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PSY 3530: Motivation (Golden)

Database Search Strategies

The ability to conduct searches to locate relevant sources for a research paper is an acquired skill. It takes practice.  Below are some search strategies that you can employ in your own research process. If your initial approach doesn't work, don't worry. Try a different combination of words and concepts until you get the results you want. Research is a process and sometimes it takes several attempts to get the search results you want. 

Example Search Strategy:

You picked your motivational goal and need to relate it to two helpful motivational theories. Finding primary research articles that focus on this will give you evidence in how the theories apply. Your best option for finding this type of resource is in library databases. Here is a sample search, showing a step-by-step search strategy:

  1. You want to start by pulling out a couple of key concepts:
    • Your motivational goal - for this example we will use job satisfaction, which will become your first concept.
    • If you already know which theories apply, they will become your second concept. Otherwise, you will start with a broad search by making your second concept motivational theories until you identify the two theories you want to focus on.
  2. For your first concept list out any keywords or phrases you can think of that you could use as search terms to find information on that concept.
    • job satisfaction, work satisfaction, employee satisfaction
  3. Repeat step 2 for your 2nd concept:
    • as employees = employee, employees, employment
  4. Repeat step 2 for your 3rd concept (if you have one):
  5. Select a database to search. For this example I used the PsycInfo database. (Check out Search tip #1: Boolean Searching in the box below for tips on how to type in your search terms)
    • Start by typing your search term(s) for your 1st concept on the top search box row and hit Search. I typed in: job satisfaction OR work satisfaction OR employee satisfaction and it found 50,058 items.
    • For a more effective search, use quotes around each multi-word search term. The quotes tell the database to treat the words as a phrase. Change the top search box row to: "job satisfaction" OR "work satisfaction" OR "employee satisfaction" then hit Search again and it now finds 47,405 items.
    • On the middle search box row, leave the 1st box on AND, type your search term(s) for your 2nd concept and hit Search. I typed in: "hierarchy of needs" OR Maslow and takes you done to 267 items.
    • If you have a large results list, you can use the bottom search box row to add a third concept to narrow down by. Leave the 1st box on AND, type your search term(s) for your 3rd concept and hit Search.

      If you have a small results list like in this case, leave the bottom row blank use one or more of the "Limit To" options in the left-hand column to narrow your search down instead. The database displays 2 or 3 of the limits right in the column, click on the Show More link to see all the options available. For this assignment you will want to use the publication date and Peer Reviewed limits. 
      • This database has a Peer Reviewed limit that will only keep the items that undergo a peer review process and remove all other items from the list. To apply this limit in this database, click on the Show More link (located beneath the Publication Date). It will give you a pop up box of limits, scroll down and check the box for Peer Reviewed then scroll up or down and click the Search button - I went down to 105 items.
      • The publication date range for the 105 items in my list is 1964 to 2020. Check your assignment to see if your professor specifies the range you should use, otherwise a good guideline is to not use anything older than the current 10 years. Click in the beginning date box and type in 2010 and hit enter - I went down to 23 items.
      • In most databases, applying the Peer Reviewed limit will leave you with only academic journal articles. This database may also have dissertations, so you may also want to use Source Types limit to narrow it to Academic Journals
  6. You can begin looking at items in your results list at any time. Remember you are looking for articles that are primary sources with original research that can help support your topic. Some key words to look for when reading the abstract is whether or not the authors actually conducted the research study/experiment they are writing about. If they tell you they just reviewed the literature or reviewed the research of others, this is a literature review which is a secondary source not a primary one.
  7. Once you find something related to your first motivational theory, change the search terms in the middle row to reflect your second theory.

A couple of suggestions:

  • If you try these steps with your topic and end up with a really large results list or a really small one, contact a librarian and we can help you refine your search strategy. If the Librarian Chat box in the right column says "Librarian is available" you can pop your question in while in the database and get immediate help!
  • Do not use the "Linked Full Text" limit. This database has only a small amount of Full Text content so you will loose a lot of relevant research studies if not all of them.
  • Whether an article has full text or not, you can put your mouse over an article's preview icon (looks like a piece of paper with a magnifying glass) located to the right of the article's title to get a pop-up box displaying it's abstract. If it looks good, you can then click on the article's  full text link or the Get Article link to see if we have access to it in another database. If we do it will give you a link that takes you to that resource to access the article. 
  • On the Get Article link's results page - if it doesn't find the article in one of our other databases or it says we only have it in our print collection, simply click on the link that says "Use ILLiad to request books and articles from other libraries" and we will try to get a pdf copy from another library delivered into your ILLiad account where you will be able to download the copy at home.

Search Tip #1: Boolean Searching +

Quotation Marks vs. AND vs.OR (and a nod to the asterisk)

The approach you take when entering your search terms in a library database will affect the results you get.  Before building a search, think about how you want to combine your search terms.

Putting words in quotation marks - if you want a group of words to appear exactly as written, place the words in quotation marks.  You might use quotation marks so those terms appear as a phrase and not isolated from one another.  Example: "cognitive neuroscience"

Using AND to combine search terms -  when you combine terms using AND, you will retrieve results in which these terms appear somewhere in the fields searched. Example: Cognitive AND Neuroscience -  Cognitive could  appear in the first sentence of the abstract and Neuroscience could appear in the subject fields. 

Using OR to combine search terms - combining terms with OR will increase the number of results that you get.  You would use OR when you have multiple terms that describe your topic. This will broaden your search results.  Example: attitude OR behavior


Using an asterisk (*) at the end of a word will bring back variations of the word.

Example: cogn* will retrieve results with the words cognate, cognition, cognitive etc.

Warning: Be careful to not place the asterisk to early in the word because it may retrieve irrelevant results.

Example: mem* will retrieve memory, memories, memorize, but it will also retrieve results with words like member, memorial, etc. which are not likely on point. 

Search Tip #2: Subject Headings

Sometimes when searching a database you might enter terms that yield no results.  If this happens, you might want to search the subject or thesaurus to ensure that the terms you are using are appropriate. The subject headings can also help you expand your search terms by suggesting, broader, narrower and related terms.

Example: In PsycINFO you can select Thesaurus.  Enter progestins.  In PsychInfo, the term Progestational Hormones should be used in place of progrestins. 



Search Tip #3: Research Article Trifecta