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Wartburg College - 100 Wartburg Blvd. - Waverly, IA 50677

Psychology Courses & Research: Start

Techniques for deeper inquiry

Whether you are majoring in psychology, sociology, biology, music therapy, or political science, the questions you ask and the evidence you find influences the direction of your research.



Questions can be classified according to a scale of complexity.  From simple to the more complex, questions might address facts, analyze issues and evidence, interpret relationships, evaluate criteria or standards, apply knowledge and concepts to new situations, and/or synthesize information to reach new conclusions.

As you survey the literature, you will locate materials that help you formulate the question(s) that you intend to explore in this course.  Some of you will begin by locating a key source to provide you with a firm conceptual and/or methodological foundation for your research project.

Dr Bane considers a key source to be one that:

  • Is from an overview source or is a specific type of research article.
  • Is peer-reviewed.
  • Contains at least 10 pages in length (exception for a scholarly encyclopedia entry).
  • Has a publication date within the past ten years: 2004 or later.



To survey "the existing literature" involves locating scholarly materials that summarize, integrate, and evaluate the published sources that describe theory and research studies (experiments, correlational studies, case studies).  This guide is intended to remind you of the many tools and databases that comprise a comprehensive literature search.

  • What research has already been conducted that is relevant to my research question?
  • What theories have guided the research that has already been conducted?
  • What hypotheses have been tested?
  • How have other researchers defined (operationalized) their variables?
  • What kinds of research designs have other researchers used?
  • How were participants tested in these previous research studies?
  • What participant populations have been studied?
  • What mistakes have other researchers made?
  • What suggestions have been made for future research?



It is extremely important to brainstorm search terms that you will use as you look for evidence while you dig into your topic.

Keep a list of keywords, concepts, synonyms, and multiple terms that can be combined to narrow down the broad spectrum of available resources.



You will be searching for overview sources and research articles that are relevant to your topic.  Make sure to comprehensively look at the types of search tools and databases covered in this guide and to also to investigate the authors' references to find additional, helpful sources.

In any scholarly source, authors include a reference section (some disciplines call it a bibliography or works cited), which includes appropriate information for every source they cited in their work.  Don't forget to follow the trail!