Holland's RIASEC Theory and Applications: Exploring a Comprehensive Bibliography

By Elizabeth A. Ruff, Robert C. Reardon and Sara C. Bertoch

In summarizing the impact of Holland's work some years ago, Borgen (1991) noted that by any standard Holland's influence was unmistakable in vocational psychology, research on his theory was voluminous and unabating, and the widespread use of his inventories was huge.


To explore this more fully, we undertook a bibliographic study of the published works on Holland's RIASEC theory, practical applications, and tools with respect to various groups of people in multiple settings, countries, and conditions. A detailed report of the methods and results of this study is available online through Florida State University in Technical Report 47 .

Holland's theory (1997) specifies a connection between persons and environments that uses the RIASEC classification system to identify persons as Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, or Conventional, and in a similar way to classify environments, e.g., college campuses, fields of study, work positions, and occupations.

Our study focused on several questions related to the rate of research on Holland's work over time, the frequency of contributions across varied areas, and how documents about this theory have been disseminated.

Holland Proliferates in Databases

Florida State University's library website provided most of the references for the development of this bibliography. Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) was the provider for researching multiple databases (Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, 2007). CSA provided 34 search engines and commonly used databases such as ERIC and PsychInfo, which presented the largest number of references. Other online databases were used in addition to CSA, including the ISI Web of Science, JSTOR, and Eureka. In addition to such online databases, print resources (e.g., book chapters, test manuals, articles, presentation materials) were used to identify bibliographic citations.

We used RefWorks to manage the large number of electronic and print references. Reference citations were electronically uploaded or manually input into the RefWorks system where they could be stored, sorted, and altered for later use. RefWorks is proprietary software that is provided free to the university community through our library. We were assisted in this project by an information-management consultant, who was the university's faculty and graduate research services librarian.

Fifty Years and Still Viable

We found 1,609 reference citations from 1953 to early 2007 on Holland's theory, and we categorized each reference into one or more of the following areas: Application, Alternate Forms, Theory/Typology/Validity, Diverse Populations, and Specific Populations. References were transferred into one comprehensive bibliography and five sub-bibliographies (one for each category), and Refworks was used to manage the citations. Ruff, Reardon, and Bertoch (2007) provide detailed descriptions of the method for this study as well as tables and graphs showing the results.

Analysis of the reference citations provided a number of findings. The first literature citations were reported in 1953, and references built rapidly from 30 in 1970 to over 50 in 1980, 1985, 1986, 1988, and 2005. There was no evidence of decline in references over time. These findings imply that although Holland's model has existed for over 50 years, it is still currently viable in the field of career development.

We placed each of the 1,609 references into one or more of the five categories based on the reference topic (some references could be categorized in more than one area). The largest category was Applications (48%), followed by Specific Populations (20%) and Diverse Populations (16%). The Specific Populations category included references pertaining to college major, occupation, or level of education. The Diverse Populations category included references based on gender, race, nationality, disabilities, and socio-economic status. References in these three categories provide evidence that Holland's work is useful to practitioners in general and to those working with diverse and specific populations from varied cultural traditions.

Our research revealed that Holland's work has appeared in 197 different journals, and that these journals are published in countries around the world in varied professional fields and disciplines. In addition, 16 language translations of the Self-Directed Search have been created and are licensed for sale by Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc., the publisher, and 9 other translations are sold by foreign publishers. Together, these data reveal the extensive infusion of the RIASEC theory and the related practical applications into the fields of educational and vocational guidance worldwide.

The extensive body of work related to Holland's RIASEC theory can be intimidating for those contemplating research in this area, but we hope that tools like this bibliographic database will make this more manageable and increase the quality of the studies undertaken. An electronic version of this bibliography is available on the Florida State University Library's Digitool archive database website. This online bibliography is stored in Microsoft Office Excel to increase its usability, and can be manipulated by key word search, sorting by author, date of publication, key word, type of publication, and topic area.


Borgen, F. (1991). Megatrends and milestones in vocational behavior: A 20-year counseling psychology retrospective. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 39, 263-290.

Cambridge Scientific Abstracts. Retrieved January 5, 2007, from http://www.csa.com.proxy.lib.fsu.edu/.

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

Ruff, L., Reardon, R., & Bertoch, S. (November 5, 2007). Creating a research database on RIASEC theory and practical tools (technical report no. 47). Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University, Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling and Career Development. http://www.career.fsu.edu/documents/technical%20reports/technical%20report%2047/tr47.pdf

Elizabeth A. Ruff (Ruffea@yahoo.com) received her M.S./Ed.S. in counseling and human systems with a specialization in career counseling from Florida State University in 2006, and B.S. in psychology from James Madison University in 2003. Since coming to FSU and entering the doctoral program in counseling psychology and school psychology, she has provided career counseling services, worked in a hospital behavioral health center, and counseled at a women's state prison. Her current research is focused on increasing information-seeking behavior using video and model reinforcement.


Robert C. Reardon, Ph.D., (rreardon@fsu.edu) is a retired professor and program director in the CareerCenter at FloridaStateUniversity where he presently holds a courtesy appointment. He received the Eminent Career Award from NCDA in 2003.


Sara C. Bertoch (sarabertoch@gmail.com) received her B.S. in psychology from the College of Charleston in 2004 and her M.S./Ed.S. in counseling and human systems with a specialization in career counseling from FloridaStateUniversity in 2007. She is currently a doctoral student at FSU in counseling psychology and school psychology and working at an inpatient mental health facility. She has worked as a crisis hotline counselor and a career counselor. Her current research is focused on how achievement motivation affects performance of students in a career planning course.


All three can be reached at 850-644-6431.

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