Information Literacy for Psychology Students - Research Strategies

Anita M. Etheridg

Identify Your Topic --

First, state your topic as a question. For instance, if you want to know how negative words used by parents, affect their children, state it like this, “What effect does use of verbal abuse by parents have on the mental state of children?”

Second, test your topic. In order to test your topic, you should identify the main concepts or keywords, in your question, by using them as search terms and looking them up in the online catalog, if you want to find books and/or searching the online periodical databases, if you want to find articles.

Ex., keywords: effect, verbal abuse, parents, mental state, and children

Possible databases to use in the Brown-Daniel Library at TSU:

If your search strategy returns too many results, narrow your topic by using boolen operators (and, or, not): ex: parent* and verbal abuse and child* Notice the (*) after parent and child, this is called truncation (allowing searching of the root word and all its variables form for replacing single letter therefore, broadening the search and increasing the number of items you find).

The use of an asterisk after the term parent will return parent, parental, parents, parenting and after the term child will return child, children, and childhood.

If your search strategy returns too little results, it may indicate that you need to broaden your topic. Ex: look for information on communication, rather than verbal abuse. Link synonymous search terms with or Ex: verbal abuse or negative language or profanity or swearing or foul language.

Find Background Information

Once you have identified and tested your topic, you are ready to take the next step, finding background information on your topic. To do this you should find one or more sources of background information to read. These sources will help you understand the broader context of your research and tell you in general terms what is known about your topic. The most common background sources are Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Almanacs and Yearbooks, Handbooks and Bibliographies, Dissertations, Theses, and Senior Projects, and Current Research. Of course, Textbooks/Books also provide background information.

You can find these sources by searching the Online Catalog (Web Access). Some examples are:

Encyclopedias : Generalized and Specialized


Britannica Online

Encyclopedia Americana -- Ref. AE 5 .E333 1996


Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology and Counseling Ref. BF 31 .B25 1999

Encyclopedia of Human Behavior Ref. BF 31 .E5 1994

Encyclopedia of Human Emotions Ref. BF 531 .E55 1999

Dictionaries : Generalized and Specialize-


Random House Webster’s Dictionary Ref. PE 1628 .R294 2001


Dictionary of Behavioral Science Ref. BF 31 .D48 1989

Dictionary of Psychology Ref. BF 31 .C33 1999

Handbooks and Yearbooks -

Handbook of Psychological Assessment  BF 39 .H2645 1990

Handbook of ParentingHQ 755.8 .H357 2002

Mental Measurements Yearbook Online: Mental Measurements Yearbook

Print: Ref. BF 431 .B91

Dissertations -

A Comparison of Students’ Attitudes Toward Parenting TX 165 .S74 #2458

Attitudes Toward Parenting Held By Residents of Three Middle Tennessee Public Housing ProjectsTX 165 .T3 #2588

Textbooks/Books -

Preventing Physical and Emotional Abuse of ChildrenRC 569.5 .C55 W64 1991

Healing the Heart: A Therapeutic Approach to Disturbed Children In Group CareRC 569.5 .P75 R65 1990

E-books :

The 7 Worst Things Parents Do [electronic resource]

25 Stupid Mistakes Parents Make [electronic resource

When searching for background information, it would be a good idea for you to explore bibliographies by reading the background information and note any useful sources (books, journals, magazines, etc.) listed in the bibliography at the end of the encyclopedia article or dictionary entry. The sources cited in the bibliography are good starting points for further research. Look up these sources in the online catalog and periodical databases. Check the subject headings listed in the subject field of the online record for these books and articles. Then do subject searches using those subject headings to locate additional titles. Remember that many of the books and articles you find in the online catalog and periodical databases will also have bibliographies. Check these bibliographies for additional relevant resources for your research. By using this technique of routinely following up on sources cited in bibliographies, you can generate a large number of books and articles on your topic in a relatively short time.

Search the Periodical Databases

Periodicals are publications that are generally issued daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or biannually. These publications consist of journals, magazines, and newspapers. In TSU’s library, the online periodical databases can be accessed from our web page at

The online periodical databases are electronic indexes that are used to look up articles. When locating articles you can do one of two things, physically flip through the journal issues and look in the tables of contents or search the appropriate periodical database(s) that compiles information about articles from many journals for your specific topic.

General Things to Consider:

1.      What type of periodical is most appropriate for your topic? Would it be scholarly, trade, or popular? Each time you look for articles your requirements will probably be different.

2.      Look back at your list of terms, synonyms, and alternate spellings that you compiled in Identify Your Topic and look through the kinds of online periodical databases that are available and decide which database to start with.

Types of Periodicals:

Scholarly publications, also known as Research or Peer-Reviewed are generally targeted toward research or academia, peer-reviewed (the articles submitted are anonymously reviewed by an editorial board or fellow researchers before being accepted for publication), generally do not include colorful photographs, fancy covers, or graphics, information on editorial policy is usually included near the front of each issue, words often found in the title are Journal, Review, Quarterly, Annals. Examples of scholarly publications are Child Abuse and & Neglect, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Psychological Reports, Child Study Journal

Trade publications are targeted directly toward a particular industry, business or technical area, publications may be colorful and glossy, on newsprint, or somewhat drab, most report industry news, include job advertisements, buyer’s guides, and pertinent legislative information. Examples of trade publications are Entrepreneur, WWD (Women’s World Daily), ENR (Engineering News-Record), Sporting Goods Dealer, Display and Design Ideas, PC Wee

Popular publications are targeted toward consumers, written for a broad-based audience using simple language and short, timely, easily understood articles and information, often do not include information substantive enough for research papers, often sold in grocery and drug stores or newspaper stands. Examples of popular publications are People Weekly, Newsweek, Time, Ebony, U.S. News & World Report, Parents

Sample search from EBSCOhost: parent* and verbal abuse and child*

(In this sample search, if you limit your search results to “Peer Reviewed” your search would return 48 results.)

Explore Internet Resources

There are many, many search engines that are out there that can be used to find information on the Internet. A very good website to go to is

At this site you can learn all that you want to know about search engines and how to use them. Danny Sullivan is and Internet consultant and journalist who created Search Engine Watch. You will find web searching tips, search engine listings, reviews, ratings, search engine resources and more.

These are the names of the major search engines and directories that Danny Sullivan has listed as the top choices of search engines to use:

Google - Voted the most outstanding search engine - An excellent crawler-based search engine

MSN Search - Microsoft has really put a lot of time and effort into this search engine

According to Danny Sullivan, there are other good choices of search engines to consider and they are:

AOL Search (internal) and (external) – AOL Search provides users with editorial listings that comes Google’s crawler-based index.

Ask Jeeves - It gained fame in 1998 and 1999 as being the “natural language” search engine.

HotBot - It provides easy access to the web’s four major crawler-based search engines:, Google, Inktomi & Teoma

Lycos - Is one of the oldest search engines on the web, launched in 1994.

Teoma - Is a crawler-based search engine owned by Ask Jeeves with a smaller index of the web than its rival crawler-competitors Google,, Inktomi and AltaVista.

These are just a few search engines. There are many more that you will find in various categories as well. If you want to explore more, feel free to check out this site,

Evaluate Sources

Now that you have found the information that you want to use, you must evaluate it to see if what you have found is relevant. Here are some things that you will need to consider, authority, accuracy, and audience.

Authority – Who wrote the source or created the website?

Is the source of information easy to identify? The author should sign a book or article. On a website, look for the name of the author or sponsor as well as addresses and phone numbers so you can authenticate the site.

What are the author’s credentials? You will want to check biographical indexes or Who’s Who to verify the author’s expertise.

Did the author include primary as well as secondary resources? A primary source is the original source of the information and may include diaries, letters, research reports, and articles among others. A secondary source cites and interprets a primary source.

In the case of a website, who is supplying the information? Is it an educational institution (i.e., .edu extension)? Government agency (i.e., .gov)? Commercial supplier (i.e., .com)? Has the site been reviewed by experts or professional organizations?

Accuracy – When checking your sources and something doesn’t seem right or contradicts what you have read somewhere else, be sure to check it out.

Look for a bibliography (a list of citations for books, articles, and other resources on a particular subject). If there isn’t one, you may be reading someone’s opinion. If a bibliography exists, look at the sourcese

Audience – In this case, you will need to know who the intended audience is.

An author usually identifies an intended audience in the introduction to their text. Could it be researchers or experts? Trade or professional members? The general public?

Is the source or website appropriate for your needs, or is it too technical, advanced, or elementary?

Cite Sources

Citing your sources is a very important step in your research. In gathering information, you had to use various sources and/or gather opinions from others to support you research efforts. All along you should have been creating a list of resources (bibliography) that you used to find information on your topic and now it is time to cite (give credit to the original authors) your sources. Failure to give credit to someone else’s source of materials is called “plagiarism”.

If you are unsure as to how you should cite a source, there are various styles to choose from. It may depend on the discipline that you are working in. The best way to be sure is to ask your instructor what style he/she recommends for each course. For this particular course, psychology, you will use APA

Two Rules to Remember :

Pick a style and be consistent, and give complete information

Style Manuals:

MLA (Humanities) –

APA (Social Sciences) –

Chicago (History) –

CBE (Sciences) –


1.      York College of Pennsylvania Library –

2.      Penn State University Libraries –

3.      Oklahoma State University Library –

4. –







webpage contact: