Online Research Guide
| Staff Writers Modified on April 25, 2022
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The advent of the internet has changed the way students go about conducting academic research. Before online research, students had to make the trip to their university library; comb through the stacks of physical research materials or microfiched content; read through the sources for relevant information; and manually include quotations, citations, and bibliographical entries. The internet has enabled students to access research materials digitally from anywhere in the world. Researchers can zero in on the content most pertinent to their work and automatically generate citations and bibliographies. The internet has made academic research and manuscript construction unbelievably faster and more efficient, resulting in higher-quality work.
Though online research offers many benefits, students may encounter significant drawbacks. Academic journals and books go through editing and review to vet the contents for reliability and accuracy; however, anyone can post something on the internet. As a result, researchers must learn how to discern a credible source from a non-credible one. Additionally, the wealth of information available online can make students feel overwhelmed about where to start.
The research methods in this psychology study guide can help students learn how to conduct online research. The guide includes information on search tools, strategies, and accuracy.
Methods of Psychological Research
There are several methods for conducting research in psychology. The particular type a researcher chooses often depends on the type of data they wish to obtain and whether this data should be qualitative or quantitative. Researchers can then determine whether they will base their study on descriptive, correlational, or experimental research. From there, they decide which methods of data collection best suit their study.
The following section provides an explanation of these types of data, research, and collection methods. Students conducting online research may find that they lean heavily on descriptive and correlational research. Students also often use case studies and archival data collection. No matter your preferred methods of psychological research, online sources usually provide enough data for students' research papers and literature reviews.
Quantitative data is obtained through research based on a mathematical model and statistical inferences. Researchers manipulate variables to determine causal relationships. Quantitative data includes numerical values, percentages, and statistics.
Qualitative data uses non-numerical data such as personal accounts, descriptions, observation, and interviews. This method of research often studies behavior in a natural setting.
Psychological Research Methods
Correlational research is a form of non-experimental research that studies the relationship between two factors. In this method, the researcher does not manipulate any variables. This method of data analysis can help identify whether and how two factors may be associated with each other.
Descriptive research uses methods such as case studies, observation, and surveys to build an assessment of target cognitions or behaviors. Researchers do not manipulate variables or identify correlations. Instead, they describe current circumstances in order to gather information for later study.
Experimental research develops more definitive conclusions about causal relationships. Researchers manipulate an independent variable and measure the effect it causes on a dependent variable. However, some variables cannot be experimentally controlled in a realistic setting, especially in the field of psychology.
Data Collection Methods
Archival data collection refers to the review of pre-existing materials or secondary sources. Researchers consult data that others have collected in order to answer questions relevant to the research subject. Researchers also use archival data to construct an understanding of a phenomenon that may require further study in the form of a direct experiment.
Researchers in psychology frequently use content analysis to quantify findings from qualitative research. The analyst develops coding units to identify and track data points of interest. For example, content analysis may document the number of positive versus negative signifying words from a subject's qualitative response to a stimulus.
Experience sampling relies on self-reporting from participants. Participants describe their subjective perception of the study's focus. Participants may document their experiences at the request of a researcher, at pre-set intervals, or each time they encounter a specific stimulus.
Experimental psychology endeavors to answer a theoretical question using the scientific method. In general, researchers begin with a question, propose a hypothesis, and develop an experimental study to prove or disprove their hypothesis. Usually, researchers manipulate a particular variable in a controlled setting in order to determine its effect.
Participants in a survey answer questions that may be objective, such as demographic information, or subjective, such as opinions on a topic. Surveys may come in the form of questionnaires or structured in-person interviews.
Using Google for Online Research
A simple Google search yields a plethora of information, but not all of it is reliable, applicable, or relevant to students' research. Altering search engine settings can help filter out unreliable sources and provide you with search results that are more relevant to your topic. The following section outlines some ways you can tweak your searches to net the type of results you want. We use Google for these examples, as it is the most commonly used search engine.
Refining Your Search Results
Combing through a seemingly interminable list of websites to find the information you need is a painstaking and inefficient endeavor. In order to narrow down your search results and focus on sources that fit your needs, you can take advantage of several tools Google offers. Search shortcuts allow you to target specific search results. These symbols or words allow you to indicate precisely which phrases or keywords you would like to include or exclude from your results. Shortcuts can also help you search for results on a particular site or related pages.
Site search allows users to search within a particular domain. To perform this function, simply type "site:" (without quotation marks) followed by the domain you want to search within. Note that there should be no spaces between "site:" and the domain name that follows. You can add a keyword before the site search to find information about a specific topic within that domain. For example: "psychology certification" followed by "site:apa.org." This will bring up information about psychology certification on the official website for the American Psychology Association. Using the site function, you can filter results to a particular class of site (such as .edu, .gov, .org).
You can use also the advanced search function to refine your searches without shortcut text. Advanced search allows you to add filters to control for the types of results you get, such as articles published within a certain timeframe.
Students conducting psychological research online can also benefit from using Google Scholar. This tool allows you to limit your search results to scholarly sources. These sources may include articles, theses, books, and court opinions. Results from academic journals, universities, and professional societies have been vetted by their respective publishers and are highly likely to be reliable sources.
Search results from Google Scholar are sorted by relevance and ranked according to where they were published, who they were written by, and how frequently and recently they have been cited in other academic works. Information about the origins and credentials of your search results can help you to ensure your sources are as reputable and accurate as possible.
Additionally, students can set up their Google Scholar Preferences to access resources available through their college or university library. Patrons of a particular library can provide their login information and indicate that their library's resources are to be included in Google Scholar search results. The Google Scholarship Search Tips page features more details on getting the most out of Google Scholar.
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Psychology students interested in conducting online research do not have to use Google as their only search tool. In fact, many academic search engines and databases offer free or discounted services to students. The following section describes some common resources for general academic research, including several options that may prove especially helpful for psychology students.
- AMiner: AMiner allows users to access a variety of curated research materials. Students can search by subject, top-ranked papers, experts on the topic, and relevant related subjects.
- BASE: BASE is an academic search engine operated by Bielefeld University Library. Students can access about 60% of the indexed documents for free.
- CGP: The Catalog of U.S. Government Publications enables users to view descriptions of current and historical federal publications. Some publications include the full text.
- CIA World Factbook: The CIA World Factbook includes information about the people, government, history, and cultures of 267 world entities. The site also features a collection of world maps.
- ERIC: The Educational Research Information Center features approved content from sources that have gone through a formal review process.
- iSeek Education: iSeek Education specifically assists teachers, administrators, students, and caregivers. Users can access access editor-reviewed content from governments, universities, and noncommercial providers.
- National Archives: The National Archives Catalog gives users access to digitized, electronic, and authority records. Users can also view web pages from Archives.gov and the Presidential libraries.
- OCLC: OCLC provides resources through cooperation with members in more than 100 countries. Researchers can search for academic sources across the collections of all member libraries.
- CORE: CORE strives to collect all freely available research materials from digital libraries and journals across the internet. The site presents information to the public through their search engine.
For Psychology Students
- ProQuest: ProQuest provides a database of journals, newspapers, e-books, dissertations, theses, and digitized content on a wide range of academic topics, including subjects within psychology.
- American Psychological Association: The APA compiles a list of articles published in more than 90 APA journals across various subdisciplines of psychology. Students can search through psychological research articles online.
- Elsevier: Elsevier participates in the revision and dissemination process for 17% of scientific articles worldwide. The business publishes about 2,500 journals in healthcare and open science.
- Wiley Online Library: Wiley Online Library features over 1,600 journals, 21,000 books, and 200 reference works. Psychology students may access original research in all areas of psychology, including cognition; health and clinical psychology; and developmental, social and occupational psychology.
- Sage Journals: Sage Journals makes teaching and research materials available globally by removing obstacles to access. Sage directly publishes over 1,000 journals and 800 books every year.
- Frontiers in Psychology: The academic journal Frontiers in Psychology features current, peer-reviewed research in psychology. Subjects that appear in the journal include clinical and cognitive science, imaging studies, animal cognition, and social psychology.
- Springer Link: Springer Link gives students and other researchers access to over 10 million scientific documents, including books, journals, series, reference works, and protocols.
- The Online Books Page: The Online Books Page lists more than two million books that are freely available on the internet. Hosted by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, the site also provides access to thousands of research journals.
- American Journal of Psychiatry: The American Journal of Psychiatry website hosts all of the journal's research articles before they appear in a print issue. Users can access the current issue and an archive of older issues.
- Scientific Research: Psychology students can use Scientific Research Publishing to browse open access journals by subject or title. Researchers can search for articles related to their particular topic or manuscript.
Since the internet features hundreds of both reliable and unreliable sources, it is important to screen your sources to ensure the research is accurate and dependable. Determining whether a source provides helpful and relevant information can seem confusing. However, you can analyze certain aspects of a piece to determine its accuracy. Check whether your source has a qualified author, honorable purpose, professional appearance, objective tone, current data, and relevant links. The following list features tips from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago Press.
- Who Is the Author?
- When evaluating a source, you should first identify the author. Search their name and try to determine any credentials that could indicate their expertise or qualifications on the subject.
- What Is Its Purpose?
- Once you have determined the author, look for any clues as to the purpose of the writing. Check any affiliations the author has with the sponsor of the source. You may be able to ascertain the author's motive or the intended audience of the piece.
- Does It Look Professional?
- The overall appearance of the site may provide you with some information about its reliability as a source. An updated and well-constructed site looks clean and organized, and does not contain spelling or grammatical errors. The page should not contain profanities. Look for coherent, concise, and professional language.
- Is It Objective?
- An objective source relies on facts and does not use emotionally suggestive language that indicates bias. An appropriate source does not serve as propaganda, but rather attempts to present both sides of the issue at hand. If an author makes a judgement, it should rely on sufficient, impartial evidence.
- Is It Current?
- Make sure your information is current as possible so any conclusions you draw from your findings are still relevant. Check data reports and statistics for the year of publication. You may also ascertain when the website was last updated.
- What Sites does it Link to?
- Lastly, take some time to review the citations your source provides. Make sure that the author's information comes from reputable, relevant sources. You may follow these links to ensure that they are still active and up-to-date.
Organizing Your Research
Finding, managing, and organizing sources for a research paper can seem like a daunting task. A disorganized research process and haphazard filing system can result in wasted time and a sloppy paper. Some forethought and a methodical approach may help you save time and work more efficiently. The following list provides some tips for organizing your research.
Use Reviews and Abstracts: Reading reviews and abstracts for academic papers and journal articles can help you quickly evaluate a source. If the abstract does not contain relevant information, you can avoid reading the full text.
Follow the Trail to its Source: When you find an article you think may be a good source for your research, follow the links provided in the citations. This may help you identify the original data, evaluate credibility, and find additional sources.
Stick to One Topic at a Time: In order to avoid distraction and disorganization, stick to one topic at a time. Make sure you address each one sufficiently.
Bookmark Folders: It may be helpful to create individual bookmark folders for each topic or section in your research paper. This way, you can find the right source when you need it.
Complete the Bibliography as You Go: Instead of waiting until you've finished writing the body of your paper to craft your bibliography, add citations as you go. This may help streamline the process.
Online Tools to Manage Your Research
- EasyBib: EasyBib is an app that creates citations for the bibliography of your research paper. You can select the citation style required for your paper and input your source information by book title, ISBN, or by scanning the barcode and the app will automatically generate an accurate citation.
- Endnote: Endnote allows users to search for academic sources, automatically insert citations and references from their library into their papers, and store documents and files.
- Mendeley: Mendeley is a site that enables you to build a customized library of the research you want to review and cite, upload and share your documents with collaborators, and network with fellow researchers.
- RefWorks: RefWorks is a tool with which researchers can create their own resource database, manage and share references, and create a bibliography.
- Zotero: Zotero automatically searches the web for material relevant to your saved selection. Users can create instant citations and bibliographies, and easily collaborate with colleagues.
Citing Online Resources for Psychology Students
Students and researchers use many different citation styles and writing formats. The style you use generally depends on the subject about which you are writing. Students conducting online psychology research studies usually use APA Style. Most science and social science disciplines follow this style. When writing research papers and creating presentations, psychology students should expect to follow APA's general format and citation rules.
Each type of source material requires a different citation format. It can be confusing for students to try and figure out how to cite their various sources. The following section provides examples of some common sources psychology students might cite. The Purdue Online Writing Lab offers excellent resources for students who need information on how to cite various sources in their academic papers.
Articles From Online Periodicals
What is a DOI?
A DOI, or Digital Object Identifier, is a longer-lasting alternative to a URL link to particular document. You may include a DOI in your citation as a way to direct your readers to the precise location where they can find the source material you used. Most publishers of online scholarly journals provide the article's DOI on the first page of the document.