Library research is a necessary and useful component of any research project. Library research can help you come up with your basic research question, refine that question into a hypothesis, and inform you about research and theories that relate to your hypothesis.
Once you have refined and justified your hypothesis, a literature review can help you design your study. Specifically, a thorough search through your library’s resources can help by directing your attention to measures and manipulations that other researchers have found fruitful.
To some students, conducting a literature search means doing a computer search. However, to conduct a literature review, there are eight basic steps you can take—and seven of those do not involve computer searches. Specifically, you could:
1. Consult books.
a. Consult introductory psychology texts.
b. Consult specialized texts
(texts on your general topic [such as
memory]). These texts may target juniors, seniors, or even graduate students.
c. Consult books or chapters written for experts in the field. You may be able to find these texts by:
1. looking at Books in Print
2. looking at PsycBooks: Books & Chapters in Psychology, a set of volumes especially designed to help psychologists locate recent books and chapters that are relevant to their specific interest area
3. looking at the Annual Review of Psychology
4. consulting the card catalog or browsing through the “BF” section of your library
2. Track down articles referenced in those books. Note: Older, bound issues of journals may be in different parts of the library than newer issues.
3. Read those articles and their reference sections. Then, track down the research cited in those articles.
4. To see if the authors have done more-recent research, look them up in the author index of Psychological Abstracts or in the Social Science Index (both are located in the reference section of your library).
5. Look up your topic in the subject index of Psychological Abstracts.
6. See what recent articles have referenced your key articles by consulting the Social Science Citation Index (located in the reference section of your library).
7. Scan current issues of journals that are general in scope (Psychological Bulletin, American Psychologist, Psychological Science, PsychScans, Current Contents).
8. Identify key terms (often, with the assistance of a reference librarian and the Psychological Thesaurus) that will allow you to search the literature by taking advantage of the library’s access to electronic databases.
The first three steps of the literature search (looking at books and the articles they cite) are fairly straightforward. The remaining steps are not. Therefore, the rest of this appendix is devoted to making those steps more manageable.
Many people start their literature search with the Psychological Abstracts. The Psychological Abstracts include brief (fewer than 120 words) summaries of a wide range of work in psychology and related fields. To get a sense of what a rich resource the Abstracts are, consider that they summarize articles from hundreds of journals, as well as summarize books and doctoral dissertations.
The inclusiveness of the Abstracts means that they probably include any relevant article you might want. However, the inclusiveness also poses a problem: How do you find the articles you want from among the thousands of articles summarized in the Abstracts? Reading the Abstracts from cover to cover is not a practical option. Fortunately, because the Abstracts are well organized, it is fairly easy to get all the information you need.
Since the Abstracts are organized and indexed by topic, the first step is to decide what topics you want to look up. At the very least, you will want to look up your dependent measure and the general topic you are investigating.
Using the Thesaurus
At best, looking under these topics will probably cause you to miss some important references. At worst, looking under these topics might give you no references. Why? Because psychologists may have used other names for the topics and concepts you wish to research. To find out about those other terms, look at the Psychological Thesaurus. The thesaurus will tell you other terms under which your criterion variable might be listed. For example, “self” is also called identity, personality, and ego. Because the Psychological Thesaurus is so useful for searching the Abstracts, it usually will be located with the Abstracts.
Once you have consulted the thesaurus (and perhaps also talked to a reference librarian), you should be armed with key terms that will guide a productive search. At that point, you are ready to tackle the Abstracts.
If you are trying to find current references, locate the Abstracts issues over the past year. The abstracts published during the year will be found in several softbound issues that share the same volume number. For example, all of the issues published in 1996 are classified as Volume 83.
Once you have rounded up all the issues for the year, the rest of your job is simple. Look up your terms in the subject index in the back of each issue. The index will give you the numbers of the abstracts relating to that term. For example, if next to your term you saw “1029,” that would tell you that the abstract is number 1029, the 1,029th abstract of that volume. (Each abstract has a number. Like page numbers, abstract numbers go in order. Thus, 1,000 is right after Abstract number 999 and right before number 1,001. At first, you might think it would be better to give page numbers rather than abstract numbers. However, abstract numbers are more useful because there could be 20 abstracts on a single page. Thus, the numbers tell you exactly where to look. Consequently, after using the abstracts for just a few minutes, you will appreciate the value of using the abstract’s specific number.)
After reading the numbers of all the potentially important abstracts from the index, go back through the issue locating those abstracts. The only hassle is that since each monthly index covers only that issue, you will have to look up your terms several times. That is, you have to look up “self” in the January issue index as well as in the March issue.
To help people avoid the hassle of looking up the same term again and again, most libraries bind together the previous years’ issues. Specifically, they bind all the issues of the Abstracts that bear the same volume number. For example, all of the issues published in 1996 are probably bound together with a hardbound cover and labeled Volume 83. However, they do not bind the indexes with the Abstracts. Instead, the subject and author indexes are bound separately. Thus, there are three “books” for each year: a subject index, an author index, and a volume containing the actual abstracts. In other words, for each of the hardbound volumes there is a hardbound subject index and a hardbound author index. The indexes will have the same volume number as the Abstracts to which they refer. Consequently, the 1996 Abstracts, the 1996 subject index, and the 1996 author index are all labeled Volume 83.
In short, if you want to locate references for previous years, find the hardbound indexes that correspond to the years in which you are interested. Look up your terms in the subject indexes. When you find a listing for one of your terms, write down both the volume number of the index and the abstract numbers. Then, go to that volume of the Abstracts.
Looking up References by Author
If you know the names of investigators who have done research relating to your study, you may want to see if they have done more-recent work. In that case, look up their names in a recent volume’s author index.
Browsing Through the Abstracts
In a given volume, all abstracts that are on the same topic are located together. Thus, once you find an abstract that addresses your topic, look at the surrounding abstracts.
Finding the Original Resource
After reading an abstract of the study, you will have a good idea whether you want to read the original source. If so, you will find a reference for the original publication with the abstract. Go to your library’s catalog files to locate the original source. If your library doesn’t own it, ask the library if you can get it through interlibrary loan.
A source that is like the Abstracts—but even more inclusive—is the Social Sciences Index. This index is a comprehensive source for journal references in all the social sciences. In addition to psychology, such fields as anthropology, sociology, social work, and geography are included. Since psychologists are not the only people who conduct behavioral research, Social Sciences Index can help you locate useful references published in nonpsychological journals.
Like Psychological Abstracts, several issues are published each year. Like the Abstracts, the issues for a particular year are identified by the same volume number and bound together in hardback. Finally, like the Abstracts, the most recent indexes will probably be in several softbound issues, each bearing the same volume number.
Unlike the Abstracts, the Social Sciences Index does not summarize the studies it cites. Thus, it is more like the indexes to the Abstracts than the Abstracts themselves. Indeed, if you combined the subject and author indexes of the Abstracts—and kept everything in alphabetical order—this combined index would resemble the Social Sciences Index.
In short, there are five points to keep in mind about the Social Sciences Index:
1. You can search it by author and topic.
2. If you search it by topic, consult the Psychological Thesaurus to be sure that you are using the appropriate term(s) for your topic.
3. It contains citations to work in psychology and to
fields other than
4. It does not provide summaries of the articles it references.
5. It is simpler to use than Psychological Abstracts.
Unlike the Social Sciences Index, the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) gives you three different ways to locate references. You can find references by topic, by who wrote it, and by who referenced (cited) it. The Social Science Citation Index is able to do this because it consists of three separate but related indexes: a subject index, author index, and citation index. Each index covers the same journal articles. They all index more than 70,000 articles that appear in more than 2,000 journals. The difference is in how they index those articles.
The fact that they all cover the same articles has two important implications. First, you can start your search using any of the indexes. Where you start will probably depend on what you already know. If you only know the topic, you will use the subject index. If you know a researcher who does work in this area, you may start with the author index. If you know of a classic study in your area, you may want to find articles that cite that study. Therefore, you would start your search in the citation index.
Second, you may get information in one index that will give you leads that you can follow up in another index. For instance, in searching the subject index, you may repeatedly find the name of a certain author. Therefore, you may choose to look up that author in the author index.
The Permuterm Subject Index
The Social Science Citation Index refers to its subject index as the Permuterm Subject Index (PSI). In the PSI, every major word or phrase from the title of an article is paired with every other major word in that title. The goal is to develop word pairs that indicate what the study is about. For example, if an article were titled “Sex differences in the effect of television viewing on aggression” the article would be indexed under “Sex Differences and Aggression”; “Sex Differences and Television Viewing”; and “Television Viewing and Aggression.” These permuted (arranged in all possible ways) pairs are alphabetically listed as two-level indexing entries and linked to the names of the authors who used them in the titles of their articles. For example, an entry in the PSI might look like this:
SEX DIFFERENCES ERON M
TELEVISION VIEWING BUNKER A
AGGRESSION ERON M
TELEVISION VIEWING MUTIN SS
AGGRESSION BUNKER A
SEX DIFFERENCES MUTIN SS
Thus, the PSI tells you that during the period
indexed, the authors Bunker and Mutin used the words shown opposite their name
(“Television Viewing and Aggression” and “Television Viewing and Sex
To use PSI, simply think of words and word pairs that are likely to appear in the titles of articles related to your study. By looking up these words, you will discover the names of authors who have used the words in the titles of their articles. Once you find the names of authors, look them up in the Source Index.
The Source Index
The Source Index is a straightforward author index for the articles covered each year. For each article indexed, you are given the language it is written in (if it isn’t English), its title, authors, journal, volume number, page numbers, year, the number of references cited in the article, and the journal issue number. In addition, beginning with the May–August 1974 issue, the references contained in each indexed article are listed. To facilitate reprint requests and other correspondence, a mailing address is often provided for each first author. Below is a sample entry:
THE RELATIONSHIP OF AGGRESSION AND TV VIEWING
J APPL PSY 25 09 87 20R N3
CTR FOR REHABILITATIVE CHANGE, CENTER AVENUE
NEW MEXICO, MEXICO
As the entry’s third line reveals, the entry comes from an article published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, volume 25. It begins on page 9, was published in 1987, has 20 references, and is in issue number 3.
The Citation Index
The final index included in the Social Science
Citation Index is the Citation Index. This index looks at what references
authors cite in their paper. The
Citation Index is based on two related assumptions. First, if a paper cites an article, then the paper is on the same topic as the older (cited) reference. Second, papers that refer to (cite) the same article usually address the same topic. For example, many of the papers that cite an article on the effects of chlorpromazine on the sexual behavior of rats probably investigate the effects of drugs on the sexual behavior of rats.
To start a search in the Citation Index, look up the name of an author who published material relevant to your topic. If anything the author has written was cited during the indexing period, the names of the publications that were cited will be listed. This feature is useful in at least two ways. First, if you are not completely familiar with the author’s work, you may find out about other interesting articles by that author. Second, if nobody cited the paper you are interested in, you will know instantly because the article will not appear.
If the article you are interested in was cited, the Citation Index will include the name of that article. Next to the article name will be the names of the authors who cited the publication. Now that you know who referenced the publication, you need to find out in which journal and in which article they referenced it. To do this, look up their names in the Source Index.
In summary, the Social Sciences Citation Index allows you to do at least three basic types of searches. If you know of a classic study in your area of research, you can do a citation search. If you do not know of an earlier, relevant paper, you can do a search by looking up the variables you are studying: a permuterm (subject) search. Finally, when you know the name of a researcher who has recently published on your topic (or learn of such a person as a result of a permuterm or citation search), do an author search.
In contrast to the sources we described earlier, Current Contents is very easy to use. Current Contents simply lists the tables of contents for several journals. Since you can often figure out whether an article is relevant to your topic from its title, this reference can be very useful. Thus, by looking at titles you can determine which articles you want to find and read. Although you might prefer that the articles be organized by topic rather than by journal, you will soon find that most journals cover only certain topics. That is, if you are looking for a measure of aggression, you would not look at the contents for The Journal of Memory and Cognition. To get a better idea of what journals you should scan, see Table B-1.
The quickest way to locate references may be to do a computer search.1 Whereas it might take you hours to search through all the resources we discussed in this appendix to find the references you need, computer searches can condense that time into minutes. For example, you can use either PsycINFO or PsycLIT to quickly search most journals in psychology and you can use the ERIC database to search a wide range of research relating to educational psychology.
One way that computer searches save you time is
by allowing you to do searches for groups of terms rather than merely searching
for individual terms. For example, if your topic is aggression in food-deprived
monkeys, the computer will find only those references that concern “aggression”
deprived” “monkeys.” If you were using a non-computerized abstract or index, you could look up only one (two at the most) of these variables at a time. Thus, if you looked up “aggression,” you would have to read through all the references concerning aggression in humans, rats, birds, and lions to find ones that dealt with monkeys. You would then have to sort through all the scattered monkey listings to find “food-deprived” monkeys.
Although computer searches can save time, you will save time only if you have some knowledge about how to conduct a computer search. If you are having trouble with your computer search, Table B-2, which has tips for dealing with common problems, may help. You may also want to consult the text’s Web page (http://www.researchmethods.com). If you need more help than Table B-2 or the Web page can provide, ask your reference librarian for help.
Not finding 1. Find other names for your key concept. For example, brain
enough references storm, use the thesaurus (or press key labeled F9) or consult with a reference librarian.
2. Use the term “or” to look for articles that contain any of the terms you are looking for.
3. Use the stem of the term you are interested in followed by an asterisk (*). This will give you all articles that have this root word as a stem. Thus, doing teen* will get you articles that mention “teen,” “teens,” “teen-age,” and “teenagers.”
4. If you are using an author search, check the index (F5) to make sure (1) that you have the author’s name spelled correctly, and (2) that the author doesn’t use more than one way of presenting his or her name (with or without middle initial, etc.).
too 1. Use the “and” command to make sure that the
reference has to
many references satisfy several criteria before it is captured by your search. For example, you might search “death and English in la” to get only those articles that are both on death and in English. Often, you will want “and” between the predictor and criterion variables you are searching for.
2. If you find that you are getting articles that have your keyword in the abstract, but don’t have anything to do with your concepts, narrow your search by making sure that you get only articles that someone else has described as pertaining to your topic. To do this, add “in de” to your key word. Thus, instead of searching for “recall,” you might search for “recall in de.”
3. If you find that many of the “wrong references” you get are calling up a certain term, you could add “and not __ (that irrelevant term)” to your search. Or, if the search keeps giving you articles from a journal that your library doesn’t have, you could add “and not child-development in jn.” Or, if you didn’t want any animal research references, you could add “and not animal in po.”
4. You could limit your search to only the most recent year (“and 2001 in py”).
• Table B-1 •
Psychological Bulletin Publishes articles that review existing work on either a research area or a research/statistical technique.
Psychological Review Publishes work that compares and criticizes existing theories.
American Psychologist Publishes theoretical articles, review articles, and empirical articles. Although articles are often written by distinguished scholars, they are written to a broad audience and are thus relatively easy to understand.
Psychological Science Publishes theoretical articles, review articles, and empirical articles. Although articles are often written by distinguished scholars, they are written to a fairly broad audience and are thus relatively easy to understand. You may find the articles slightly harder to understand than those in the American Psychologist.
Contemporary Psychology Reviews of recent books. Easy to read. Covers a wide range of topics.
Psychological Abstracts Presents brief summaries of most published articles in psychology. Good browsing or reference tool. The abstracts are indexed by both author and topic.
Like Psychological Abstracts, contains summaries of recent articles.
There are six different PsychScans for six different content areas:
(1) developmental, (2) clinical, (3) learning disorders and mental retardation, (4) applied psychology, (5) applied experimental and engineering, and (6) psychoanalysis.
American Journal of Primarily original research in basic psychological science. Not as
Psychology competitive as JEP (see below).
Journals of Experimental Usually original experimental studies concerning basic mechanisms
Psychology (JEP) of perception, learning, motivation, and performance. Four different journals:
JEP: Animal Behavior Processes
JEP: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
JEP: Human Perception and Performance
Emphasizes biological basis of behavior. Because of the interdisciplinary nature
of the journal, you may find some of the articles hard
to understand if you do not have a background in chemistry and endocrinology.
Journal of Comparative Articles may include both laboratory and field observation of species.
Psychology Emphasis is on relating findings to the theory of evolution.
Bulletin of the Psychonomic Articles cover any area of general experimental psychology. Good
Society source of short articles describing relatively simple studies. Articles do not undergo peer review.
Journal of Applied Articles reporting a sizable effect on an important behavior, usually
Behavior Analysis employing a single-participant design.
Psychological Record Articles discussing theory or reporting experiments. Average article is relatively brief.
Psychological Reports Articles in general psychology. Good source of brief articles.
Journal of Consulting
Wide range of articles and brief reports dealing with
and Clinical Psychology research in counseling. Some use of the case study method.
Studies assessing the validity of a variety of tests
A Journal of Consulting
and Clinical Psychology
Journal of Counseling
Publishes research articles evaluating the
effectiveness of counseling,
Psychology studies on the effectiveness of selecting and training counselors,
theoretical articles, and other articles relating to counseling.
Journal of Abnormal Occasionally reports experimental studies on humans or animals
Psychology related to emotion or pathology; some studies that test hypotheses derived from psychological theories.
Psychology and Aging Research reporting on physiological and behavioral aspects of aging during older adulthood. Fairly easy to read.
Developmental Psychology Primarily research relating to development. See also Child Development, Merrill Palmer Quarterly, Psychology and Aging. In addition, can track down related work by consulting PsychScan/Developmental.
Journal of Educational
Research and theoretical articles relating to teaching
Psychology Fairly easy to read.
American Education Research in education. Single study papers are accepted.
Journal of Applied
Reports research relating to industry, government,
Psychology consumer affairs, and other applied areas.
Journal of Personality and
Contains three sections: (1) attitudes and social
cognition, (2) inter-
Social Psychology personal relations and group processes, and (3) personality and
Primarily reports articles involving several studies or fairly complex designs. Discussions may suggest follow-up studies that could be performed.
Journal of Experimental
Almost all articles report the results of experiments.
Journal of Social Psychology Source of fairly simple studies.
Personality and Social Contains short articles that are often easy to understand.
1Computers are not always faster. In some library assignments we have used, students have taken almost twice as long to complete them when using computers. Problems like waiting for a computer, waiting to access the Internet, not searching the right term, and not having access to a database that includes the journals you need can substantially slow down—or completely disrupt—a computer search.