Social Psychology

Listed in: Psychology, as PSYC-220 |  Formerly listed as: PSYC-20
Moodle site: CourseCatherine A. Sanderson (Section 01)

Developing a research question

It's important for your research question to be focused, clear, and relevant. Once you have a general topic, you can narrow it down by several factors:

  • population: who is involved? who is being affected?
  • setting: where is this occurring? are there multiple settings?
  • phenomenon: what is happening? how is it described?
  • consequences: what are the effects of this? on whom?

Mapping out your topic can help you conduct more efficient searches of the literature -- having a clearer sense of what you're looking for in advance will save you time and effort.

    Empirical research articles & how to find them

    These articles report original research or studies, i.e. actual observations or experiments, rather than theoretical developments or methodological approaches. You can identify them in several ways:

    • keywords: look for “study,” “empirical,” or mentions of participants, observations, methodology, or measurements
    • structure: will usually include introduction, methods, results, and discussion sections
    • publication: should be in an academic or professional journal, such as Journal of Psychology or JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, rather than in popular magazines or newspapers

    The following databases consist of scholarly and professional titles that publish empirical research articles:

    PsycINFO: 1887 to present, covers academic literature in psychology and related disciplines, including psychiatry, sociology, education, and other areas.

    Search tip: On the Advanced Search page, you can scroll down to Methodology and select EMPIRICAL STUDY to narrow your search.
    Advanced search box labeled Methodology, with Empirical Study selected from list of options
    Sociology Database (ProQuest)
    and Sociological Abstracts:

    • Sociology Database covers 1985 to present, international literature in sociology and social work
    • Sociological Abstracts covers 1952 to present, international literature in sociology and related disciplines

    Search tip: You can add keywords to your search that are included in empirical studies, and can limit to scholarly journals.
    multiple search boxes with adolescen AND social anxiety in the first box, and participant OR method OR results in the next boxes

    Search tip: You can also narrow your search by using Subject Terms. Articles are tagged with these terms to indicate their primary subjects. To search by Subject Terms, you can click on the links listed in article records.

    Or you can use the Thesaurus to look up Subject Terms and add them to your search. PsycINFO will also suggest Subject Terms if you toggle that option before searching.

    Thesaurus highlighted and Suggest subject terms underlined at top of search screen in PsycINFO


    Sociology Database & Sociological Abstracts:

    Web of Science: 1984 to present, includes thousands of journals across the sciences and social sciences, and provides a cited reference search function.


    Research appointments
    For individual research consultations, you can visit the Reference Desk in Frost, or make an appointment to talk to a librarian (or email me directly:

      Mining References

      Looking Backwards:
      An additional strategy for finding relevant studies is reference mining -- looking at the cited references of a relevant article to find related works. This is moving back in time in relation to your article, into prior research.

        References list with lines to the first pages of other articles

      Looking Forwards:
      You can also use features like Cited By (Sociology Database, Sociological Abstracts, Google Scholar) and Cited Reference Search (Web of Science) in databases to find works that have cited a particular article. This is moving forward in time in relation to your article, looking at more current research.

        Image of article first page, with lines to other articles

      Web of Science has a video explaining how to conduct a Cited Reference Search posted on YouTube.  

        Citation tools and style guides

        You can consult the print guide to APA style, in the Reference section of Frost and in the Science Library. You can also refer to APA style guidelines from the OWL at Purdue.

        We also provide instruction and support for Zotero, a free tool that helps you collect, manage, and cite your sources. It's available in all computer labs on campus, and you can download it on your own computer for free.

        If you'd like individual help with citation or research, you can visit the Reference Desk in Frost Library, or make an appointment to talk to a librarian.