COG SCI 100: Cognitive Science

Psychology Search Tips

Power search features for most article databases:
  • Use synonyms -- there are many ways to express a concept (teenager or teen or adolescent)
  • Use truncation, with the use of an asterisk (*), to get different forms of the word, for example teenage* will retrieve teenagers, teenager, teenaged, etc.
  • Plural and singular forms of a keyword can produce different results.
  • Use quotation marks when you want an "exact phrase."  Some search engines also accept parentheses (  ) to isolate an "exact phrase." 
  • Use other limiters such as "date" -- most will let you find results for a certain time period.

Advanced Searches:
Every discipline, including Psychology, has a vocabulary that is unique and not commonly in our everyday language.  In a discipline-specific database, like PsycInfo or PubMed, these vocabularies are called "controlled vocabularies." They may also be referred to as descriptors or subject headings.

In PsycInfo, the  Thesaurus is a very powerful tool. It helps you identify articles that are about a topic, not just that have the word in the abstract. For example, if you are looking for the cause of a certain psychological problem, the descriptor "etiology" finds material that looks at causality.  The Thesaurus also helps you identify the "official" term for a particular psychological disorder, such as "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder" for "ADHD" or "ADD."
Other search engine features in PsycInfo are also helpful.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Use the special "limits" or "fields" that the database offers. They really do help you make a more focused and powerful search. PsycInfo lets you use many helpful limits including:
  • Methodology-- are you interested in literature reviews? Empirical studies? Clinical trials? Quantitative or qualitative studies?
  • Population -- do you want research based on humans? Males vs. females?
  • Age of subjects -- adolescents? children? old people?
  • Publication type -- do you want articles? dissertations? books?
In PubMed, use the MESH (Medical Subject Headings) thesaurus to:
  • Identify the official medical term for a disease or medical issue.
  • Find broader, narrower, or similar terms.
Last Update: February 04, 2014 14:29