1. Develop a clear research question
Be clear on your topic. A clearly worded research question will help you to develop a quality search strategy.
2. Mindmap your research topic
Consider your topic and draw out the key themes. Mindmaps are a great way to help you draw out these themes and associated terms. Drawing them out in this way will help you to develop keywords that can then be used to conduct your searches. This element of the process is crucial and can save you a substantial amount of time later on.
3. Develop keywords
When developing keywords from your mindmap, use a thesaurus to help you pull together synonyms and alternative phrases. The key when searching is to start off broad and narrow down. Consequently, it helps if you are comprehensive in considering the language that may be used in the research you are seeking.
4. Consider other subject areas
Consider whether your chosen area touches on subjects other than the psychology. For example, is it related to healthcare or clinical practice? Or does it have any relation to business? If so, you will need to consider the relevant databases to be searched.
5. Consider appropriate databases
Choose appropriate databases for your search:
PsycINFO – The key database for all psychology, guidance, counselling and coaching topics.
PEP-Web – Key psychoanalysis database.
ScienceDirect – Multi-disciplinary database, useful for anyone studying psychology, counselling or coaching.
Academic Search Complete – Academic Search Complete features over 8,000 journals and covers all areas of study including psychology, counselling and coaching.
Scopus – The largest abstract and citation database for peer-reviewed research.
EBSCO Cinahl – Useful for anyone studying in the field of health and clinical psychology.
EBSCO Business Search Complete – A good source of information for anyone studying coaching psychology.
6. Start broad
Use a variety of combinations of the keywords developed. Keep to only a small number of keywords at the outset (two keywords should be sufficient to start with), don’t put too many in at the beginning. If you start with too many terms, you may exclude relevant results. Start broad, then refine.
7. Use search operators
Try utilising Boolean operators to help you with your search strategies.
AND will find all search terms
OR will find one or another term
NOT will exclude terms.
A search for internet AND self-esteem might bring back results including addiction which may not be relevant to the research question. Conducting the search again with the terms internet AND self-esteem NOT addiction will remove all the results that include the term addiction.
8. Use limiters
Use the various limiters within the database to filter your search results. PsycINFO, for example, enables you to limit by (amongst others):
Methodology (quantitative, qualitative etc)
It is better to start broad and use these limiters when you have your results rather than to add Age, Gender or Methodology into your original search terms.
9. Explore subject terms
Look at subject terms used for articles, they may be useful in building your searches. Try using subject terms applied to relevant papers in combination with your keywords.
10. Investigate citations
Explore the citations for relevant articles, they may lead you to other articles of interest.
11. Create personal accounts
Sign-up for an account with the databases you are using (EBSCO, Scopus etc) as this enables you to save searches and create email alerts for papers relevant to your search. This saves huge amount of time and helps you to keep up-to-date with what is being published in your research area.
12. Investigate alternatives
If you cannot get access to the article you require, try an Open Access search engine such as CORE or try ResearchGate. You may not be able to access the final published version, but you may be able to read a pre-publication version which could be useful in determining whether you want to obtain the final published version via an inter-library loan request.
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