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Psychology Research Guide

Guidance to help students with Psychology research papers and projects.

Basic Search Tips

Unlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. So you'll need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS.

Example Topic: Does cell phone use increase accidents caused by distracted driving among teenagers?

The specifics of your topic will matter when selecting sources, but for searching you only need the most essential components.

Keywords: cell phone, accidents, distracted driving, teenagers

Most words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!


Keyword: cell phone               Synonym: smartphone, mobile phone
Keyword: accident                  Synonym: automobile accident, collision
Keyword: teenager                 Synonym: young adult, adolescent


Keep an Eye Out

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

Most library databases have search tools built in. Try some of these:

  • Subject: Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.
  • Date Range: Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Peer Reviewed: Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Full Text: Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!

Advanced Search Tips

Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention both keywords.

cell phone AND distracted driving AND teenager

This search will bring back fewer results than searching either keyword on its own.

Use the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords.

teenager OR young adult

This will find sources that include either word, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.

Search terms in database: ""cell phone" OR "mobile phone" OR smartphone AND "distracted driving" AND teenager OR "young adult"

Use the “QUOTES” strategy to search for several words in a phrase.

"cell phone"

This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.