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Research Guides

Psychology 209 : Fundamentals of Psychology Literature Review: Searching by topic

An introductory guide to searching for Psychology literature

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The Intellectual work: What's the question?

Before you propose and design a research project, you need to find out what evidence already exists about your research question. In order to find appropriate and relevant evidence, you will need to look closely at your research problem and figure out what is being tested or measured and what question the research study is trying to answer, what it's really about.


"What's the question?" example

The question: Does talking on a cell phone while driving negatively impact driving performance?

The key concepts: "cell phone talking" and "driving performance" are the variables being measured. But are they the only core elements? If we are limited to the evidence gathered from testing drivers who are talking on cell phones, are we getting the only relevant data?

What other concepts or vocabularies might be needed for a search like this? For instance:

  • Is multitasking an issue here? In other words, would studies measuring the impact of a cognitive processing task on any other task performance be relevant?
  • How do you measure "driving performance"? Reaction time? Vehicle control? Consistent speed? Staying in the lane?
  • What elements make the original question truly unique? Would studies measuring the impact of driving on conversation be relevant?

Be prepared to think more intensely about your topic/question than the vocabulary in the worksheet suggests. Are some terms being used only as examples and not specific topics? What is "perceived emotional support" and how do you think it might be measured in your own culture?

Use the first link at the left to access PsycINFO. If you wish, explore the same questions using the other databases linked here. What differences can you observe in the way the databases work, what search options each makes available, what vocabularies does each employ and what types of research studies are archived in each? Reflect on how these differences might impact your search strategies for a major research project.