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Psychology Research Guide: Search Terms & Topics

Tools & Tips for Psychology Research

What is this page for?

This page provides some ideas of places to look for topics and some suggestions for creating keywords and search terms (the words you'll use to find articles and other research materials)

Before You Choose


  1. What are the guidelines for the assignment?
  2. What types of sources do you need? How many?
  3. How long (or in-depth) is the paper supposed to be? 
  4. Who is your audience (academic or non-academic)?

Suggestion for Refining Topics

undefinedTry the "Five W's" to help refine your topic:  

The questions below will help you to investigate and narrow down some ideas about your topic. Circle or highlight names, terms, and ideas that interest you the most. You might turn this into a list of search terms or "keywords."  

  • WHO - Who is affected by your topic?  Don't just think of the focus of your topic but who are the other stakeholders that might be impacted?
  • WHAT - What are the causes and effects of your topic?  What impacts might there be?
  • WHEN - Is there a specific time-period that you might focus on? 
  • WHERE - Is there a certain geographic location to focus on?  
  • WHY - Why is this topic important?  Why should your audience care?

(image from the Noun Project "five" by Adam Zubin, MV)

What is a keyword?

 A keyword is a simple term, or word, that is used to explore what results a source can provide on a topic. 

 Different sources will provide different results using the same word. 

 If a keyword doesn't "unlock" the results you want, try another!

(image from the Noun Project)

Using AND/OR/NOT to enhance your search

Using "Boolean Operators" AND, OR, NOT can create more specific search terms. 

  • They can combine 2 or more ideas into a single search.
  • They are used to help <broaden> or >narrow<  your search.
  • Here are some examples:

OR = more        


Use OR with synonyms or similar search terms.  Each record in the results must include AT LEAST ONE of the terms

AND = less         


Use AND to combine search terms for different concepts. Each record in the results must include BOTH terms

NOT = don't include              


Use NOT to eliminate words that you DON'T want to show up in your results

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