2020a). The majority of CIP-based vocational behavior research has focused on the influence of negative career thoughts on career decision making. This research has led to the creation of interventions on reducing negative career thinking to improve career decision making.

Evidence based practice, from a CIP perspective, involves research that examines the impact of career interventions on variables such as career indecision, academic achievement, goal instability, career decision state, and self-efficacy. While the majority of evidence exists for CIP theory-based career courses, evidence is also available for the effectiveness of CIP-based self-help and brief staff-assisted interventions (Sampson et al., 2020a).

Integrating Theory, Research, and Practice

The integration of theory, research, and practice in our field has not been easy, especially with regard to research. Complex research results do not always translate easily into improved career interventions. Researchers and theorists have a responsibility to assist practitioners in using the research and theory they create in developing career interventions. While including recommendations for practice in publications certainly helps, two issues remain:

  • First, how can practitioners easily identify vocational behavior research and evidence-based practice associated with specific theories?
  • Second, how can practitioners obtain this literature when access is often limited to persons affiliated with research libraries?

Photo By Andrew Neel From Pexels

An old saying comes to mind here, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Or otherwise stated, “If we produce career theory and research, but no one uses it in practice, have we really made a difference in the world?” Our strategy as theorists for dealing with these two problems has been to focus on both production and dissemination of research.

Access to CIP Research

From the beginning, we have shared research and theory resources in the form of client assessments and questionnaires, bibliographies, conference presentations, theory-based client handouts, course instruction resources, and staff training resources, initially by mail and now via our website. In the early 1990s, we began creating bibliographies on CIP theory to help practitioners locate topic-specific research. Our solution to improving access to CIP theory, research, and practice has been to create open access documents based on prior publications that are available via the internet. For example,

  • An Introduction to CIP Theory, Research, and Practice” is a description of the nature of career choices and career interventions, and the integration of theory, research, and practice, as well as CIP theory related to vocational behavior, research related to vocational behavior and career intervention, CIP theory related to career interventions, and evidence-based practice.
  • That introduction paper also includes links to two spreadsheets that summarize research using the Career Thoughts Inventory and a summary of evidence-based practice using CIP theory (https://career.fsu.edu/tech-center/resources/cip-theory-and-research).
  • The CIP bibliography (Sampson et al., 2020b) is designed to help users locate CIP theory-based resources and includes citations on an overview of CIP theory, general principles, theory foundations, vocational behavior research, evidence-based practice, theory applications, assessments, client resources, and reviews.

Recommendations for Career Theorists, Researchers, and Counselor Educators

Given the experience gained in developing and implementing CIP theory, the following two recommendations are offered for career theorists and researchers.

First, create a publication strategy that: (a) prioritizes presenting theoretical concepts, empirical research, and practice documentation in refereed publications first, followed by depositing final prepublication drafts in research repositories that are publicly available after the embargo period is over, (b) disseminate client assessments and questionnaires, bibliographies, conference presentations, theory-based client handouts, course instruction resources, and staff training resources via institutional websites (making sure that all copyright requirements are honored), and (c) creates public access documents housed in research repositories that summarize the knowledge contained in prior refereed publications (similar to our introduction to CIP theory publication).

Second, career theorists and researchers are encouraged to collaborate with practitioners to create specific theory-based communities of practice that facilitate the integration of theory and research into practice. Communities of practice have shared interests, joint projects, regular information exchange, mutual support, and shared practice. The synergy resulting from a community of practice can increase the relevance of theory and research, as well as make best use of the limited resources available. Communication among community members via email, audioconferencing, videoconferencing, and social media is essential in maintaining a coherent direction and effective project management (Sampson, 2017).

For counselor educators, a third recommendation would be to incorporate CIP into instruction by including resources from the Tech Center website, papers, bibliographies, PPTs, etc., in their course websites and including assigned readings on CIP theory in their syllabi.

By making it easier to locate and use CIP-related research and theory, we hope to assist practitioners in designing and delivering CIP-based career resources and interventions to the people who seek assistance with career concerns.



Osborn, D. S., (2020). International use of CIP theory in career interventions [Special Issue]. Career Development Network Journal, 35(4). 1-124. https://files.constantcontact.com/56f4bf3f301/4f571e70-512d-4e69-a6fe-a58e31f179a0.pdf

Peterson, G. W., Sampson, J. P., Jr., & Reardon, R. C. (1991). Career development and services: A cognitive approach. Brooks/Cole.

Sampson, J. P. (2017). Cognitive information processing (CIP) theory: Challenges and opportunities for integrating theory, research, and practice. In J. P. Sampson, E. Bullock-Yowell, V. C. Dozier, D. S. Osborn, & J. G. Lenz (Eds.), Integrating theory, research, and practice in vocational psychology: Current status and future directions (pp. 62-72). Florida State University Libraries. https://journals.flvc.org/svp2016/article/view/90518

Sampson, J. P., Osborn, D. S., Bullock-Yowell, E., Lenz, J. G., Peterson, G. W., Reardon, R. C., Dozier, V. C., Leierer, S. J., Hayden, S. C. W., & Saunders, D. E. (2020a). An introduction to CIP theory, research, and practice (Technical Report No. 62). Florida State University, Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling and Career Development. http://fsu.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/fsu%3A749259

Sampson, J. P., Lenz, J. G., Dozier, V. C., Osborn, D. S., Peterson, G. W., Reardon, R. C., Lenz, J. G., Morrison, A. R., Galles, J. A., Melvin, B. R., Finklea, J. T., Buzzetta, M., Freeman, V. F., Miller, A., Sides, R., Murphy, D. H., Peace, C., & Burbrink, I. E. (2020b). A bibliography of CIP theory, research, and practice (Bibliography). Florida State University, Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling and Career Development. https://career.fsu.edu/tech-center/resources/cip-theory-and-research


Jim Sampson is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems and a Senior Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling and Career Development at Florida State University. He can be reached at jsampson@fsu.edu. For more information on CIP theory, research, and practice, see https://career.fsu.edu/tech-center/resources/cip-theory-and-research


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