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Psychology

This guide includes resources to assist you with your psychology research.

How to Construct a Search Strategy

In this section we will review the steps you take in order to perform an effective search using databases and other resources. Every search begins with a research question or topic. If you have not developed your research question or chosen your topic you will need to complete this first step.

Step 1: Develop a research question or choose a topic

Step 2: Identify the first step in your research process

Step 3: Develop your search strategy using PICO

Step 4: Brainstorm your search terms or identify terminology that must be included in your search

Step 5: Perform a preliminary search to determine if their is any literature on your topic (You can schedule an appointment with a librarian to assist you with performing your preliminary search.)

 

Step 1: Developing a Research Question or Choosing a Topic

Introduction

Begin the process by identifying what you have an interest in investigating. What do you what to know? What do you want to learn? Who do you want help? What medication, treatment, procedure, or therapy do you want to research? Is there a specific population you want to focus your research on? Keep in mind the more narrow your topic and focused the research question the less you will find published in a database or online. It is recommended that you begin with a broad search to determine what has been published on a specific patient population, medication, procedure, therapy, etc.

Developing Your Research Question Using PICO

PICO is an acronym for

  • Patient
  • Intervention
  • Comparison
  • Outcome

PICO is used to create a researchable question based on a clinical situation you have encountered.  Based on your PICO question, you will identify keywords and/or subject terms to use in database searches. 

You can use PICO to develop your research question.

Patient or population/disease: Which population are you studying? (Consider age, gender, ethnicity, group with a certain disorder, etc.)

Intervention, prognostic factor, or exposure: What do you want to do for the patient? (Consider therapy, exposure to a disease, risk behavior, prognostic factor, preventative measure, or diagnostic test)

Comparison or control: Are you comparing two interventions or variables? (Consider absence of disease, absence of risk factor, or use of placebo)

Outcome: What is the expected result or what do you hope to accomplish, improve or affect? (Consider disease incidence, accuracy of a diagnosis, rate of occurrence of adverse outcome, survival or mortality rates)What is the expected result or what do you hope to accomplish, improve or affect? (Consider disease incidence, accuracy of a diagnosis, rate of occurrence of adverse outcome, survival or mortality rates)

Step 2: Identify the first step in your research process

Research Steps

Sometimes you have reviewed resources online and through the Library, and need to consult:

•a textbook;

•human expert(s);

•or other resources to acquire information to help you as you investigate your research question.

Step 3: Developing Your Search Strategy Using PICO

You can use PICO to develop your search strategy. 

Boolean Operators (Using AND, OR NOT)

Boolean logic is a building block of many computer applications and is an important concept in database searching.  Using the correct Boolean operator can make all the difference in a successful search.

AND, OR, NOT

There are three basic Boolean search commands: AND, OR and NOT.

  • AND searches find all of the search terms.  For example, searching on dengue AND malaria AND zika  returns only results that contain all three search terms.  Very limited results.
  • OR searches find one term or the other.  Searching on dengue OR malaria OR zika returns all items that contain any of the three search terms.  Returns a large number of results.
  • NOT eliminates items that contain the specified term.  Searching on malaria NOT zika returns items that are about malaria, but will specifically NOT return items that contain the word zika.  This is a way to fine-tune results. Note:  sometimes AND NOT is used; serves the same function as NOT.

Using Boolean Search with Exact Phrases

If you're searching for a phrase rather than just a single word, you can group the words together with quotation marks.  Searching on "dengue fever" will return only items with that exact phrase.  

When to use parentheses?

Think of your search in concepts, then put those concepts inside parentheses.  Different databases have different rules about combining searches.  To make sure you get the search you want, use parentheses - every database follows those rules.

PICO Brainstormed Search Terms Search Strategy Using Boolean Operators
Patient or population/disease: Which population are you studying? (Consider age, gender, ethnicity, group with a certain disorder) ex.
Intervention, prognostic factor, or exposure: What do you want to do for the patient? (Consider therapy, exposure to a disease, risk behavior, prognostic factor, preventative measure, or diagnostic test)
Comparison or control: Are you comparing two interventions or variables? (Consider absence of disease, absence of risk factor, or use of placebo)
Outcome: What is the expected result or what do you hope to accomplish, improve or affect? (Consider disease incidence, accuracy of a diagnosis, rate of occurrence of adverse outcome, survival or mortality rates)

Step 4: Brainstorm Your Search Terms

Once you have developed your research question or chosen your topic you can begin to brainstorm terms to use in your database search.

  • Brainstorm terms authors or indexers might use to describe your topic
  • Make a list of terminology and relevant terms to use in your search
  • Include synonyms or similar terms to combine using the Boolean operator OR
  • Search for controlled vocabulary in the databases i.e. search PubMed for MeSH terms

Step 5: Preliminary Search

Perform a preliminary search to determine what has been published on your topic or research question. The preliminary search is the point in the research process where you can identify a gap in the literature.

Use the search strategies above to help you get started.

If you have any questions or need help with developing your search strategy please schedule an appointment with a librarian. We are available to meet online and in-person.

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Maps and Directions

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