This guide provides you with access to information and key resources in the field of psychology available in the VU Library to support your research in psychology.
It also provides links to important web resources offering a wide array of freely available psychology information.
This page provides information on getting started on your research and keyword searching strategies.
Keywords are significant words or concepts that express an idea or topic. To be successful in your search you need to identify the key concepts in your topic then consider other search terms that might be used to describe these concepts. These alternative terms might take a number of forms:
synonyms children and kids
different spellings (British and American English) behaviour and behavior
alternative endings (plurals or different tenses) video games and video game
acronyms CBT for cognitive behaviour therapy
A keyword search finds the words you choose in an article text, title, abstract, subject heading or other notes.
# Watch this video to learn how to identify keywords when searching for information on a topic.
The three most commonly used operators are AND, OR and NOT. They can be used to broaden or narrow your set of results and to exclude unwanted search terms and concepts.
If you want to find information on how do violent video games affect children and their brain development
AND will narrow your search returning results that contain all of your search terms
violent video games AND children AND brain development
OR will broaden your search returning results that contain any but not all of your search terms. It is useful for finding synonyms or where different words are of equal value in your search
kid OR kids OR child OR child OR children OR schoolchildren OR schoolchild OR school child OR school children
video games OR video game OR video gaming
NOT will narrow your search by eliminating words from your search results. It should be used with care as it can easily exclude relevant results.
behavioural problems NOT behavioural therapy
To search for two or more words in exact order, place double quotation marks " " around the words. The database will only return articles containing that specific phrase rather than articles containing each word found individually anywhere in the text.
The phrase "video gaming" will retrieve articles with all words as you typed them in with no other words in between.
Truncation also known as stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include alternative word endings and spellings.
To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol * at the end.
The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
child* = child, child's, children, children's, childhood
counsel* will retrieve both spellings = British English counselling and American English counseling
It is important not to shorten the root too much as it may retrieve too many irrelevant results. For example chil* will bring up childless, chiller, chilly, and Chile.
Wildcard symbols are used to represent one character or letter inside of a search term. This search technique useful if a word is spelt in different ways but still has the same meaning.
Common symbols include:
! (exclamation mark)
? (question mark), and
# (number sign)
behavo!r = behaviour, behavior
p?ediatric = pediatric, paediatric
The symbols vary between databases so it is recommended to check the Help section.
Controlled vocabulary, is a standard set of terms that describe specific concepts covered in the article. When you search using subject terms you are searching for matching the content of the database subject field rather than searching through the text as it happens with a keyword search. These controlled vocabulary indexes are unique to each database and can be referred to as Subjects, Subject Headings, Subject Terms, Descriptors, Thesaurus, or Index Terms. For example, the PsycINFO database uses 'APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms', the Medline database refers to MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), and CINAHL database has CINAHL Subject Headings.
An effective way to locate information sources and minimise the possibility of missing out relevant articles is to combine both keyword and controlled vocabulary searches.
When you execute the keyword search, the results will only return such articles with the keywords you've typed into the search box. The database looks for keywords in all fields in a database - not necessarily connected together. This may be one of the reasons your searches may retrieve too many results. The subject term search is a more precise technique and reflects the book's or article's main focus. You may have fewer results than keyword searching when using subject terms, but the results are more relevant.
When you find an article which is matching your search criteria you may use it to locate more resources related to your research topic. The following strategies are recommended:
You can search within a specific journal for your search terms, an author's name, or the article title.
To locate a journal:
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