Psychology: Search Strategy

Library resources for research and study in Psychology


Search Strategy & Tips PSYC

  1. State your topic or research question in your own words (example: Does having money really make you happy?). Natural language searches often work well in OneSearch, but for individual subject databases:
  2. Identify the most important keywords (usually the substantive nouns) or short, commonly used phrases.
  3. Think of variations (singular, plural) and synonyms for your terms.
  4. Create an initial search statement using connectors or logical operators (especially AND, OR) and, if appropriate, wildcards.
  5. Try it out in one or more databases.
  6. Look for other good keywords and subject terms in search results.
  7. Try revised searches until you're satisfied with the results.
  8. Depending on the volume of results, consider narrowing or broadening your topic.
  9. If you're having difficulties, contact us.

Find more (broaden your results) with OR and wildcards:
   drug abuse OR drug addiction  (finds either term)
   anorexia OR anorexic
   anorexi(finds anorexia, anorexic, anorexics, etc.)

Find less (narrow your results) with AND:
   bipolar disorder AND drug therapy   (finds both terms)

Find less with NOT:
   attention span NOT adhd   (excludes records that mention adhd)

Sample search statement:
   (money OR income OR salar*) AND happiness

Limiters can help to improve the relevance and focus of results:

  • Narrow results with standard limiters (peer-reviewed, date, document type, language; etc.)
  • Some databases allow quotation marks for an "exact phrase"
  • PsycINFO has specialized limiters for age groups, population group (human, animal, male, female, inpatient, outpatient), tests and measures, and methodology (clinical case study, empirical study, etc.)
  • Try restricting some terms to the title or abstract field
  • Try restricting some terms to the subject or descriptors field. Subject terms can vary from database to database, but using them usually improves relevance so look for them in results displays and detailed records. In PsycINFO, you also can browse a subject terms Thesaurus.
  • Look for different, relevant keywords or subject terms to try
  • Simplify your search by removing less critical search terms or limiters
  • Expand some terms to the all text or full text field, if provided
  • Try a different database or OneSearch

Sample Searches

  • The newest additions to PsycINFO (especially articles with a publication status of "first posting" may not have subject terms assigned yet. While the results won't be as tightly focused, you also may want to try using subject terms as simple keywords (i.e., without requiring them to appear in a subjects field).
  • Don't limit to full text when you're exploring a topic in depth. You'll miss full text that's available via Find It @ UHCL.


Shows search that limit terms to Subjects field along with limiters for peer reviewed, English language, and methodology empirical study

Shows search for an exact subject term with limiters for peer reviewed, age group adolescence, and population group male

Enter your search terms, and select a desired category:

  • Everything -- most library resources, both online (UHCL) and physical (UHCL, UH, and UHD)
  • UHCL Books and Media -- Neumann Library and Pearland Library's books, ebooks, and physical and digital media
  • All UH Books and Media -- UH, UHCL, and UHD physical books, DVDs, and CDs
  • Articles -- peer-reviewed journal articles, newspaper articles, and more
  • Course Reserves -- searchable by course or instructor
  • Institutional Respository @ UHCL -- digitized scholarship and creative works produced and owned by the UHCL community

Simple search example

When searching Everything or Articles, natural language often works well.


  • how climate change affects polar bears
  • how to motivate people to exercise

For Books and Media, keywords or short, common phrases usually work better. Use quotation marks for an "exact phrase."


  • "climate change" "polar bears"
  • motivation exercise

You also can search a digital object identifier (DOI) or  International  Standard Book Number (ISBN) for a known item.


  • 10.1007/s00442-017-3839-y
  • 0838987753

For more complex searches like (climate change OR global warming) AND polar bears, use Advanced Search.

Once you have a set of results, select and apply relevant filters (e.g., peer-reviewed journals, available online, etc.) on the left of the screen.

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