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Psychological and Cognitive Sciences: Topic Research

Resources in Psychological and the Cognitive Sciences

Topic Research

Library Search is a powerful tool that allows you to search for books, articles, media, government documents, encyclopedia entries, and more. It can be a great place to start if you are still exploring your topic. 

This video demonstrates the following aspects of Library Search:

  • How to run a basic search
  • How to use filters
  • How to sort results
  • How to access e-resources
  • How to use tools like the citation generator and permalink

Library Search 2019 from UCI Libraries Education+Outreach on Vimeo.


In doing preliminary research on your topic, you probably have identified some key events or actions that have taken place that give shape to your topic. Perhaps some law was passed. Or maybe some controversy occurred. For some topics, you may be able to point to a particular event that was widely reported in the news. 

For every event or action that you identify surrounding your topic, you should think about the information timeline of how that event is discussed. This may help you think about who is talking about your topic, when they are talking about it, who the intended audience may be, and what you need to look out for when considering how to use this information yourself.

Info Timeline

"Information Timeline Graphic" by adstarkel. Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Before you begin searching for information, you should develop a mental framework of how you are searching for information, and why. There are definitely mistakes that you can make in searching that may lead you to believe that no information exists on your topic, when in fact there are plenty of resources out there.

Watch the video below to learn about a common pitfall in searching, and consider alternatives in thinking about the search process.

One perfect source? (NCSU Libraries)

AND, OR, and NOT

These three words can be very handy when you are using databases. 

  • Puppy AND kitten = articles that have both of these words 
  • Puppy OR kitten = articles that can have either of these words (because they're both adorable)
  • Puppy NOT kitten = articles that only contain the word puppy (because we're not interested in kittens)

Pro tip: CAPITALIZE these words in databases to ensure that they work properly. Some databases require you to put them in all caps. Best to be safe and get in the habit of capitalizing all the time.

Using Truncation and Wildcards

Sometimes you will be looking for a bunch of related words that all start with the same beginning. For example: computer, compute, computing, computational...

In these instances, you can use the asterisk symbol (*) to truncate these words, like this:


This will return all words that start with these six letters. 

You may also want to use the pound/hash (#) symbol for spelling variations within a word. For example: 


This will return the words "color" as well as "colour" (the British spelling).


Scholarly journal articles are likely to be different in tone and scope than anything you've ever encountered before. This is because scholarly articles are not written for an audience of undergraduate students! They are written primarily by scholars (usually university professors) for other scholars. They use slang from their professional fields without bothering to define these terms for your average person. As a result, scholarly journal articles can be difficult to understand. 

You may want to read the Abstract and the Conclusion (pink and purple) sections first , to determine if this article addresses your topic well enough. Review the rest of the breakdown below. This will save you time later when you are trying to read them for your assignment.


Bibliographies show you what scholars prior to the article or book you have in hand were saying about a topic. But... what if you want to find out what the article you have in hand contributed to the scholarly conversation moving forward?

"Cited By" or Cited Reference Searching is a newer tool that scholars are using to track the impact of particular sources on later publications. Google Scholar is a powerful tool for Cited Reference Searching, because it is multi-disciplinary, and also contains some book and book chapter information. Make sure you have the VPN turned on when you use Google Scholar, to ensure that you have access to the journals that UCI subscribes to.

This video demonstrates how to use Google Scholar to track cited references, and why it is an important component of research.

Cited Reference Searching (University of Chicago Libraries) [2:04]