Research Methods
September 2, 2021

How Any Psychology Student Can Efficiently Find Academic Research Articles Using Specialised Search Methods.

One of the biggest challenges any psychology student faces is finding relevant articles for their university assignments. Fortunately, article databases are available to make this task easier.

Many libraries offer online access to several academic databases that may produce positive outcomes if you employ the appropriate strategies. They are one of the most incredible places to go when you need articles from academic journals, peer-reviewed publications, and other periodicals.

When looking for something in particular on the internet, it's like searching the web, but academic sources will be returned depending on the topic. Nonetheless, academic databases are not the same as general search engines, so we have prepared a set of guidelines to help you get started using them for academic journals.

Advantages of Online Academic Databases

These databases typically contain the same material as a library but have several advantages:

  • Many academic journals are not held in libraries around the world – often more than half.
  • Their issues are current - many subscriptions commence six months after publication.
  • They can be accessed through the internet so that you may save some money on postage or printing fees.
  • You may often find articles that are not available at your local library.
  • You can perform research from the comfort of your own home or office without leaving.
  • When you are at work, it is a good idea to investigate before the journey to and from the library. This will save valuable time when you arrive at your destination.

How to efficiently search online databases for academic research articles

Today, academic databases are accessible to almost everyone who has internet access. There are many different types of databases and ways to use them for finding articles effectively. This article discusses a few of the most popular methods for getting started with your research:

1. Your free academic databases can be a Gold Mine

They'll almost certainly be well-informed, so take advantage of their free research resources.

a. Try searching within your library database first

Many libraries offer local access to their databases via their website. This is especially true in many institutions around the world:

"Wherever there is an internet connection, research happens faster."

In most cases, you'll be able to access it by logging into your library account online and entering keywords relevant to your topic or use other search options provided on the page (like limiting by date). The advantage of this method is that you have access to an extensive database, but your search can be limited if you're only searching within your library network.

b. Use your campus network to access the databases

Not only are most academic databases not free to use, but they also can't be accessed for nothing! These multi-disciplinary databases are comprehensive collections of recent literature on a range of themes. However, because they include a large number of publications, public access is sometimes limited.

If you have a university or college network, you may access the databases through your network itself. You can usually enter a command to do this when you log in or located on a specific page that's easy to recognise.

2. Find databases that are specifically related to your topic

Every year, around 2.5 million pieces of writing are published. As a consequence, finding the relevant database may be critical. Subject-specific tools and filters can help you focus your search results in comprehensive databases to save time by eliminating irrelevant papers. If you don't limit your search results appropriately, you'll have to go through way too many unrelated articles.

The best databases for finding academic articles available to the public focus on a particular theme. For example, if you're interested in learning more about social sciences, look for databases that deal with human behavior and social relationships. 

If you are looking for articles specific to psychology, here is the list of databases that would help:

  • PsycINFO
  • EBSCOHost
  • PsycINFO
  • PubMed
  • Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection
  • Scopus
  • PsycTests

3. Narrow down the search parameters within the database where possible

The database search should be as narrow and specific as possible. You don't want to deal with thousands of irrelevant articles, so try to limit your research terms as much as possible. Many databases will automatically narrow down the results for you by specifying them according to published dates or keywords in the papers themselves. This is a great way to save time and effort when needing to find relevant material.

Top Search Tips for Beginners

Following search tips will help you with the process of finding academic research articles. When searching the electronic databases for journal publications:

  • Use AND to link keywords and phrases.
  • Truncate (an asterisk *) and wildcard characters (usually a question mark ? or exclamation mark !).
  • Check whether the database you're using has a "subject search" feature.
  • Use your creativity.
  • Approach your study as a detective, seeking evidence in everything you find.
  • Take a stroll across the aisles in your area of interest.
  • Use more general phrases when looking for essays than when looking for articles.
  • Don't limit yourself to a single database or set of search results.
  • Don't overlook non-full-text databases.
  • Always ask a librarian if you have questions!

4. Develop the tricks that help you organise relevant articles for easy integration of ideas to form valid arguments

Once you begin finding relevant material, make sure to save it properly in an organised fashion so that you can find it quickly when needing to access it in the future. If you've already done some research on a topic and have papers saved in an electronic format (like PDF), be sure to organise them in folders so that you can find the relevant material easily. 

Putting it into chronological order also helps you to understand better how your subject developed over time. For example, you can create a year folder containing the articles you've found that were published in the same year.

You can create folders for different variables/psychological constructs and competing theories. In addition, you may integrate material as they better understand how they interact based on past research.

The more organised you are, the better it is for finding relevant papers quickly.

5. Start narrow and gradually expand your search to get additional results if you cannot find what you are looking for

If you're still not satisfied with your search results, expand it a little bit. This is especially helpful if the keywords you've chosen didn't bring up many results. Just remember to keep each of your terms as specific as possible by limiting them to the date range or any other aspect that determines the articles returned. If you try this and still get too many irrelevant articles, run another search using different terminology.

For example, if your research question is about ‘how social isolation impacts pregnant women,’there may not be any specific articles yet that examine this interaction of variables. So, look a little wider at the broader research on social isolation and its effects on mental health in prisoners in solitary confinement. Or neurobiological impacts of social isolation on adult female brains, hormones, etc. These findings can provide indications as to how pregnant women might react.

6. Use the pro features of the database

Most databases have "pro" features that can be accessed for a fee, but they usually give you more flexibility and in-depth options to narrow down your search. For example, searching for academic research papers with the pro features will get better results if you're still not satisfied with your primary search.

The academic world is changing rapidly! Academic search engines and databases are getting smarter all the time. In this era of big data and text mining, many databases analyze millions of scientific papers to discover relationships between them. Keep an eye out for:

  • related articles
  • similar resources
  • citations
  • references

Each topic will lead you to highly relevant academic research!

7. Notice the big players in your field

There are people in every area with a lot of scholarly writing on your topic, who get quoted or interviewed frequently, and who seem to be almost everywhere. Please pay attention to those names while looking for a database; once you've discovered someone fascinating, you may look him up for more information.

Also, look for ‘systematic reviews’ or ‘meta-analyses’ as these are studies that have pulled findings from a range of highly relevant articles at the time of publication about any given topic. Their reference list can be a gold mine when it comes to going down a rabbit hole and finding lots of high-quality research articles that you can also use in your own thesis or assignment.


Academic search engines and databases are getting smarter all the time. In this era of big data, many databases analyze millions of scientific papers to discover relationships between them.

Keep in mind that every academic search engine is different: some specialise in scholarly articles, while others cover a more comprehensive range of material. Also, never hesitate to ask your librarian for help if you get stuck!

If you've found this article helpful, please share it with your friends so they too can learn to find academic research articles using search methods efficiently!