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Psychology : 85-715: Graduate Research Methods in Psychology: Finding Research Articles

Types of Scholarly Information

You will encounter many types of articles and it is important to distinguish between these different categories of scholarly literature.  Keep in mind the following definitions.

PRIMARY RESEARCH ARTICLE:  A primary research article describes an empirical study that aims to gain new knowledge on a topic through direct or indirect observation and research.  These include quantitative or qualitative data and analysis. In science, a primary article will often include the following sections:  Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.

REVIEW ARTICLEIn the scientific literature, this is a type of article that provides a synthesis of existing research on a particular topic.  These are useful when you want to get an idea of a body of research that you are not yet familiar with.

PEER-REVIEWEDRefers to articles that have undergone a rigorous review process by peers in their discipline, often including revisions to the original manuscript, before publication in a scholarly journal. Primary research articles in reputable psychology journals are always peer-reviewed. Reviews are often peer-reviewed as well. 

PREPRINTS: Preprints are an increasingly common publication type. Preprints have not gone through peer-review and are published on publicly accessible pre-print servers. They serve as a way for authors to get their work out quickly to the public and other researchers. They can go on to be published in scholarly journals with a peer-review process.

Google Scholar Configuration

Make sure that your Google Scholar settings are configured properly so that you are able to access all of the articles CMU Libraries have in their collection! 


Boolean Operators

Getting too many or too few search results? Use Boolean operators to narrow or widen a search. For example, Dog AND Cat will narrow your search to only include results that include both of those words. The OR operator will broaden your search. The NOT operator can sometimes filter out too many articles so use it cautiously.

How to Find Research Articles


Research databases are key to conducting comprehensive or specific searches of the scholarly literature across many different publishers and journals. They include special tools and filters to help you narrow and expand your search. Many databases, such as Web of Science, have more advanced search tools than Google Scholar and will allow one to more efficiently find the literature that they are looking for. 

  • PsycINFO:  American Psychological Association's renowned resource for abstracts of scholarly journal articles, book chapters, books, and dissertations, it is the largest resource devoted to peer-reviewed literature in behavioral science and mental health. 

Go to the library homepage and click on Databases, eResources, & Tools. This will take you to a list of databases that you can access as a CMU affiliate.



Search Tips for Finding Relevant Articles

START WITH A REVIEW ARTICLE. Review articles are excellent resources for finding a lot of primary research articles on a given topic. For example, if I'm interested in the development of visual cortical neurons, I could start my search by reading a recent review article on that topic and then look at the references section of the paper to find primary research articles.

FIND ONE OR A FEW RELEVANT PRIMARY RESEARCH ARTICLES. Having even a single relevant article of interest can be very useful in performing a literature search. You can look at the References section of that paper to find older related articles or look at the Cited References linked under articles in PsycINFO. But how do you find more recent articles that have used and cited the article of interest in their work? You can find all of the more recent articles that have cited your article of interest by clicking on the Times Cited in this Database link below the article. This is a great way to understand how your article of interest has built on prior research and how it has influenced more recent research. 

  • Hint 1: Some articles in PsycINFO do not have these links but you can filter for them by selecting on the References Available box in the Refine Results panel on the left.
  • Hint 2: You can put the title of any article in Google Scholar to easily get to the Times Cited information.


Therefore, by finding a single relevant paper, we can easily find many more relevant articles by looking at the citation tracing links. Together, all of these articles will help us understand how this article has contributed to the collective body of knowledge on this topic.

Using the APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms

This thesaurus is an example of a controlled vocabulary. A controlled vocabulary is a list of standardized terms used by catalogers and database indexers to describe what an article or book is about. APA staff manually tag each article with a handful of index terms. This allows for very precise and comprehensive searching. The word "depression" for example has many synonyms that you might miss with a simple keyword search, but if you search with the index term of depression, you will be able to find every article on that topic, whether the article uses the word "depression," "melancholia," or "sadness" for example. The major concepts contain many narrower concepts. Check the Explode box to include the narrower concepts in your search. Here we are adding the concepts of "major depression" and "bullying".

Forward Citation Tracing in Google Scholar