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WRI 1100: Webb

Choosing Developing a research question

"I wonder..." If your assignment allows you to choose your own topics, start with questions like these:
  • What interests you? What are you passionate about?
  • Is there something you've heard in this class or another class about which you'd like to know more?
  • Can you identify a broad topic by browsing newspapers or verified news sources for current issues?
  • What question do you have about the topic?
Narrow your question
  • Get an overview of your topic by using an encyclopedia (e.g. Encyclopedia of Mental Health) or Wikipedia or Google Scholar.
  • What are related concepts or words you could use to narrow your topic (e.g. age, population group, geographical location, time period, aspect/sub-area)?
  • What are synonyms or related words that would describe these concepts?
What type of sources would provide the best evidence?
  • Do you need primarily primary, secondary, or tertiary sources?
    • Primary sources are reports of scientific discoveries and the results of experiments, clinical trials, or social and political science research (e.g. empirical research article, clinical trial)
    • Secondary sources analyze and interpret research results, and/or analyze and interpret scientific discoveries (e.g. literature review, meta-analysis, metasynthesis)
    • Tertiary sources are generally an index or consolidation of sources, such as an encyclopedia or textbook.
  • Where might you find these sources?
    • SPU Primo catalog: best for encyclopedias, handbooks, and other popular and scholarly books and films
    • Article and research databases: best for articles from newspapers, magazines, and scholarly/peer-reviewed journals as well as book chapters and book reviews
    • websites: best for current data and reports, such as those from government websites
Start a preliminary search
  • What are the subject terms used in each database to describe your concept(s)? Use the database's Thesaurus or Subject Terms to translate your concept(s) into the language of the discipline.
  • Separate your concepts as you search in the databases
    • Use AND between search terms that describe different topics
    • Use OR between related terms
Revise your question as needed
  • Are you finding too few or too many results? Your question may be too general or too specific.
    • Too general/broad: continue to narrow using suggestions above, database limiters, or narrower subject terms listed in a database's Thesaurus
    • Too specific/narrow:
      • if you have several concepts, try removing one from the search
      • In the databases, try searching within all Subjects, rather than just one specific subject term/phrase
      • use an asterisk to search for all endings of a term (therap* will find therapy, therapist, therapeutic, etc.)

Article Searching by Keyword or Subject in APA PsycInfo

A keyword generally refers to a term that occurs anywhere in an article, including the title, author, subjects, or abstract.  To search this way in PsycINFO, use the Select a Field (Optional) designation rather than Keyword, since using Keyword from the search drop-down menu will only search specific keyword tags.

  • Search by keyword if you're searching for a new concept, if you want to broaden your search, or if you don't know or can't find a subject term to use. 

PsycINFO search box with human experimentation entered and Select-a-field drop-down option circled

*Tip: Using an asterisk to truncate the end of a word will yield both all variations of that word (e.g. experiment* will locate experiment, experimental, and experimentation)

A subject is a term assigned to a book or article to describe its content.  Using a database's Thesaurus or Subject Terms can help you find the specific term(s) that the database uses to describe your topic.  It can help you differentiate between similar terms, such as Conservation (Concept) vs. Conservation (Ecological Behavior).

  • Search by subject and combine subject terms to immediately narrow your search to relevant articles. 

Step 1: Click on Thesaurus at the top of the search page.

PsycINFO search page, showing Thesaurus circled at top of page

Step 2: In the lower box, search for keywords related to your topic, such as experimental subjects.  Then choose Browse.

PsycINFO Thesaurus search, with example of experimental subjects entered

Step 3: Check the box for the subject term for which you'd like to search.  You can also click on the term for more information, such as a description of the term or broader, narrower, or related terms.

PsycINFO Thesaurus results, showing term of Experimental Subjects checked

Step 4: Then Add the subject term to your search.  If you are searching for multiple terms (such as experimental ethics), repeat steps 1 and 2 and add multiple subject terms to a single search using AND (to narrow search by finding articles with all terms) or OR (to broaden search by finding any of the terms).

PsycINFO Thesaurus, showing Add button circled and term of Experimental Subjects added to top search box

Step 5: Then click Search.

PsycINFO Thesaurus top search box with term of Experimental Subjects and Search button circled


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BEAM Method of Using Sources

  • Background: using a source to provide general information to explain the topic. For example, the use of the APA Handbook of Community Psychology to explain the core concepts of how diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusion relate to community psychology .
  • Exhibit: using a source as evidence or examples to interpret or analyze. For a literature paper, this would be a poem you are analyzing. For a history paper, a historical document you are analyzing. For a psychology paper, it might be the data from a study.
  • Argument: using a source as evidence to agree, disagree, or build upon. For example, you might use an editorial from the New York Times on the value of higher education to refute in your own paper.
  • Method: using a source’s way of analyzing an issue to apply to your own issue. For example, you might use a study’s methods, definitions, or conclusions on gentrification in Chicago to apply to your own neighborhood in Seattle.


Excerpt revised from "How to Use a Source: The BEAM Method" by Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.