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Clinical Psychology : Search Tips

Using this page

On this page, you will find links out to additional research help resources.  You will also find a walkthrough of a sample search related to a clinical psychology topic.  The walkthrough will explain choosing terms, building a search, narrowing your results, and advanced search strategies.

Research Strategy Worksheet

This worksheet will help you brainstorm and perform research on your topic of interest.

Search Strategies

Check out our LibGuide on Library Research Methods. It covers:

1.     Basics - Tips for formulating a good search strategy and using Boolean logic.

2.     Intermediate - Learn how to use quotation marks, the asterisk, and proximity operators to make your searches faster and more effective.

3.     Advanced - Delve into the complex world of citation searching and journal rankings to uncover hidden connections.

4.     Journal Rankings - Find out which journals are the top journals in your field.

More Tutorials

Need a reminder on the difference between keywords and subject headings? Check out this short explainer video:

Prefer to see the thesaurus tutorial in video format? Check out the video below--click on the 'YouTube' link to watch it full screen.

Sample Search Walkthrough

Use the tabs in this box to walk through a sample search query.  This is meant to give you some ideas of how you can use our databases to search for materials, refine your results, and access items of interest. 

Step 1: Choose where to search

You saw some great resource suggestions on the previous pages of this guide. You can either choose to search in a subject-specific database related to psychology, or you can begin in FASTsearch. Remember, FASTsearch searches through most of our database content at once, so it will usually take some refining to narrow in on the items you want.

For this sample search we will use PsycINFO, a database from ProQuest. To connect, first follow the 'databases' link on the main library website:

Then choose PsycINFO from the alphabetical list:

Before plugging in search terms, it can be a good idea to brainstorm some synonyms for the terms you plan to use.  For example, imagine you are researching sleeping behaviors in veterans. Try jotting down a few alternative ways to describe each of your terms:

Veterans                                                          Sleep             

"service members"                                         insomnia                     

"military personnel"                                    "sleep disorders"                                                                          

Thinking of synonyms before-hand will let you find more results which are still relevant to your topic. You can always discover additional search language by looking at the keywords and subject headings used to describe the articles you find most useful.

You will usually want to use the 'Advanced Search' page (databases and FASTsearch have advanced search features). The advanced page will give you more control over your search, increasing your chances of finding relevant results. 

You can either use the pre-built structure in the database to enter your terms, or you can enter them all in one line.  We'll show an example of each. 

Pre-Built Structure

This strategy is particularly useful if you want to specify different search fields (i.e. author, title, abstract, etc.) for your terms:

Single Line

You can use this strategy if you're looking for all of your terms in the same field. When you start to use more advanced techniques, searching in a single line becomes a bit like building a math equation. Some researchers enjoy this strategy while others will prefer using set structures. 

Sample Results

This broad search returned 1,700+ results in various formats.  Here's a screenshot of some of the scholarly articles returned:


Most databases, including FASTsearch, will provide options to narrow your results on the left side of the screen. Some of the most common ways to filter results are to limit to a certain content type (such as scholarly journals) or to limit to a certain date range if necessary:

There are also more advanced filtering options. You may want to spend a little time getting familiar with these other filters and seeing how they can improve your results. Of particular note are the 'Subject' and 'Classification' filters. The subject list shows the most common terms first, so it's a good idea to click on the "more options" link so you can see more, select multiple items, and choose to either include or exclude terms from your search:

You may have noticed that we enclosed the term "decision making" in quotation marks in our sample search.  This is one of many quick search tips, called 'phrase searching', which can dramatically alter the results you find. This is a brief run-down of a few other tips, but we would recommend checking out either our Quick Tip Videos blog page or our Library Research Methods guide for full details. 

Phrase Searching

Enclose multi-word search terms in quotation marks to find exact phrases. Example: "decision making".  If you do not enclose phrases in quotes, the database simply assumes you are looking for both terms, but it does not know you wish to find them together in a certain order.


Use an asterisk at the end of a root word to find multiple endings. You will place the asterisk at the point at which you may start seeing variation. For example: leader*.  This search would return results such as: leader, leaders, leadership, etc.

Proximity Search

Find terms physically near each other in a record without specifying their order. Different databases use different syntax so check their help features. In ProQuest, you build a proximity search by connecting your terms with a capital 'N', a forward slash, and then a number representing how close together you want to find the terms. 

For example: leader* N/3 "decision making"

This search specifies that I would like to find a version of the term 'leader' within three words of the phrase "decision making". Some sample results from this search include things like:

  • leadership significantly contributed to decision making
  • concerns of leaders may influence ethical decision making
  • these leaders monopolize decision making authority

***It's important to remember that this search function only specifies how close you find the words, but not the context. It will be highly useful for some searches and may not be helpful for others, so you will only want to use it in some cases.


Remember those synonyms we brainstormed earlier? Nesting is a strategy that will allow you to search for multiple synonyms in one go so you don't have to run as many searches. To nest terms, you will enclose them in parentheses and separate them using the operator 'OR'. 

For example: (leader* OR executives OR managers ) 

The database knows that it can find any one of those terms to bring back a match. 

**Note, you will almost always nest terms and add in additional keywords.  You can see this in the image below: