PsycINFO Online Research Tutorial (Part I)

Open PsycINFO Online Research Tutorial (Part I)

in another browser window to work through this tutorial side by side.


This guide will help you learn the basics of searching the database PsycINFO.


Navigating this Guide:

In the left frame are the tutorial instructions and on the right is the live and interactive database PsycINFO.

Note: If you are off-campus, login with your campusID and password to get to the database.

When you see three asterisks (***) in this left frame, this means that an action is required. You will have to do something in the right frame (in the database).


When you see the word Question in bold italics following by a question, this means that you will need to enter an answer on your lab worksheet.


Use the arrows below to navigate through the tutorial.

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PsycINFO is the main database to search for scholarly articles and research in the field of psychology.


It is used by academic researchers, professors, professional psychologists, and students.


Starting a search at the Advanced Search screen is recommended.


In the right frame, click on Advanced Search next to Search Options.

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Begin a search in PsycINFO using broad generic terms and make sure your spelling is correct.


Let's say you were asked to write a paper on attitudes or perceptions and you chose the following topic:

What factors influence people's attitudes towards individuals with tattoos? 


The main concepts are, simply:

  • tattoos
  • attitudes 


In the advanced search screen on the right:

  • Enter the word tattoos in the first search box.
  • Enter attitudes in the second search box.
  • Click the green SEARCH button.

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Below the search boxes, you should see Search Results: 1-20 of [X], where X is the total number of results that the database found where both "tattoos" and "attitudes" are relevant.


In general:
If you do a search and the number of results is too low (0, 2, 5, etc.), you may have misspelled a word or chose poor search terms. If the number is too high (800,000+, for example), then your terms are way too broad and you need to consider narrowing your topic.


Question: How many total results did PsycINFO return for your search of tattoos and attitudes?

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Before looking through your results to choose sources for your research assignment, you first have to refine your results by setting limits.


All psychology professors at GSU require that you refine your search results in PsycINFO before choosing sources for your research assignments.


Notice that just to the right of this column there is a Refine Results column with lots of options for setting limits.




Why? Because there is a better (preferred) way of setting limits. [Preferred by your professors.]

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Immediately to the right of this column locate the Publication Date slide bar that looks like this:

And notice the little Show More link right beneath it.


Click on that Show More link.

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A page pops up with a section titled Limit your results.


It is from this pop-up page that you should set all the limits required by your professors, and/or any additional limits that you may want to set to improve your results.


Let's practice setting limits that GSU psychology professors often assign.


ONE: Professors often assign a publication date limit, because they want you to cite current research.


In the right column locate the limit option for Publication Year and enter the dates 2007 and 2017 in the two boxes.


This will limit your search results to articles published only in the last 10 years.


Always make a note of the publication date limits that your professors set. Sometimes it's the most recent 5 years, sometimes the most recent 10 years, etc.


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TWO: Professors always want you to cite research published in peer-reviewed journals.


Notice that directly under the Publication Year limit there is a little box to check for Peer Reviewed.


However, also notice in the left column there is a section for limiting by Publication Type and one of the options in that section is Peer Reviewed Journal.


You can use either of these options to limit to peer-reviewed sources. 


You choose: Either check the box under "Peer Reviewed" on the right, OR click on "Peer Reviewed Journal" in the section for "Publication Type" on the left.


When your professors ask you to use sources from peer reviewed journals, remember that you can use either of these options.

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THREE: It's always a good idea to check the box under English in the right column. (Just across from the Publication Type box.)


PsycINFO is an international database and will return scholarly articles in foreign languages. If you are fluent in other languages, wonderful. If not, this limit is helpful.


FOUR: Nearly all professors will require that most or all of your sources be empirical studies.


In the right column, last box, see Methodology. Scroll down in the list a little bit and highlight Empirical Study


FIVE: Check the box under Exclude Dissertations (last option in the right column). Professors generally do not accept dissertations as sources for your research assignments.

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When you are done setting your limits on this page, click the Search box in the lower right in this pop-up page.


Question: How many total results are there after setting your limits?


Notice that just to the left of your results there is a box titled Current Search and there is a summary of your search and limits. You should see that you searched for tattoos and attitudes, and that you set limits for:

  • Publication Year: 2007-2017
  • Peer Reviewed
  • English
  • Methodology: Empirical Study
  • Exclude Dissertations.

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The limits we just set are the most important. But there are a few other options that could be helpful in the future.


The limits for Age Groups and Population Group are good for limiting your results by age and by a certain population.


For example: You can search for trauma and depression then set limits by age for Adolescence and by population group Female to see studies that used teenage girls who experienced depression after trauma.


Another example: You can search for video games and aggression and limit to age group Childhood and population group Male to see studies where young boys were studied for aggressive tendencies after playing violent video games.

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Take a few moments to scroll through your results.

  • Are they relevant to the topic?
  • Would they be good for a research assignment?
  • Are there enough results to choose from if you needed, say, 5-10 sources?
When you are doing searches in the future in PsycINFO, and you are not getting good results, contact the psychology librarian for help, or try other search terms and limits until you see results that will work for you.

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PsycINFO is not a 100% full-text database. Scroll through your results until you see an article that offers the PDF Full Text. (You will see a PDF icon.)


Do you also see a result where two different kinds of full-text are offered? HTML and PDF?


When you see that a result offers both of these forms of full-text, it is preferred that you choose the PDF full text. The PDF article will be an exact replica of how the article appeared in the journal in which it was published and will include page numbers, which are often needed when citing information. HTML articles will not have page numbers.


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When PsycINFO does not offer the full-text of an article, you will see this instead:

Clicking on a "Find it @ GSU" button will often lead you to the full-text of the article, if it is available through another database or electronic source to which GSU subscribes.


So when you see this button, and you want the article, definitely click on it to see if it will lead you to the full-text of the article.


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In your results, find "Stigma of ink: Tattoo attitudes among college students." This article should have a Find it @ GSU button.


Click on the Find it @ GSU button for this article. (Note: a new tab/window will open.)


Click on the "Full text online" link located at the top of the page that opened in a separate tab/window.


You will be on a page with the full-text of the article in HTML format. Note that at the top of the page there is an option to open the article in PDF format.


[You can close the other tabs/windows when you have successfully found the full-text of the article.]


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If you use the Find it @ GSU button and it does not lead you to the full-text of the article, you can do the following to try and find/obtain the full-text of the article:


Search for the article in Google Scholar. You might find the full-text in Google Scholar.


The GSU library may have the article in print. Search the online library catalog by the title of the journal to see if the volume/issue that contains the article is at the library.


If the library offers neither the electronic or print version of an article you need, you can request a copy of the article through a free library service called Interlibrary Loan


After trying the above recommendations, if you still cannot find/get the article or if you need help with any of the above, contact the psychology librarian.

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It is important to be aware of the Thesaurus in PsycINFO and how it can be used.


Scroll to the top of the page and in the very top blue menu bar, see the second option that says Thesaurus. Click on it.


You should see two search boxes. The top one is still for searching PsycINFO, but the one below it is for browsing the PsycINFO Thesaurus.


Let's say your are doing research on the difference in approaches to mathematics according to gender, and you are using gender differences and mathematics as your search terms.


What are some other terms you could use for gender differences?


***In the Thesaurus search box, enter gender differences and click the Browse button. 


Notice that in the terms list below the search box it says Gender Differences  Use  Human Sex Differences, and Human Sex Differences is hyperlinked but Gender Differences is not.

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This means PsycINFO prefers that we use Human Sex Differences as a search term instead of gender differences.


Note: If you search for "gender differences" you will get results, but it should still be noted that "human sex differences" is going to get you more results.


Terms in the thesaurus that are hyperlinks are called DESCRIPTORS or SUBJECTS and they are the preferred terms for searching the database.


Try again by entering the term mathematics and clicking the browse button. 


You will see that Mathematics is a subject/descriptor and appears at the top of your results list. 


In addition to identifying preferred search terms, the thesaurus will also provide other terms you can use to search for articles on your topic.


Click on the descriptor/subject term Mathematics.

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You will see that the thesaurus returns Broader, Narrower, and Related terms for Mathematics.


Question: What is the first narrower term listed for mathematics?


Let's choose the broader term Sciences for a new search on our topic. We will search this broader term with the preferred term we found before: Human Sex Differences.


At the top of the screen click on Advanced Search, which appears under the Searching: PsycINFO search box.


In the first search box enter Sciences.


In the second box enter Human Sex Differences.



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When you are doing a search using descriptor/subject terms that you specifically got from the thesaurus, it is best to let PsycINFO know that.


In the drop-down menus next to each of the search boxes you will see Select a field (optional). After entering your two thesaurus terms in the first two search boxes, change the drop-down option to DE Subjects [exact], because you know that these are exact descriptor/subject terms.


Now click the search button.


Now set these limits by using the Show more link directly beneath Publication Date.

  • Publication Type: Peer-Reviewed Journal
  • Publication Year: 2010-2017
  • Language: English 
  • Age Group: School Age (6-12 years)
  • Methodology: Empirical study
  • Exclude dissertations
When you are done setting all these limits, click on the Search box in the upper or bottom right.


Question: How many results do you see?


All of the results you see will list both human sex differences and sciences as a subject term in their respective detailed records.

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Click on the TITLE of the first result in your list. 


This will open the DETAILED RECORD for this particular article. Find where it says detailed record at the top of the left column.


Detailed records have all the metadata, or descriptive information, about the article. 


The most important part of the detailed record is the article's abstract -- a summary of the article. This abstract will give you a good idea of what the study entailed, and whether or not the full article would be relevant for your research.

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Look at the TOOLS on the right side of the detailed record. Notice that these tools allow you to print, e-mail, and save this information.


Printing, e-mailing, or saving these detailed records for each source you use in your research assignment is a good idea because it ensures a uniformity in the information saved across all articles.


Also notice that there is a "Cite" icon/link.


***Click on it.


The middle of the screen will have several options shaded in green for how to reference this article in various writing styles. Scroll down in this list until you see APA (American Psychological Assoc.). This is how you would list this article in your References for a research paper/assignment.

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NOTE: Sometimes, there are little mistakes in these reference examples that the PsycINFO Cite tool generates.


Please be sure that you learn all the rules for how to do an APA reference for journal articles, so that you know how to catch the little mistakes sometimes made by PsycINFO and correct them when preparing your reference list.

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Locate the Permalink tool. Click on it.


Notice that just above the title in the middle column a permanent link to this detailed record has been generated, which begins:


This tool is great for sharing sources among members of a research group or with your professors.


Locate the Export tool. Click on it.


You will notice that this tool allows you to export this article's information to a number of reference management software programs like EndNote, Zotero, EasyBib, etc.


If you don't know what reference management software programs are, that's ok. If you plan on going to graduate school, you will most likely have to learn to use one and this Export tool in PsycINFO will become very useful.

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The Help menus in PsycINFO are thorough and should be referred to if you are ever having a problem searching or using the database.


To get to the Help menu screens, look for the small blue question mark next to the search boxes or simply click on "Help" in the upper right corner (in the top blue menu bar).


Click on either option for Help now.


A pop-up window will open and all the Help topics will be listed on the left.


(After locating the help topics, close the pop-up window.)

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Notice in a default advanced search that the connecting term is "AND." 


Hover your mouse over the first AND and click on it. Notice that you get a drop-down option to also use "OR," or "NOT" as a connection.


These three words, in search operations, are called Boolean Operators


Go to the Help menu, and in the left column look under "Searching" and click on "Booleans" to learn the differences in results when using AND, OR, and NOT.


Question: According to the information on this help screen, if you do a search in PsycINFO for Latino OR Hispanic what will the database find?


Always be aware of these differences when searching PsycINFO using boolean operators.

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You have completed this online tutorial. Thank you.