Quick tips for finding essay materials

For me, one of the most stressful things as a Psych student is finding references papers for essays. At A-Level I could pretty much get away with typing a subject matter into google, and pull information from random pages without it needing to meet any specific criteria or needing to reference it. *Melodramatic sigh*… Those were the days. Quite often when writing an essay or doing a project, your introduction and discussion are the largest parts of text, and those are the sections which need to include research by other psychologists. This is difficult for three main reasons: One, papers need to be accredited, and preferably peer assessed; two, there are so many papers relating to a wide range of topics, that it is difficult to search through them all for the perfect paper; and, thirdly, after scrolling through page after page, and finally finding a paper that seems right at first glance, you then have to sit and scroll through the paper itself and find research and statistics that are relevant. I often struggle with this to the extent that I will leave the introduction and discussion until last, something which can cause problems further down the line when you are running out of time to finish your essay. In these situations, it can be nearly impossible to search though every paper that has potential, and you just don’t have time to read every word; therefore, sometimes you need to find a way to make your life a little easier. So here are 5 quick-tips for finding research papers on a short deadline:

1. Key Words: Type in key words into your chosen search engine which you’d like to be included in the title of the paper (if you want to know more about which search engines to use check out my previous blog post). I often find that the most relevant papers use few words other than the key words; for example, if my key words are ‘perception’ and ‘memory recall’, a paper titled ‘How Perception affects memory recall’ is more likely to be directly relevant than a paper titled ‘A study into memory recall, and the effects of individual differences such as perception’. (That’s a made up example but you get the idea).

2. Names and dates: Though whether or not the paper is written by a scholar that you recognise in no way diminishes or increases the standard of work, it can be a quick indication that the paper is highly accredited if you do recognise the team behind it. Dates are also important; a standard rule for the relevance of research is that it you should try to stick to papers written in the last 15 years.

3. Abstract, Introduction and Results: These are the three sections I always briefly check and it usually gives me a good indication if a paper is appropriate or not. Although the abstract in itself should include a pretty good overview of a report, the introduction will give you more detail into the purpose of the study, as well as other research which inspired their work, and the results will determine whether or not the outcome of the study supports or contradicts your hypothesis.

4. ‘Cited by’: When you look up a paper on google, it will give you an option to see other works which have sited the paper you are looking at. This is a great way to discover other relevant papers which could benefit you.

5. Ir-relevant: Finally, if you are really struggling, you should remember that just because a paper seems irrelevant on the surface, that doesn’t mean it isn’t of any use to you! Quite often the paper will relate to your work in a broader sense; just try think outside of the box!

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