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PSY 2020 Research Methodology

 In PSY 2020, you are required to find and analyze peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Some of your articles need to be empirical research studies, i.e., they need to follow a specific methodology and answer specific research questions. 

Remember, a literature review:
  • Gathers articles that have clear connections
  • Should make clear the importance of the research question, synthesize what we know, don't know, and what the logical next steps in that research area should be. 


Some helpful videos:


What is Empirical Research?

Empirical research is based on observed and measured phenomena and derives knowledge from actual experience rather than from theory or belief. 

How do you know if a study is empirical? Read the subheadings within the article, book, or report and look for a description of the research "methodology." Ask yourself: Could I recreate this study and test these results?

Key characteristics to look for:

  • Specific research questions to be answered
  • Definition of the population, behavior, or phenomena being studied
  • Description of the process used to study this population or phenomena, including selection criteria, controls, and testing instruments (such as surveys)

Another hint: some scholarly journals use a specific layout, called the "IMRaD" format, to communicate empirical research findings. Such articles typically have 4 components:

  • Introduction: sometimes called "literature review" -- what is currently known about the topic -- usually includes a theoretical framework and/or discussion of previous studies
  • Methodology: sometimes called "research design" -- how to recreate the study -- usually describes the population, research process, and analytical tools
  • Results: sometimes called "findings" -- what was learned through the study -- usually appears as statistical data or as substantial quotations from research participants
  • Discussion: sometimes called "conclusion" or "implications" -- why the study is important -- usually describes how the research results influence professional practices or future studies

You should also see an Abstract, or short summary, and a References section with all of the works cited in the article.

Choose the Best Keywords

Why are keywords important?

By this point in your college career, you have had a chance to search library databases. You understand that you need keywords (not sentences) when you search a database. However, using psychology related keywords might be new territory.

Natural Language vs. Database Language

Natural language refers to the common way that we speak in everyday life. Database language refers to how a database classifies a concept and is usually very technical and academic in nature. Though most databases are great at matching natural language entered with database terminology, it’s important for you to begin recognizing specialized terminology. Some examples include:


Natural Language Database Language
Teenager Adolescent
Opiod Addication Opiod Use Disorder
Social WIthdrawal Social Anhedonia
ADHD Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity
Gender Identity Gender Dysphoria

Where to Find Synonyms

  1. The Internet: Is your search term or concept called anything else? Look it up in an online encyclopedia to find out. For example, in the Wikipedia entry for "hypertension", the synonym high blood pressure is quickly identified in the opening sentence. This is true for most Wikipedia entries for social science and medical terminology. It is Wikipedia, so exercise caution when using this as a background reading source.
  2. Other background sources: You can also easily find synonyms in other background sources, including your lecture notes, textbooks, and print encyclopedias (yes, they still exist!).
  3. Use database subject headings: If you run a search and find a good article, look at the subject terms listed by the database. Use those terms in subsequent searches. 
  4. Use PsycINFO's Thesaurus: On the Advanced Search page look for the Thesaurus button. When you search for a term or phrase, the thesaurus will give you the subject heading associated with your search. Think of it as giving the language that the database uses to describe your topic. 


  1. Start with your research question:
    Do children of divorce have issues with anger management?
  1. Sort out the major terms. In this case:  
    children AND divorce AND anger management
  1. Make a list of synonyms and related terms for each of your major terms.

    Synonyms and related terms for the word children:

    • child

    • boys

    • girls

  • Synonyms and related terms for anger management might include:

    • anger disorder

    • intermittent explosive disorder

    • anger suppression

    • mismanagement of anger

SAGE Research Methods

SAGE Research Methods is a how-to database. It is not where you go to find articles, instead, it's where you can find resources to help you become a better researcher. 

Some highlights:

  • Project Planner- provides articles on each step of the research process, from designing a research question to analyzing and presenting results
  • Methods- provides information about the most common research methods used, including surveys, interviews, and observational research
  • Which Stats Test?- provides a short quiz to help you select the write statistical tool for the reserach you are trying to conduct, and provides information about statistics.

SAGE Research Methods has relevant information about using SPSS, conducting interviews, best practices for creating survey questions, and tons of case studies that you could model your own work on.

A note about citations:


When using citations generated by the databases or a citation generating software always double check that the citation is accurate. The APA’s style site includes reference examples for the most commonly cited formats.

Finding Data

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Data and Statistics Guide

Find data in library databases and freely available resources across disciplines, time periods, and geographies. This guide also provides strategies for searching for data beyond the linked resources.

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