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Course & Subject Guides

Research Methods in Psychology - Oakland Campus

A guide to using PsycINFO, Google Scholar, and other psychology resources for PSY 0037.

Refining Your Topic

Focus Your Topic. Many researchers find this to be one of the toughest parts of research. Often a researcher's initial topic may be too broad or general. Concept Mapping is a graphic method of "mapping" out a complex topic and its different facets. Think of an image of a wheel with several spokes coming from a central hub. Place your main topic in the hub. Think about the different issues or aspects of your topic, and write one aspect or issue at the end of each spoke. This exercise can help you select which issues or aspects you address within your report.

Browse the Literature. Do some initial research on your topic to get a sense of what issues or challenges are wrapped up in your topic. This initial review of information can also help you select useful search terms.

Selecting Keywords

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


1. Express your topic in the form of a question or topic sentence. "What is the impact of social media usage on the self-esteem of adolescents?"


2. Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that question: "What is the impact of social media usage on the self-esteem of adolescents?" = social mediaself esteem, adolescents


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

  • social media - x, facebook, tik tok
  • self esteem - body image, self confidence,  self worth
  • adolescents- teens, teenagers, high school students

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 "social media" and "self esteem":


AND Narrows and focuses the search results. The search "social media" and "self esteem" will bring only results where both the terms "social media" and "self esteem" are present.

OR Broadens the search results. Using or will bring results where the term "social media" is present, or results where "self esteem" 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: ("social media' or Facebook).

NOT Excludes anything where the term after the NOT is present.

The use of quotation marks around a group of words indicates a specific phrase such as "high school students"

The use of an asterisk at the end of a word will allow variations of the term to be searched at the same time.  For example: adolesc* would retrieve the terms adolescent, adolescents, adolescence.

Citation Chasing and Reference Searching

Reference searching and citation chasing are collectively known as snowball searching.  Reference searching is when you look at the  reference list of an article you intend to use in your research, in order to find other appropriate articles. Citation chasing is when you search for articles that cited the article you originally found. In other words, you are trying to locate other papers that used your article in their reference list. Keep in mind that more recent articles may not have any citations as of yet.  It takes time for an author's work to gain recognition and begin to be cited by other scholars. 

Once you have a print copy or PDF of an article you intend to use it is fairly easy to scan the reference list for other relevant articles. But this information is sometimes also listed on the electronic database record for that particular article.  In fact, there are many fields on the PSycInfo record below that would be useful in finding more articles.  On the left side of the record you will find links to references, citations and documents with shared references. All of these links will lead you to other articles related to the topic of this article.  On the right is a link to suggested sources.  This also links to related articles.  In the center you will find subject, MeSH subject and keyword fields.  These fields can be used to find other terms to use in your search to find even more articles.

PsycInfo Screen Shot of Article Record

It is worth noting that not all records in PsycInfo will contain this information.  The publisher dictates what information about an article can be shared within a particular database.

In addition to PsycInfo you can also try using the Web of Science database in your search for articles,  You will notice the title below contains links to citations, references, and related articles for a title.

 Screen shot of Web of Science record