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COLL C104 Opinions, Beliefs, and Truth: Psychology & Neuroscience

This guide provides information about library services and specific resources to support learning about topics within psychology and neuroscience.

Getting Started with Keywords

This quick, 3-minute video explains how to develop keywords. Thinking strategically about your research question and the terms can help you navigate the vast amount of resources more quickly. 

Developing Keywords

Step 1: Identify Your Research Question

For example, let's look at the following research question:
Are there genetic causes linked to autism in children?

Step 2: Determine Key Concepts

What are the 2-3 main ideas or concepts of this research question? 
  • Genetics
  • Autism
  • Children

Step 3: Break Each Concept Into Synonyms

Take the four main ideas from above and brainstorm synonyms for those terms. 
Need some help? Consider using the Thesaurus feature in PsycINFO (Advanced Search-->Thesaurus)

The Thesaurus function provides historical terms or related terms. For example, in psychology, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder used to be referred to as 'shell shock.' The Thesaurus provides common language to tag or index articles so you don't have to try and guess every possible term. However, the Thesaurus doesn't catch everything, that's why it's helpful to think about related terms.
I used the Thesaurus and brainstormed possible synonyms for the example could include:
  • Genetics--Genetic disorders, genetic linkage, heritability
  • Autism-- Autism Spectrum Disorders, Early Infantile Autism
  • Children-- Pediatric, kids, youth

Step 4: Search and Adjust

Start building your search by using Boolean operators. Terms like AN, NOT, and OR can help organize your search and the results you're hoping to get. Using OR can help you find the synonyms of words because it looks for either term. For example, it can be helpful to put OR statements in between your synonym words:
Genetics OR Genetic Disorders OR Genetic Linkage OR Heritability
Using AND can help bind all of your main ideas together. You would use AND because it's important that both concepts are found. For example, we would put an AND between autism AND children because the demographic matters. 
NOT can be used when you notice article results that do not match your own research question. For example, if you only care about the role of genetics in autistic children in the United States and NOT Canada, you could build that in your search. 
  • Use an asterisk * on your terms that have different suffixes. In the example below, I used the asterisk for child* and kid*. Using the asterisk means it will look for child, children, child's and kid or kids. 
  • The Advanced Search function on PsycINFO can be helpful for organizing your search. In the example below, I put each main idea in its own box followed by the synonyms with OR in between. You can add a row and change the boolean operator to OR, NOT, or AND.
  • Use quotation marks to bind specific terminology together. For example, you might want to put "Autism Spectrum Disorder" in quotations if you notice your research results include articles about autism but other disorders too. The quotations bind the terms together so that it looks specifically for "Autism Spectrum Disorder" in that order.
  • Find what you need? Look at the keywords listed and try incorporating those in your search

Strategic Searching

Let's talk Strategy

You wouldn't want to rush into the big game without a plan, or hike into the woods without a compass and map, right? 
It's easy to get lost in the amount of information that can be found in databases. You may pick out the perfect keywords only to find little to no results related to your topic. Does that mean the information you need isn't out there? Not necessarily! 
Think about your research question, the scope of your investigation, and the keywords you may have begun generating for your topic. 
In order to find and use information, you may need to take a step back and think about what you've already identified. 

Ask yourself some of the following questions: 

  • Is this the right search engine or database? Can I find the information I need here? 
  • What keywords am I using? Is there another way to talk about what I'm trying to find? Do the people talking about this topic use different terms or phrases than I'm using? 
  • Could I use controlled language or subject terms? What types of labels has the database assigned to similar sources? 
  • What other requirements am I looking for and how can I narrow my results? Does it need to be scholarly or peer-reviewed? Does this information need to be a recent as possible?
You can also modify your results using various search strategies. The default of search engines and most databases is to separate keywords and search for them separately.

The Power of And, Or, and Not

In a library database, you can control your results by connecting keywords with AND, OR, NOT, and by using other search strategies like putting "quotation marks" around phrases to keep them together in the search.
Use AND to narrow your results. Your results must include each term.
Use OR to broaden your results. Your results could include any one of the terms. 
Use NOT to exclude terms from your results. 
Quotation marks narrow your results by keeping words in a phrase together. 

We can often do research without really thinking about it. But how do we know if our research strategy is the best or most efficient? What if we can't remember what's worked well or what hasn't in the past? 

Using a Research Log to Document Your Search

A research log is a document that helps you keep track of and think about how you search for sources. A research log can be as informal as jotting down keywords and notes informally, or it can be more structured like writing annotations or summaries of sources and how they might fit into your project. 
Materials from the Information Literacy Toolkit by Meg Meiman, which adapted materials from Maria Accardi & Tessa Withorn's Canvas module Access & Use.

Advanced Features & Filters

Once you run your search, you will see a list of results. Below are some tips to help filter out information you may not need.
  • Pay attention to source type. You can specify whether you are looking for journal articles, books, dissertations, etc. Clicking "scholarly journals" will reduce the amount of resources to skim through. 
  • Publication date can also be important. If you are looking for recent literature, you would want to change the year range to reflect the last five years or so. However, if you are looking for theory literature or a historical look at a treatment, disease, etc. then an older range might make sense. 



Other filters include: subject and classification (could be useful for identifying additional concepts), as well as population, age group, methodology, and language. A sample of methodology is attached below; this can be helpful if you are looking specifically for longitudinal studies, empirical, etc. 

Tracing the Literature Forward & Backward

Tracing the Literature Backwards

Did you find the perfect resource? One way to identify additional, related research is by looking at the reference list at the end of a journal article or book. Scholars oftentimes work within the same research realm and publish in the same area. Both PsycINFO and Google Scholar have cited by and reference lists. Click the references button to see a list of works cited within the paper or book. 

Tracing the Literature Forwards

Similar to seeing references, you can also see who has recently cited the publication you initially found. The cited by function can be helpful for finding recent research or information. In the image above, you will see the "Cited by" link with a (4). Even though this article was published in 2018, four other publications have cited it in their references. Click on the link to see what those resources are and if they align with your own topic. Again, both PsycINFO and Google Scholar offer a cited by function. 
Additionally, the database Scopus can also be used to trace literature both backwards and forwards.