Finding, Reading, & Citing Psychology Articles

Also: Information on APA-style formatting for Reference pages

*Revised for 6th Edition APA Manual.

Other useful links:
Basics Tutorial (w/audio), APA Style 6th Ed.
Annotated Sample Paper, APA Style 6th Ed. (PDF)
Summary Guidelines for Unbiased Language, APA Style 6th Ed. (PDF)
Language Use for Gender,APA Style 6th Ed. (PDF)
Language Use for Sexual Orientation,APA Style 6th Ed. (PDF)
Purchase your own APA Publication Manual
Writing Empirical Papers: Beginners
Writing Empirical Papers: Advanced (PDF) - for use by students who have learned the basics about empirical papers.
General Writing Tips on Writing Psychology Papers
Avoiding Inappropriate Paraphrasing

Finding articles: Searching PSYCHINFO

Access the PSYCHINFO (and full-text PsycArticles if available) database through your library's web site (e.g., Trexler Library). Below is a general guide to help you search PSYCHINFO.  A librarian (or your professor) can give you more help if you need assistance. Don't hesitate to ask for help; PSYCHINFO is a complex and large database and poor references make for a poor paper.  Ebscohost has produced a useful Users Guide for PSYCHINFO. It is specific to Ebscohost, but also includes general information about Boolean operators, etc. Click here to download the .doc file.
General searching tips:

(1) Limit your search to English language only articles (unless you read another language). 

(2) Students in Introductory psychology courses may want to limit your search to only the types of documents your professor is allowing for the assignment.  For example, your professor may ask that you use exclusively journal articles or chapters, or exclusively peer-reviewed articles. NOTE - this type of limitation is NOT useful to more advanced students.  If you are taking an upper level psychology class, or doing research for an independent study or thesis, you should NOT limit articles by document type. Limiting document types limits the number of resources you will have access to. This may be fine for a person in Intro Psych just learning PSYCHINFO, but could be disastrous for an upper level student seeking out the perfect references.  Note:  DO NOT LIMIT YOUR SEARCH TO FULL-TEXT articles or "AVAILABLE IN THIS LIBRARY" ARTICLES. Unless you attend a large university, the perfect articles for your project might not be found within the holdings of your library. There are over 2400 psychology journals in existence, not to mention numerous books and book chapters. If you find a source that is not available full-text and is not available at your library, you can request that the article or book be sent to you via InterLibrary Loan (I.L.L.). Similarly, do not limit your search to the full-text PSYCArticles database; it only includes about 60 journals.

(3) When searching in PSYCHINFO, start by checking to see that each of your search terms is a good one. Psychologists may use vocabulary that would not occur to you (e.g., affect = emotion/mood).  So, if one of your search terms results in too few or no hits, you may need to learn what the specialized words are for this database.  One way to do this is to use the "Thesaurus" (available on-line for most versions of PSYCHINFO). Another way is to look at the articles you find when you enter one term at a time. Check out the subjects or keyword fields in a citation for an article that looks particularly relevant.

(4) After you know each individual search term is legitimate, then type in multiple terms to try to specify your search.  It is typically best to start with a smaller number of broader search terms and see what you get. If you need to narrow the search, systematically add keywords and/or try keywords of increasing specificity.  If you are searching for specific articles and/or having a hard time narrowing the search, look for your terms in more specific search fields (e.g., subjects, title, "major descriptors").

(5) Virtually ANY topic you can think has been addressed by at least one article in the millions referenced in PSYCHINFO. Your exact research question may not be addressed, but some component of it (e.g. ,the underlying theory or concept) probably is. So, don't give up on the first try.  Keep looking.  Once you find just one good article, you can use the keywords, subject terms, or references in that article as search terms.

(6) After conducting any given search, you will get a list of article titles.  If your list is shorter than 20, you are likely to be missing a relevant article, so try using fewer terms or broader terms.  If your list is longer than 100, you will have a hard time sifting through all those results, so try using a more restrictive search.  It is important to know that, unlike internet search engines, PSYCHINFO does not sort your search results by relevance.  Thus, a really useful article might be the 50th one on the list. 

(7) Conduct several different searches using different strategies.  This will help you find the articles that are most relevant and helpful to you. When you start seeing the same articles over and over again in all your different search strategies, then you can feel more confident that you have seen all the psych literature has to offer on your topic.

I think I found a good source, now what?

To see if an article is relevant, read the title of the article and click on the title to see the abstract.  An abstract is a very short, dense summary of what the article is about.  Most abstracts will be difficult to understand, but read for general "gist" (general theme of the article).  If you can't understand a single word the abstract is saying, move on to another article! If you would like help interpreting any abstracts, let your professor or a librarian know.

After choosing articles that you think look promising, you must also actually get the articles. You cannot write a paper based on the abstract alone. Your professor will know if you rely solely on abstracts. You need to obtain and read the entire article.  There are 3 ways to obtain an article.  (1) it may be available on the computer in full-text;  (2) check to see if your library owns a paper-copy of the specific volume of the journal you need; and (3) if you cannot access the article any other way, you can request it via Interlibrary Loan.

Finding. Reading, Citing, Reference page
Reading Articles
Reading journal articles is not like reading a textbook. Most articles you come across will have these 5 basic sections:
Exceptions: Some articles may discuss several studies and have several methods, results, and “mini” discussion sections – these will usually have one overall section at the end called the “General Discussion” section.  Other articles won’t talk about the details of any one study, but rather review what lots of other researchers have done.  These are called “literature review” articles and won’t have any methods or results sections, but will probably have a “Conclusions” section. 

To read an empirical journal article, it is a good idea to first skim the entire article with the goal of getting a basic idea of the topic and research findings. For more in-depth information, you generally don't want to read the article in the order it is written in. Many people suggest the following:
It is unlikely that you will fully understand every word/sentence/paragraph of the article because it is written to an audience already familiar with background research on the topic. Learning to extract useful information from complex text is an important skill to practice.  But, you will not be able to use the article effectively if you cannot understand it at all.  If you feel you have chosen an article that is beyond your grasp completely, choose another one or let your professor know you need help "translating” the article.  Do not write your paper based on the abstracts alone.  The reader will know if you do that. 
Finding. Reading, Citing, Reference page

Citing sources in the text of a psychology paper
For any ideas in your paper that are not your own, you must use citations in the text of the paper in the format explained and illustrated in this paragraph (called "APA format"). This includes information from assigned course readings (e.g., the textbook).  Below is a limited selection of style examples. See the 6th Edition manual for more complete information.
Citations in the text of your paper

Indicate the source of the cited material at the very first mention of that material. For example, if this sentence is the beginning of my description of information based on information from a textbook, I would let the reader know where this information came from right away (Mynatt & Doherty, 2000). You should repeat the citation after you have (1) switched back from another source, (2) started talking about the source again after discussing your own ideas, or (3) after a paragraph break. When in doubt, include a citation. You must tell the reader where you got any ideas that are not your own (in addition to direct quotes). Please see your professor if you are unfamiliar with this citation rule. 

Here are examples of different ways to incorporate source citations into your text (adapted from the APA Manual, 6th Ed., pages 174-178).

One Author

Two Authors

Note that the order of the author names on a publication matters. You must reproduce the author names in the same order listed on the source.

Three to five authors, the first mention of the source in the paper

Three to five authors, after the first mention of the source

After the initial citation of a source with three to five authors, you may abbreviate the reference in the rest of your paper. You do this by listing just the first author of the source, followed by the abbreviation for "and others" (et al.), followed by the year.  The abbreviation et al. is not italicized, and includes a period after the "al" .

Six or more authors

You may use the "et al." abbreviation for the initial and all subsequent citations of a source with six or more authors.


No identifiable author

Use the first few words of the reference page entry. These words are typically the title. Use double quotes around those words for articles, chapters or web pages. Use italics for books, magazines, brochures or reports.

Two or more sources together

It is accepted and common to cite two or more sources together, in instances when both sources make the same point.

Two or more works in the same parenthetical citation

List in alphabetical order, according to how they will be listed on the reference page. Separate with semi-colons.

Citing a source someone else has cited (a secondary source)

If you would like to cite information from an article or chapter that the author(s) have attributed to another (clearly identifiable) author, use a secondary citation style. For example, if Mynatt & Doherty (2000) discuss an entry from Freud's diary, you can use that information in your paper without necessarily getting your hands on Freud's diary. The proper form for a secondary citation is to include a reference to the source you did read, prefaced by the phrase "as cited in."

In the reference LIST, you only need to put the secondary source (the source you read). Use secondary sources sparingly (usually only if the original work is out-of-print, not available through the usual library sources [including I.L.L.] or in a different language). Use this secondary citation style only when referring to a single, specific study explained in some depth in the original source.  If your source provides relevant information followed by multiple citations in parentheses after that information - then just cite the source you've read. In most situations, when another author cites information that looks relevant, you should go and get that reference and read it yourself.  

See an APA Publication Manual, your library, or any of the many web sites summarizing APA style for more information.

Use Quotes Sparingly, if at All

Avoid direct quotes unless the language of the original author is so special it adds meaning to the content. Quotes should be in quotation marks and you should include the author, year and page number (Wade & Tavris, 2000, p. 344). 
Paraphrasing is Plagiarism

Paraphrasing, even in the sense that you may have learned was acceptable in other classes,  is NOT an appropriate way to use your sources. Read your sources, understand the points you want to use in your paper, then put your sources away and draft that section of your paper.  Use your own words. Read more about this topic at this web page on Proper Use of Sources.

Finding. Reading, Citing, Reference page

References Page
You must list a full reference (names, title of article and journal, year published, etc.) for each source cited in your paper. The list of references begins on a separate page with the heading: References (typically in bold and centered). This References page should be placed at the end of the document.

Below is a very limited selection of style examples. See the 6th Edition Publication Manual for more complete information.

For journal articles, use the format below:

Last name first author, Initials, Last name second author, Initials, Remaining  authors, & Final author. (year in
parentheses). Title of article not capitalized except for first word and: First word after  a colon, Title  of
Journal Italicized, Volume number italicized, page numbers.

For example:

Crocker, J., & Wolfe, C. (2001). Contingencies of self-worth: A new perspective on self-esteem, Psychological
Review, 108, 593-623.

If the journal article has been assigned a digital object identifier (DOI), include that in the citation as follows.  Do not include database information (e.g., PSYCHINFO). Do not include retrieval date.

(Note: DOI numbers always begin with a 10 and can be found in the PSYCHINFO record, or on the first page of an article with the other citation information.)

Crocker, J., & Wolfe, C. (2001). Contingencies of self-worth: A new perspective on self-esteem, Psychological
Review, 108, 593-623. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.108.3.593


If you obtain the full text of a journal article, book, or book chapter from an on-line source, and there is not a DOI assigned, then provide the URL of the journal's homepage, or the book publisher's homepage. You may need to do a web search to find this information. Use the phrase "Retrieved from" before the full URL.  Do not include database information (e.g., PSYCHINFO). Do not include retrieval date.

For example:

Crocker, J., & Wolfe, C. (2001). Contingencies of self-worth: A new perspective on self-esteem, Psychological
Review, 108, 593-623.  Retrieved from

For book chapters where the author of the chapter is also the author of the book, the format should be as follows.  
Provide the DOI if available, or provide a URL if you accessed a full--text copy of the book on-line.  

Gilovich, T., Keltner, D., & Nisbett, R.E. (2005). Social Influence . In Social Psychology
(pp. 213-255). New York: W. W. Norton Publishing Company.

For book chapters from an edited collection of chapters use the following format.  Provide the DOI if available, or provide a URL if you accessed a full--text copy of the book on-line.

Nash, R. (2002). Individual differences in human sexuality. In C.R. Myers & M.E. Dalton's (Eds.) Human Behavior: The
Never Ending Mystery  (pp. 273-288). New York: Houghton-Mifflin.

(Note - in the above example, Nash is the author of the chapter and Myers and Dalton are the editors of the book the chapter is in.  The chapter name is not italicized whereas the title of the book is.)

Citing a web resource

See the 6th Edition handbook for more specific information. (For full-text, on-line versions of journal articles and book chapters, see above). In general, you want to include a full URL at the end of all other available citation information. You only need to provide the retrieval date for sources that might change (e.g., Wikis).   Provide as much additional information as is available.

For example,

On-line magazine article:
Clay, R. (2008, June). Science vs. ideology: Psychologists fight back about the misuse of research. Monitor on Psychology Magazine, 39. Retrieved from


On-line newsletter type publication:
Six sites meet for comprehensive anti-gang initiatives conference. (2006, November/December). OJJDP Newsletter.  Retrieved from


Blog post:
Borchard, T. (2008, August 8).  Re: 4 Ways to Get Past Cold Feet (or Any Kind of Anxiety) [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Citing an entire web site

From the 5th Ed: When citing an entire Web site rather than a portion of it (a specific document or specific section), it is sufficient to give the address of the site in just the text. No reference is necessary on the references page. The 6th Ed. doesn't seem to have this information.  Email me (see below) if you find it in the manual.


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Web site maintained (such as it is) by Connie Wolfe.
Last update: 8/8/2009