Searching the Literature:a short guide.

When working on a research paper it is important to see what research has been done before. Reading relevant journals in the field (e.g., personality) is always a useful way to begin, but it is also possible to do computer searches of the major scientific journals. There are at least three computerized guides to the literature that are particularly useful, PsychInfo, Social Science Citation Index, and Medline.

The NU library has prepared a web page that gives much more detail than this short guide, but that is unfortunately slowly drifting out of date. Try the links there before trying them here.

PsychLit/PsychInfo (from the American Psychological Association) available from the main library as one of the e-databases accessed through EBSCO) may be used to search for abstracts to articles that have particular keywords in their title or abstract. Searches can be done using Boolean logic to combine or limit the search.

"PsycINFO - An index to articles in the professional and academic literature in psychology and related disciplines, including medicine, psychiatry, nursing, sociology, education, pharmacology, physiology, and linguistics. PsycINFO contains references with abstracts to articles in over 1,300 journals in more than 20 languages, and to book chapters and books in the English language. Coverage is from 1967 to the present for journal articles, and from 1987 to the present for book chapters."

To use PsychINFO you need to bookmark the link. It is available through EBSCO from the NU library (find it by going to the er.library and then navigating to PSYCHINFO. If you are off campus, you will need to use a proxy for your web browser.

Psych Info is a good way to start a search. Results from Psych INFO may be downloaded to your own account so that you can build up a personal database of relevant literature. More typically, you can browse the relevant abstracts on line.

Once you have found relevant abstracts you can read many of the articles themselves online as either pdf or html format. Some will not be available on line, but can be found in the main library. Then, by looking at the reference section you can find other relevant articles. Unfortunately, this technique will take you backwards into time, in that the articles cited in a particular article will be older yet.

If you have found a particularly important article, you can then see who is currently citing that article by using the Social Science and Science Citation Indexes (SSCI and SCI) which are available for NU users at

The SSCI and SCI allows one to search for works that cite a particular author or a particular paper. They also allow for hot linking to other articles cited in or citing the article. The SSCI can be used for keyword and title searches as well.

Medline ( is available on and off campus and provides some of the features found in the SSCI. It is does not abstract as many different journals as are available in either PsychLIt or SSCI/SCI.

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Version of November 7, 2005 last revised November 7, 2011