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PSYD98: Thesis in Psychology

A guide for advanced research projects and supervised studies for psychology students.

Workshop FAQs

Fall 2023 Workshop Questions

*Note: these are a work-in-progress! If you don't see your question yet, please check back regularly 

Q: Is one database the best?
A: Each database comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as pools of unique literature that it indexes, so there isn't one database I would consider the best. That being said, there are databases that cater well to specific disciplines and/or research topics, so it's important to a) know the scope of what databases are available and b) be able to select the most relevant ones when conducting literature searches. Subjects A-Z is a great starting point to locate key databases by subject area/discipline, and your librarian is also available to give guidance if you're ever stumped on where to look!

Q: Does UTSC LibrarySearch have access to the same articles as Google Scholar?
A: There will be some overlap, however a key limitation to Google Scholar is that, while good at searching broadly, it cannot always search deeply and will not always be able to tap into subscription resources available through the library via both our catalogue (LibrarySearch) as well as our research databases. Thus my general advice is to build comprehensive searches in databases first and then supplement that with both LibrarySearch and Google Scholar searches to ensure comprehensiveness.

inforgraphic comparing Google vs. Google Scholar vs. Library Databases

Transcript (PDF) - Comparing Search Engines

Q: How can you tell if a source is good/appropriate to use?
A: Please see the Reading Articles page for additional resources on critical reading of scientific literature.

Q: How to extract data?
A: I recommend checking out the Map and Data Library's page on Extracting data, which has a variety of tutorials and workshops relating to this topic.

Q: Any methods for getting key concepts into our notes or on excel?
A: I'm not aware of a way to export keywords into another program, so my advice would be to finalize your search strategy and then copy/paste the search string into your preferred software for logging. Most databases also allow you to save searches after creating a free account which you can then re-run at a later date, so that is another possible means of tracking your research.


Questions from previous years can be found below:

Getting Started

Q: How do I know when I have enough background information? What is a good starting point?
A: The goal when conducting background research is to get a general sense of your topic and to start formulating ideas about how you want to focus your research. Keep in mind that literature searching is an iterative process with lots of jumping back and forth, so don't worry about capturing everything right at the beginning - you can always go back and do more research if needed! For getting started, I'd recommend checking in books, Google, Wikipedia, etc. to get a general overview, and from there start brainstorming key words/concepts that you can use to build a search strategy.


Literature Searching

Q: Does literature searching only happen initially when developing our research, or does it happen after as well as we are collecting data and after forming our report?
A: Literature searching can occur over the course of your project, though it's good to focus on it early on since the scope and focus of your research may change depending on what you find in the literature. If you're worried about missing "newer" literature that may emerge later on after you've finished initial searching, you can set up search alerts within databases to get notified when a study is added that matches the parameters of your search.


Q: Are the PsycInfo ProQuest and OVID databases different or the same?
A: The ProQuest and OVID versions of PsycInfo are exactly the same in terms of their content (e.g. what articles they contain), but the way the look and the way you search them are slightly different. In terms of strengths/weaknesses, I find that the OVID version offers better mapping to index terms/subject headings, has more advanced search/export features, and it tends to be less "glitchy" (e.g. as we saw in class, the "Explode" and "Major" labels for subject headings in ProQuest sometimes disappear from the interface for no discernible reason). At the end of the day though, the content is the same, so use whichever version you prefer best!

Q: I'm curious about how these databases actually search for things. 
A: Each database indexes specific content that is constantly getting updated (typically daily or weekly) - see the APA PsycInfo Journal Coverage List for an example of what gets included in the database. So essentially each database has a "pool" of literature that you can then tap into using various search fields (e.g. index terms/subject headings, keywords, authors, titles, etc. etc.), based on metadata that's indexed in an item's database record. This is also why it's important to "go fishing" in a variety of databases rather than just relying on one -- the "fish" (i.e. literature) that you can find in them is not always going to be the same, so you risk missing an important "catch" by not casting a broader net across multiple databases!


Q: How should I conduct a more organized search?
A: Great question! Searching can be messy, but there's some steps you can take to help streamline the process:

  • I always recommend starting with brainstorming; think about what search terms might be useful and what resources are reasonable starting places to begin searching for literature (this will depend on the nature of your research topic and what subject area you're working in - I can advise on recommended resources if you're not sure where to start, Subjects A-Z is also a great tool for database recommendations)
  • Keep a list of resources searched (e.g. databases, search engines, websites, etc.) and when they were searched
  • Take notes on what terms are/are not helpful to your search strategy; remove unneeded terms to help keep your search history clean/uncluttered
  • Most databases allow you to save a copy of your search by creating an account within the platform; once you've developed a finalized search that you're happy with, save a copy of it so that you can a) remember exactly how you conducted your search and b) return to "re-run" it at a later date without having to rebuild it all from scratch
  • Citation management software is useful for managing your references and keeping information organized; please see the Citation Management guide for some examples of popular software and their functions (I personally recommend Zotero)


Q: Are these tools effective in searching for animal research?
A: Good question! Science databases typically include a mixture of human and animal research. Most will offer filters for 'Human' or 'Animal,' though I find these are not always evenly applied when articles get indexed into databases, and furthermore, using them does come with the risk of excluding potentially relevant research. Rather than applying an animal filter, I would instead recommend incorporating your animal population as a distinct concept in your search strategy, along with whatever research topic you are investigating.


Q: What is the optimal amount of searching that should be done / is there a certain number of results I should aim for?
A: This entirely depends on the nature of your topic and the type of literature search you're doing. As a general rule, about 100-200 results is a good number to aim for per database (i.e. when searching in places like PsycINFO). Keep in mind there may be more or less depending on your topic, however (for example, newer research areas might not have much published literature out yet, while more established ones will have stronger representation in the literature). Your main task is to cover due diligence as a researcher (e.g. making sure you look in the appropriate collection of research databases, that you are comprehensive in selecting your key words and building a search strategy, etc.) and then to critically evaluate the resources you find from there.

Q: How many sources should a literature review include?
A:  As with above, there is no perfect answer to this - it will entirely depend on your research topic and how much literature is available. If you find there is too much literature, you will want to think about ways to focus your research topic; likewise, if there is not enough literature, you might consider ways to broaden the scope of your topic. My encouragement would be to think less about numbers and more about the relevance of literature retrieved, i.e. Does this directly relate to my topic? if so, why is it significant?


Q: Is there a way to know about papers that discuss similar findings?
A: This is where it might be handy to have some sort of organization scheme for keeping track of your references and identifying connections between papers (e.g. a comparison chart of articles, concept maps, etc.). Most databases also offer a "Cited by" feature which can be helpful for finding related papers on a specific topic; here is an example from the PsycINFO (ProQuest) interface:

screenshot of PsycINFO's cited by feature


Q: How to set up alerts for when new papers are published?
A: Most databases have a "create alert" feature that you can sign up for on the search results page; here's an example from the PsycINFO (ProQuest) interface:

screenshot of PsycINFO's create alert feature

When you create the alert, you can usually set some specifications, such as how often you'll receive alerts via email and what types of information will be displayed in the notification.


Q: What are some ways to identify prominent researchers in the field?
A: Northcentral University Library has a helpful guide on various tools to locate key researchers.


Q: Are there any handouts/short versions of workshop content?
A: A series of video tutorials are available for the APA PsycInfo and MEDLINE databases from the menu of this guide, and the National Library of Medicine maintains a PubMed User Guide. Instructions on locating tests/measures are available on our Psychological Tests and Measures guide. I'm also happy to locate or develop summaries for other topics of interest, which can be requested via email.


Q: Can we get access to these resources if not affiliated with U of T / what about alumni access?
A: Unfortunately this is tricky, as many resources such as electronic databases are only accessible through the U of T network / your UTORid and password. Here are some suggested workarounds:

Online resources:

  • If you'll be local to the Toronto area after you graduate, a number of U of T libraries have public access computers that will allow you to access electronic books, journals, databases, etc. For the UTSC Library specifically, you can request a guest login at our Information and Reference Desk for use at our public access computers at the front of the library.

Physical resources:

  • Most U of T libraries allow you to openly browse through their physical book stacks (except for the Robarts Library downtown). If you are interested in borrowing physical materials, there are several types of alumni library cards available for purchase at the Robarts Library.


Reading Journal Articles

Q: How do I critically analyze a research article to see if its claims are legitimate or not?
A: Please see the Reading Articles page for additional resources on critical reading of scientific literature.


Q: How do you use the literature to find gaps and create your own question?
A: My first recommendation is: read read read! The better you know the field and the more acquainted you are with literature in a specific subject area, the more likely you'll be to catch any glaring omissions. It can be helpful to a) read broadly to see how other researchers address gaps/what sort of things they look for and b) read deeply so that you become a mini-expert in your subject area and know the ins-and-outs of your topic. It can also be helpful to look at the Discussion sections of relevant articles and look for explicit mentions of future research. Once you've identified gaps, you can then check whether newer studies have since attempted to fill these gaps and/or to help inform your own research question.


Q: What is the best way to combine info from different papers and resources?
A: This will likely be addressed when Writing Support visits your class in the Winter term, so I'll mostly defer to them on this topic, however I do have a list of psychology writing resources available on the Writing Support page that I recommend perusing; these thesis-specific books from the library might also be useful:


Q: How to fight against procrastination and record notes (of articles) effectively?
A: The procrastination battle is real!! Here's some resources I recommend to start with:

  • Chunk key research tasks into manageable pieces, so that they're not quite so overwhelming; the Assignment Planner is a fantastic tool to plan out different stages of your research and will provide a recommended timeline along with supplemental resources
  • Check out Writing Support's resource page (which includes a section on reading/note-taking), as well as the Reading Articles page in this guide for some additional tips/resources


Psychological Tests and Measures

Q: How do I find psychological testing?
A: Check our our Psycholigical Tests and Measures guide for an overview. The menu on the left of the guide gives tips on a) locating specific tests, b) identifying useful tests, and c) evaluating tests.

Q: How do you reference a psychometric test?
A: The APA Style Blog provides an overview of how to cite psychological tests in APA style (6th ed.).



Q: Is it okay to cite an article that has not been cited a lot, if it is helpful for my study?
A: Yes, absolutely! While high citation count can be an indicator of prominent or highly-discussed articles in a certain research area, keep in mind that this metric depends on time to accumulate citations and is not necessarily a good way to gauge an individual article's quality. It's best to read through the full text of the article yourself and critically analyze it for usefulness.


Q: Where can I learn more about other citation management software?
A: Check out U of T's Citation Management guide as well as our comparison table of popular software. There are also software-specific guides on the following tools:


Other Topics

Q: What is the best place for stats help?
A: I would recommend checking out the Math & Statistics Learning Centre, which offers statistics tutoring for students. Your professor may have additional recommendations for stats support as well.


Q: Do you recommend using NVivo?
A: NVivo is a data analysis software used to help researchers organize, code, and analyze qualitative and mixed methods research data and is freely avalable to all U of T students, faculty, and staff. U of T Libraries doesn't have any pending workshops at the moment, however NVivo's Youtube page has a number of tutorial playlists that can get you started. If you would like further consultation around using this software, please let me know and I'll reach out to my colleagues who have expertise in this area to help you.