Introduction to Psychology Research

Welcome to the Leddy Library's introductory guide to research for psychology students. This guide will acquaint you with the basic research process for writing assignments in psychology at the undergraduate level. Always follow your assignment instructions and if they conflict with the general advice given in this guide then instructions from your professor should prevail. If you have read this guide and are having difficulty with finding appropriate scholarly resources for your assignment then do not hesitate to contact Adam Mulcaster, the Leddy Library's liaison librarian for the Department of Psychology. You can book a virtual appointment with Adam online or email him at and he can provide you with assistance.
Step 1: Formulate your Research Question

Before you begin searching for information you should formulate your reserach question. Good questions will help you identify key concepts and make discovering good information easier. Read through the assignment and make sure you understand your professor's expectations for the paper's topic, length, format, and number of sources that you require. Consider the assignment rubric which explains how your grade will be calculated. Your goal is to form a research question which will allow you to complete all the assignment objectives.

Select a topic of interest to you and appropriate to the assignment. Brainstorm a few questions on your topic and select the one you find the most interesting or promising. Refine your question and ensure that it is focussed and not a simple question with a yes/no or paragraph level answer. Consider if you can answer the question within the time available and within the length requirement of the paper. If you are struggling with question development speak with your professor or with the helpful people at the Writing Support Desk.

Vague question: What reinforcement strategies work for children?
Consider who/what/where/why questions to transform a vague question to a focussed question:
  • What population are we interested in? Children come in a variety of ages and backgrounds
  • Where will these strategies be applied? Are you looking at strategies for individuals or groups? Is in in the home, in a school, or an institutional setting?
  • What is the desired outcome? Are you looking to increase compliance with academic tasks or reduce problem behaviour/rates of violence or rates of suspension/expulsion?
Focussed question: What group positive reinforcement strategies in a classroom setting decrease rates of violence towards teachers and staff in Kindergarten-Grade 3 aged children?
Step 2: Gather Background Information (if necessary)

The scholarly sources you will use for your writing assignments are written for a scholarly audience and the authors will assume the reader has a working knowledge of the topic prior to reading. If you are working with concepts that you are not familiar with then you may need to gather background information to help you understand these scholarly sources. Common sources of background information are reference works such as encyclopedia entries, your course textbook, or another introductory book on the topic/subject in question. To find a book for background information use the Leddy's Omni Catalogue.

Students often turn to free online sources, such as Wikipedia, for background information. While Wikipedia articles are generally of good quality and are appropriate for gathering background information they can still contain errors, particularly for more obscure topics. While you can use Wikipedia with caution for gathering background information you should never rely on Wikipedia as a single source for information in your assignment. Verify what you read on Wikipedia by cross checking reputable sources. The Leddy Library collects reference works, such as scholarly dictionaries and encyclopedias, which can provide basic background information on a topic and which are suitable for citation in your assignment. To find reputable reference entries on your topic search for the topic in the Leddy's Omni Catalogue and select Reference Entries under Resource Type on the left side of the page. You can also find full reference titles here. Usually, the use of a reference work such as an encyclopeida entry does not count as a source towards the minimum number of sources your professor lists as part of the assignment though it must still be cited in-text and included in your reference page.

Step 3: Select a Database

Your writing assignments will often require you to find and use scholarly peer reviewed journal articles to support your arguments or observations. First, select a psychology specific database which is appropriate for your assignment. While you can search for peer reviewed articles in the Leddy Library's Omni Catalogue it can be difficult to narrow your results since this returns results for all subjects and disciplines. Searching in psychology specific databases will return results from journals which are dedicated to psychology. The best choice for psychology related topics is PsycINFO though if you are not finding enough results there you may also try a wider search in the database ScienceDirect which covers psychology and other science and social science disciplines. If you are searching for more biomedical information, Ovid MEDLINE is an appropriate database choice.

Step 4: Search for Scholarly Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

Once you've selected a database you are ready to begin searching for the individual articles you can use for your writing assignment. For most assignments you will be required to find a minimum number of scholarly peer reviewed journal articles. These articles are written by scholars and experts in the field where the authors report their latest research findings. You should use these articles to support your arguments.

Begin by thinking of keywords which describe your topic(s). Think of synonyms or other names which also describe what you are looking for. Typically you will be looking for at least two different concepts tied together (i.e. positive reinforcement and classrooms) so that your search is focussed and not returning thousands of results. Be sure to check off the peer reviewed or scholarly check box available in most databases before hitting search, this will ensure you only get scholarly peer reviewed articles in your search results. Pay attention to any other assignment instructions when selecting articles (age of articles, type of research, etc.).

If you encounter any difficulty finding the right resources for your assignment then your librarian is available to assist you! Contact Adam with your question by email at or book a virtual appointment with him to discuss your questions via MS Teams.

Database OperatorWhat It DoesExample
OROnly one of the terms must be present (broadens search)Canada OR USA OR "United States" OR Mexico OR "North America"
ANDEach of the terms must be present (narrows search)"positive reinforcement" AND children
Truncation  ** stands in for any set of characters (broadens search), useful for multiple word endings or spellingsCanad* = Canada OR Canadian OR Canadians
Phrase Search  " "Words within the " " must be found together and in the given order (narrows search), databases will often search for each word separately if " " are not included for phrases with two or more words"cognitive behavioral therapy"
Step 5: Writing and Citation

Once you have assembled your peer reviewed journal articles read through them and make notes of important quotations and passages which you will incorporate into your writing to support your arguments. Note the page numbers where these items can be found for easy citation from your notes later. As you write, back up your claims with evidence from these sources. Whenever possible, paraphrase what you are taking from journal articles into your own words and only use direct quotes when necessary. All ideas/quotations/paraphrases which are not general knowledge must be cited in-text with a full reference at the end of your paper. Writing in psychology is usually completed in APA Format (7th edition). A copy of the full Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is available in the Leddy Library. Reliable online guides, such as the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (Purdue OWL) can provide you with concise advice on how to format your title page, paper, in-text citations, and reference page.

There are a variety of online programs available which can assist you with managing and creating your citations. If you choose to use a citation manager, the Leddy Library encourages the use of the free online tool Zotero. Citation managers like Zotero collect your journal articles from the database you are searching in and then plugin to MS Word for easy citation and referencing.

If you are having issues with the writing process such as thesis construction, supporting your arguments, grammar and punctuation, or citation and referencing then do not hesitate to contact the friendly and knowledgeable people at the Writing Support Desk for assistance.

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