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Using Databases and Finding Referencesfinding-references

The process of writing a research paper commonly involves searching for and referring to prior research in the text of the paper and in a separate References section.  Relevant peer-reviewed journal articles should be the primary sources that you use when writing research papers (for more information, please see the Appropriate References for Research Papers section of this website).  Here we discuss how to find peer-reviewed journal articles via database searches.  

For more information on reading, evaluating, and using references, please see the Evaluating References and Taking Notes page; for information on citing sources in APA style, please see the Citing References page.

Searching Databases for References

Peer-reviewed journal articles can be identified and obtained through database access and journal subscriptions provided by the UCSD library system.  Depending on your topic of interest, you may wish to use any of a variety of databases to search for articles.  If you are off campus, you may need to connect remotely to the UCSD computer network via VPN.  Perhaps the most commonly used database in the psychological sciences is the American Psychological Association’s PsycINFO database.  When using that or similar databases, tips for best results include:

  • Search using a variety of keywords. For many topics, there may be a number of database search terms that yield relevant research.  For example, if you are researching the role of sleep in memory, you might consider using the keyword sleep in combination with the keywords learning, memory, and other terms (across multiple searches).
  • Search using Boolean operators. Including the words and or or in your searches can help you obtain more directly relevant results.  For instance, a search for genetics AND parenting will yield results that mention both of those terms rather than results that only mention one (as would occur if you simply typed in both terms without the Boolean operator).
  • Search using quoted keywords, terms, or phrases. If you are looking for an exact match to a particular set of words in a specific order, then enter those words into the database search box surrounded by quotes (for example, instead of contextual fear conditioning, type “contextual fear conditioning”).  As a result, you will only obtain results that include that exact set of words. 

Obtaining References from Databases and Libraries

After you have located the sources that you wish to examine, you will need to obtain and read them.  In most cases, when using a university database, the search results include full text journal article links.  There are a variety of methods for obtaining references, including:

  • In most PsycINFO search results there are links to “Full text” and “Full text – PDF” downloads. Similar links can be found in other databases that have full text access, such as the EBSCOhost database system.
  • Many databases accessible through UCSD have “Get it At UC” buttons that appear next to search results. Clicking on that button reveals a list all the different ways that an article can be obtained through the UCSD library system or other means.
  • Specifying the database to provide only results where “full text is available” (there is often a checkbox to select that option) can guarantee that you will be able to access the whole article in most cases. Please note that this capability is only offered by some databases.
  • In cases where an article is not available through the UC System Libraries, you may have to request the article through a different library. Please visit the library’s webpage on interlibrary loan.

The UCSD library and the UC system libraries have subscriptions to thousands of peer-reviewed journals.  Accordingly, in most cases you will be able to access the full text of the articles that you are seeking through university library sources.  If you encounter difficulty accessing articles, then consulting a librarian may be helpful.

Downloadable Resources

  • How to Write APA Style Research Papers (a comprehensive guide) [PDF]
  • Tips for Writing APA Style Research Papers (a brief summary) [PDF]

Further Resources

How-To Videos     

Databases and Search Engines (some may require connection to UCSD network)

UCSD Resources

External Resources  


Prepared by S. C. Pan for UCSD Psychology

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