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Recommended databases

Search strategies

Search different spellings and plural/singular

An asterisk (*) or truncation symbols means I don't care how it ends  e.g. behav*

  • In this example, the database would search "behavior" and "behaviour" in both their singular and plural forms

Search phrases

Use quotation marks " " to search for a particular phrase  e.g. "cognitive dissonance"

Using AND/OR

Avoid typing sentences into the search box. Always use AND or OR between different ideas:

  • AND (if you want all the words to appear in your search results) e.g. "cognitive dissonance" AND shopping
  • OR (if you don't care which word shows up) e.g. college OR university

Subject headings vs keywords

Keywords Subject terms

Natural language words that describe your topic

Pro: Easy to combine terms

Pro: Can search for them anywhere in the source

Con: Can be difficult to narrow results

Con: Might retrieve irrelevant results

Pre-defined vocabulary that describes your topic

Pro: Can quickly rule out irrelevant sources

Pro: Often retrieves more accurate results

Con: Harder to combine terms (need to know which terms exist)

You can improve your search results by combining the keywords you brainstorm with the subject headings each database uses to categorize articles. These headings or tags are added to articles to make them easier to find and group.

In PsycINFO, the subject headings are called APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms

In Medline/PubMed, the subject headings are called MESH

In CINAHL, the subject headings are called CINAHL headings

In SportDiscus, the subject headings can be found in the Thesaurus.

Strategy 1: Carefully review the references of relevant articles you've found

Rubio, C., Osca, A., Recio, P., Urien, B., & Peiró, J. M. (2015). Work-family conflict, self-efficacy, and emotional exhaustion: A test of longitudinal effects. Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 31(3), 147–154.

Strategy 2: Use Google Scholar or Scopus to find out who cited the articles you've found

Google Scholar


Writing a Research Paper

Defining the Research Paper

Narrow your topic:

  • Start with a broad topic: Increasing motivation in the classroom
  • Narrow to an age group: young children, teenagers, elementary, secondary
  • Narrow to one or several aspects of the topic: academic achievement, grades
  • Search databases and scan the literature for a topic of interest
  • Focused question: How do grades influence motivation in elementary school? 

Evaluate your research question using the following (adapted from George Mason University's Writing Centre  Guide - How to Write a Research Question):

  • Is your research question clear? With so much research available on any given topic, research questions must be as clear as possible in order to be effective in helping the writer direct his or her research.
  • Is your research question focused? Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered in the space available.
  • Is your research question complex? Research questions should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” or by easily-found facts.  They should, instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer. They often begin with “How” or “Why.”
  • Is your question unbiased? Questions should be open to exploration without an embedded answer.
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