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Research Guides

PSYC 107h Intro to Psychology (honors)

Basic Search

The idea is to experiment with keywords to see what has been published about your topic in the scholarly literature,sometimes called a "scoping" search.

  • Select a database most likely to cover the journals related to your topic.
  • Avoid using filters or limiters until you see which keywords locate results that match your topic.
  • Once you find keywords that seem to work well, then apply filters provided by the database search interface such as: publication date range, journal articles (as opposed to books, book chapters, and dissertations), peer-reveiwed journals, or methodology, etc.


Topic:  I want to see what has been published about the use of mobile technology in the classroom.

Search Terms:  "mobile technology"  AND  classroom

  • Check the number of citations found.

  • Skim the titles and abstracts to see if your results matched your topic.

  • If you have under 100-200 items in your search results, then applying filters will reduce the number even further.

Not enough citations to choose from within your search results?

  • Check for typos in your search

  • Try additional or more appropriate databases that might cover your topic

  • Try an advanced or "complex" search strategy to try increasing the number of search results

Advanced / Complex Search

The idea is to break your topic into separate searches for each concept (along with synonyms for each concept), increasing the number of items from which to choose. Use the Search History feature to combine search result sets; and then apply filters.

Identifying synonyms for each concept:

  • Use the online thesaurus (if the database has one such as PsycINFO, ERIC, Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts).
    •    The thesaurus uses a controlled vocabulary specific to the topics and subjects covered by the database.
    •    Thesaurus terms are added to the record for each publication described in the database to indicate the focus (similar to tags).
    •    The thesaurus can sometimes be helpful in identifying related terms, narrower terms, and broader terms.
  • Check some of the items in your original search results on this topic
    •    Read the titles and abstracts to find alternate terms the authors used to describe the topic
    •    Check the Subject Heading field (sometimes called Descriptor field) for thesaurus terms (tags)
    •    Check the Keywords field if the database provides author-supplied keywords
  • Come up with your own synonyms
  • Use a combination of these terms to revise your search.


Topic: I want to see what has been published about the use of mobile technology in the classroom.

Search #1
"mobile technology" OR  "mobile devices"  OR  "handheld devices"  OR  tablets  OR  iPads

Search #2
classroom  OR  schools

Search #3

  • Click the Search History link (EBSCO platform) to bring up all searches executed during your current search session (for the ProQuest platform, click on the folder icon in the green bar along the top of the page and select Recent Searches)
  • Click the green Clear button to erase the keywords displayed in the search boxes (remaining from last search executed)
  • Check the boxes next to the search result sets you wish to combine (ex: S1 and S2)
  • Click the gray Search with AND button to execute the combined search.
  • Then apply filters as needed.

Found too many results on your topic?

  • Make your topic more specific by adding concepts or other criteria to your search such as: teaching methods, assessment, academic achievement, specific grade levels, etc.).
  • Limit your search results to literature reviews to see how authors have synthesized or summarized the topic based on previously published works. (in PsycINFO, use the Methodology field limiter; in other databases add "literature review" to the search specifying the abstract and  title fields).