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Psychology: Starting Your Research

This guide is designed to help you find resources for your research and class assignments in psychology.


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  Citing Sources

Citing sources is a required part of any research project.  If you fail to cite  or cite properly, consequences can be severe.  MU Libraries have prepared some quick guides to the most common citation styles and have identified resources that assist in preparing citations. 

Top 10 Things to Know about Research

10.  Don't wait till the last moment to start your research!
Good research almost always takes longer than you expect. If we don't have something you need, we can probably get it for you elsewhere, but not instantly. Figure on a minimum of five business days for books and a couple of days for journal articles; it could take much longer.

9.  Google doesn't have everything.
It's hard to imagine, but Google only provides access to a fraction of what's "out there," even if all your searches seem to return a gazillion hits. Learn to use other tools to find information that are invisible to Google.

8.  Research is a word game.
When you do your searches, try various techniques to improve the accuracy of your results: use AND and OR to combine groups of search terms, truncate your terms (wild card searching), search for phrases using quotation marks, use search limiters. Whatever database you are in, look for a "Help" or "Search Tips" link to get more advice.

7.  Use Advanced Search features.
Many databases include an "Advanced Searching" option. By using it you can quickly and easily improve the accuracy of your searches and have fewer—but higher quality—search results.

6.  A lot of things aren't online at all.
The Marshall University Libraries alone—to say nothing of other libraries in West Virginia and elsewhere—have millions of books, articles, documents, videos, etc. that aren't online. Anywhere. Visit us; we'll help you find them.

5.  Use Wikipedia—and other encyclopedias—carefully.
Encyclopedias can be great places to get beginning background info, and for references to major books, articles, etc. on a topic. But they are usually not something you can use as one of your sources for a paper or other project.

4.  Evaluate! Evaluate! Evaluate!
Don't believe everything you read. Or see. Or hear. It is up to you to determine if the information you are using is reliable and appropriate for your research, or not. Librarians can help with this, too!

3. Research is not a straight line.
It's a process, a spiral, an evolution, a zig-zagging course. One piece of new info can take you back to places you've already been. You may need to change course, even reverse direction from time to time. Make sure you give yourself enough time to do this!

2. Find more sources than you think you'll need.
Some sources that you'll find just won't work for your research needs. But, if you collect "extra" sources at the beginning, you may not have to backtrack and re-do your searches later. And, you may find a better topic or angle on your research in one those sources.

1.  Ask a Librarian!
Don't let the stress build up too much before you ask for help. You can do it in person, through online chat, by phone, or email. You can even make an appointment with a Reference Librarian. Ask us —we are here to help you!

Select a Topic

Research can be complicated, but it is easier if you follow a plan. Every single resource in the library plays a different role in your research, and good papers make use of each of the different types of resources.

  1. Define your ideas in the broadest terms possible.
  2. Use general sources, such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, and biographical dictionaries to get background information and start to narrow your topic.
  3. Search secondary sources such as books and reviews of research for your topic. Books give an overview and/or indepth explanations, historical background, and perspectives on issues.
  4. Search primary sources (original reports of the research or experience) for your topic. Journal articles present the latest researchand assume that you have a background in the topic. They are an excellent tool to trace the development of concepts and issues.
  5. Organize your notes and start to write.
  6. Refine your ideas, do more research, and write some more.

Some good sources to help you generate research or topic ideas:

  • APA - Research in Psychology. Research in Action section is a compendium of psychological research that demonstrates the application and value of psychological science in our everyday lives. It's a sampling of the many successful and promising research areas in psychology.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Topics and publications from the federal government.
  • Psychology Today - Topics. Links to blogs and articles from "Psychology Today" magazine.

Writing Research Papers

Here are a few guides to get you started.