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PSYC 250: Research Methods: Basic Searching

Psychology

The best place to begin your search for credible information sources is the search box on the library's home page. This simple, powerful discovery tool will help you find physical items in our library (e.g. books, DVDs, reference materials) and valuable content from scholarly journals, trade publications, popular magazines, and newspapers.

big search box on the library's home pageUsing the library's search box allows you to search multiple databases and thousands of journals all at once. But if for some reason you need to search just one database or one journal at a time, the links below can help you do that.

Finding Articles

The main search box on the library's home page allows you to limit your search to a specific type of resource, e.g. books, articles, course reserve materials, etc.

If you're looking only for articles--including scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles--use the dropdown menu beside the main search box to select "Find Articles." (FYI: The "Find Journal Title" option will only help you see if we subscribe to a certain journal; it won't search for specific articles published in that journal.)

Dropdown menu of main search box

Enter a few important subject-related keywords in the search box and hit the "Search" button.

You can narrow your results even further on your search results screen. If you're only interested in articles from Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed journals, look for the "Limit To" box on the left side of the page and click the box that says "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals." Your results list will be updated to weed out non-scholarly sources.

Scholarly Peer Reviewed Journals limiter

 

Selecting Keywords

The search terms or keywords you use to search are what determine the results you get.  Here's a good exercise to help you generate keywords:

1.  Express your topic in a topic sentence or research question: “What is the effect of television violence on children?”

2.  Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that topic sentence:  “What is the effect of television violence on children?” = Television, Violence, Children. Leave out the small, common words that would be found in hundreds of irrelevant articles, e.g. What, Is, The, Effect, Of, On. Choose keywords that represent the main ideas of your topic.

3.  Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:

  • Television – media, TV
  • Violence – aggression, hostility
  • Children – toddlers, youngsters, boys, girls

Combining Search Terms

You can create complex search strategies by combining keywords using the linking words AND, OR and NOT. For example, if your search terms are mathematics AND curriculum:

  • AND – Narrows and focuses the search results. The search mathematics AND curriculum will bring only results where both the terms mathematics and curriculum are present.  
  • OR – Broadens the search results. Using OR will bring results where the term mathematics is present, or results where curriculum is present, or results where both terms are present.  OR is useful if you have more than one way to refer to a concept -- Example: elementary OR primary.
  • NOT – Excludes anything where the term after the NOT is present -- Example: school NOT college

Wildcards & Truncation

You can add special symbols called "wildcards" to a search term in order to receive more results. Often times this is used if a you're not familiar with a spelling, a word has multiple spellings, or you're trying to recall specific information. Different search tools, databases, and database providers utilize different wildcard characters, but the asterisk or "star" (*) is one of the most commonly used.

Truncation allows you to search various forms of a word by finding alternate endings. The wildcard character is placed at the end of the first few letters of a search term or at the end of its root. A root is the base or most simplified form of a word.

For example, using the search terms "Indian*"  may find information containing "Indian, Indians, Indiana, Indianapolis"

Each database or database provider utilizes different wildcard characters and may have restrictions such as searching no less than 3 letters to achieve results.