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VIC106 Psychology and Society

Introduction & Research Tips:

This guide is for VIC106, as designed and taught by Prof. Maria Cichosz, with a focus on altered states of consciousness and psychology.

Photo of a tin of Cocaine Hydrochlorate from the National Museum of American History hosted in the Smithsonians Digital Collections
Image: (Photo of tin of) Cocaine Hydrochlorate, c1910s,
from the National Museum of American History,
from the Smithsonian's Digital Collections

Research Process:

The research process is often iterative.
You may go back and forth between these steps and have to try several combinations of search terms before you find what you’re looking for. 

Step 1: Identify a potential topic

In this course, what psychoactive substance or altered state of consciousness has been most interesting to you?

Step 2: Start your research with reference sources

  • Reference sources provide an overview and add context for a given topic and include related terminology, names of associated people, dates and events etc.
  • Starting with a broader source (e.g., encyclopedia entry/article) can often suggest a direction you can take in your assignment and help you narrow down which aspects of the topic you will focus on. 
Sample starting points:

orange arrow pointing diagonally, up and to the left
Check out the Reference/Overview Sources page for more suggestions. 

Note: Articles in the encyclopedias or other reference sources can be cited as one of your scholarly sources, provided they are ~800 words or longer and list a few references or suggested readings at the end (as confirmed by Prof. Cichosz).

Step 3: Find book chapters or articles related to your topic

  • Scholarly books (authored by an academic in a related field or discipline) feature in-depth analysis and article-length essays on well-defined topics. 
  • Many scholarly books have chapters on standalone subtopics, and you can certainly read and cite a single chapter.
    Note: It’s perfectly acceptable to select book chapters and other sources from this research guide

orange arrow pointing diagonally, up and to the left
  Start with the two (e)Books pages 
  (on "Specific Drugs, Legality, Uses & Addiction" and on "Drug Culture & Altered States")

However, your topic may not be covered by the suggested books in the is guide, or you may need additional resources.

Step 4: Find additional sources to inform your essay

To search for scholarly books and articles related to your topic, use U of T Libraries’ LibrarySearch. It searches all of UofT’s resources for books, journals, journal articles, videos and more. Please see: LibrarySearch Tips for how to use the tool most effectively.

Sample LibrarySearch advanced search formula:

Screen capture of advanced library search formula for the topic German soldiers use of amphetamine during WWII

Here is a link to the advanced search formula above.

Remember to:

  • insert quotation marks around any multiple word search terms
  • use upper case OR to connect synonymous or related terms 
  • insert the asterisk * to retrieve variations of the ending of a term (* replaces 0 [no letters] up to multiple letters).

Specific database searching:

You can also find scholarly journal articles in subject-specific databases. With these searches you can usually improve the relevance/accuracy of the results retrieved by searching for your key search terms in the "Subject Terms" or in the "Abstracts".
Links to specific databases in psychology, sociology and other disciplines can be found on the Finding Articles page of this guide.
For other databases, not listed there, use U of T’s Subject Guides, which identifies relevant databases for a particular subject. 
For example, you may be interested in the Pharmacology and Toxicology or Psychology guides.

Sample search formula in two different database interfaces:

Let's say your topic could be framed in anthropology (the study of humans and human ancestors through time) you could enter a search similar to the one below into the Anthropology Plus database.

Screen shot of search formula ion Anthropology plus

The same search terms in PsycInfo will garner quite different results to the search in Anthropology Plus. 
This is not only because it's searching a different collection of primarily psychology journals (possibly a larger collection overall) but also because the search interface allows for searching a category of description fields called "Anywhere except full text" (see screenshot below). This searches the title, the subject terms, the abstract and a few others. Basically it searches in the fields that describe a publication rather than documents that make mention of the search term incidentally.


screenshot of search formula in PsycInfo

Step 5: Selecting and evaluating your sources

If you're using books from the research guide, LibrarySearch or the databases the U of T library provides access to, you are most likely finding only scholarly sources. Scholarly simply means that is has been authored by a scholar and for reputable academic publishers, the content would have gone through an editorial review process. In a scholarly book/academic publication, look for information on the authors. This is typically found at the beginning or end of the book and with anthologies (multiple and different authors for each chapter) this is often under a section called "Contributors".

You might not find sources that answer all of the questions of facets of a topic that you hope to explore in your paper.
Try to recognize when a source offers insight, new or important information about one part of your specific topic. You can find other sources to inform the other aspects and trust your mind to make connections. 

You will demonstrate your learning by incorporating sources supporting different facets of your topic into a cohesive analysis.

Wishing you well with your research!

If you encounter any challenges finding sources, please don't hesitate to contact Diane, the librarian who supports this course or to drop into the library for spontaneous research support. 
Please see the Research and Writing Help page of this guide for contact information and details.