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Psychology (Online)

ACU Library guide for online undergraduate psychology students.

Research Tips

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Peer-reviewed journal articles are the gold standard of academic research. A peer-reviewed journal article is written by an academic expert, reviewed by other academic experts, edited, and published in an academic publication. Academic journal articles are often reporting the results of research studies or literature reviews that collect and analyze academic research on a particular topic. 

One of the easiest ways to find peer-reviewed journal articles is to use ACU Library OneSearch and filter by "Scholarly (Peer Reviewed Journals)."

Reference Works

While peer-reviewed journal articles are often reporting new studies and bringing new information to a field, reference works explain historical understandings, definitions, and widely held consensus. They focus on established knowledge more than publishing new knowledge. Reference works include things like dictionaries and encyclopedias, but can be very specialized and very academic. 

One of the easiest ways to find discipline-specific reference works is through CREDO.

Trade Publications

Trade publications (aka, "trade journals" or "professional journals") are written for audiences in the field doing practical work and are distinct from academic publications. They are meant to educate individuals within a trade or industry, while peer-reviewed academic journal articles are written for an academic audience and tend to be more theoretical. Trade journals are often easier to read and include more practical and actionable information but may not meet the requirements for serious research. 

One example of a trade journal is The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Non-Scholarly Sources

There are many types of resources that are neither academic nor scholarly but still useful in many situations. Common examples include

  • Newspaper articles
  • Popular magazines written for general audiences (e.g., Time or Psychology Today)
  • Government websites or websites of businesses and institutions
  • Legal documents (e.g., records of Supreme Court decisions)
  • Personal blogs
  • Social media and other indicators of individual and public opinion

Lexis Uni, linked below, is a database where you can find newspapers and legal documents.

Make sure you know what your instructor is expecting when you gather resources. Does your instructor want peer-reviewed journal articles, anything scholarly, or anything relevant, even if it is not scholarly? 

Vocabulary and Terms

Academic searching requires a little more precision than a Google search, so you'll want to prepare for your searching by having a good handle of the vocabulary relevant to your topic. 

One way to find relevant terms is by looking in your class readings and assignment instructions for repeated or important terms. 

Another helpful resource is Credo. Credo includes academic dictionaries and encyclopedias that can be useful when learning what terms mean, how they relate to each other, and discovering new related terms.The sources you find on Credo won't be the peer-reviewed journal articles you want to cite in serious papers, but they can be very helpful in the research journey.

example credo search for intersectionality

The above screenshot image is an example of a search in Credo for "intersectionality." Continued down the page are more reference sources that provide background about the topic. Take note of the "Key concepts" under each source as well as the web of related terms on the right. Explore the resources and follow links to become familiar with the terminology. 

Where to Search

Choosing a starting point for your search is an important part of the process. Consider starting in a discipline-narrowed database, such as PsychInfo for psychology articles only. If doing interdisciplinary research, it may be advantageous to also do similar searches in different databases, such as a sociology or religion and theology database, depending on your topic.

Of course, you can always search in OneSearch, and narrow and filter from there. Below is a screenshot showing how you can select one or more databases from within the OneSearch filters. 

First, on the left-side filter menu, scroll down to "Filter by Database" and click "Show More" to view the full list of databases relevant to your current search. Include as many or as few as you choose. 

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks, used correctly, are one of the easiest and most impactful ways to refine your searching strategy. Putting a phrase in quotation marks makes the database treat it as a phrase instead of individual words. 

For example, if we search the following term in OneSearch...

cognitive dissonance

...the database will retrieve any sources in which both the words cognitive and dissonance appear somewhere in the text, but they may appear in different paragraphs or even on different pages. If we search instead...

"cognitive dissonance"

...the database will only retrieve sources in which the term cognitive dissonance appears with both of those words right next to each other in that order. 

Using quotation marks when you know you're looking for a specific multi-word phrase helps narrow your searches to avoid a lot of irrelevant results.

Quotation marks are extremely effective in helping you find sources you already know the title of, such as recommendations from your instructor. Put the first few words of a title in quotation marks (I recommend stopping before the subtitle so punctuation doesn't interfere with your search) into the search box, and the title you're looking for will usually be at the top of the results page. 

And, Or, and Synonyms

The ways we connect terms and phrases in database searches also makes a big impact on what we results we will end up with. The word "AND" makes a search more narrow: it requires the database to include only search results which include all of the terms we connect with "AND." On the other side, the word "OR" broadens searches by allowing databases to include all search results which include any of the terms we connect with "OR." 

Properly refined searches often use both of these strategies. Use "AND" to narrow your searches, make sure all essential elements are included, and filter out irrelevant resources. Use "OR" to connect synonymous terms so you don't miss anything. 

For example, let's say we wanted to do a relatively simple search to find peer-reviewed articles that compare or contrast Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. First, we know we aren't interested in anything that mentions only Freud or only Jung. We only want articles that mention both of them, so we'll definitely use "AND" to connect them. 

Freud AND Jung 

Let's narrow this a little further. A lot of resources probably mention both Freud and Jung: they're big names. Let's make sure to include their associated theories and think through some terms that can be synonymous. One example of synonymous terms may be the mention of these individuals by their names or the adjectives that have come to describe theories associated with them, so instead of just Freud, we could say Freud OR Freudian. 

Now we're mixing ANDs and ORs, so we'll need to use parentheses to keep everything straight. Think of the way parentheses are used in mathematics to show what should be resolved first: the same logic is used in database searching. 

(Freud OR Freudian) AND (Jung OR Jungian)

Let's try the same principle again, but with concepts associated with them instead of their names: 

(psychoanalysis OR "psychosexual development") AND ("collective unconscious" or "jungian archetypes")

Notice how we have some multi-word terms now, so we've added quotation marks to make sure they are treated as terms, not as individual words. 

Asterisk (*)

One more advanced tip is truncation, used by an asterisk (*). In OneSearch, an asterisk can replace letters at the end of a word (only the end) to allow other forms of the word to be included. For example, if we truncate the word psychology to be psycholog* with an asterisk replacing the Y, this will return not only the word psychology but also psychologist, psychologists, and psychological. 

Be mindful about how you use truncation. If the word is too short, and too many words begin with those letters, you'll end up broadening your search too much and getting irrelevant results. 

As an illustration, let's truncate a few words from our previous search:

(psychoanaly* OR "psychosexual development*") AND ("collective unconscious*" or "jungian archetype*")

psychoanaly* can become psychoanalytical, development* can become developmental, unconscious can become unconsciousness, and archetype* can be singular or plural. This change broadens our search slightly but not dramatically. 

Boxes

There are two ways to search in OneSearch. One is as above with all search terms on one line, using parentheses to connect everything like an algebra problem. For complex searches, it may help to use OneSearch's Advanced Search feature to organize terms in boxes. By default, the content of each box is connected by AND. Below is the same search (without truncation) in this different format without the need for parentheses: 

Adobe Creative Cloud

Through The Adobe Creative Cloud suite of programs, you have access to powerful tools for media creation, editing, etc. Use the links below to learn more.  

Zotero

Zotero is a citation management tool where you can save, organize, access, and cite resources for your academic work.