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PSY 150 -- General Psychology

A guide to research methods in psychology and library based help with research assignments for the PSY 150 course at Central Carolina Community College.

Popular versus Scholarly Sources

What's the Deal with Scholarly Articles?

Open book iconWhat's in them?

The results of a study, experiment, or any other kind of disciplined scholarly research.

Scholars IconWho writes them?

Scholars: faculty, researchers, laboratory staff, and graduate students.

Helpful hint! Look for a University Affiliation in the author's bio in an article.  If they work at a university or college, they're probably a scholarly author!

Icon of three peopleWho reads them?

Other researchers in the field, including students just learning about research and professors working on their own areas of study within the field.

Graduation Cap IconWhen should you use them?

  • When your instructor has required scholarly sources
  • When you need evidence to back up an argument
  • When you want to be sure the information you're using is valid 

Two documents iconWhat do they look like?

  • length: usually more than 5 pages
  • citations: use appropriate citations and include a works cited list 
  • vocabulary: use technical or discipline-specific language (often called jargon)
  • images: include very few images, mostly charts, tables, and graphs rather than photos
  • journal: title is specific and subject related, pages are not glossy, none or very little advertising

Some of the best journals in Psychology available through the Library...

If it's not Scholarly, it might be Popular!

Open book iconWhat's in them?

Entertaining or generally informative articles about a variety of subjects.

Journalists IconWho writes them?

Journalists who have conducted interviews or research to learn about the topic, but who are not scholarly experts in the field.

Group of people iconWho reads them?

 A general audience.  The writing should not require specialized expertise to read.

Graduation cap iconWhen should you use them?

  • If you need basic facts or background information to get started learning about your topic
  • If you want to understand a very recent current event 
  • For fun!

Two documents iconWhat do they look like?

  • citations: very rarely include citations, but when they do, the formatting is not correct.
  • vocabulary: use every day language (some more specific popular magazines, like The Economist might use technical jargon, but will often explain or define it when they do).
  • images: lots of pictures
  • magazine: glossy pages and lots of ads

Watch out: Popular magazines cover a lot of subjects, and can be formatted in a variety of ways.  The tips listed above will not be true 100% of the time.  Critical thinking about audience and authorship are important when trying to identify popular articles!

Library Lingo

Peers IconPeer Review: The process used to make sure the research in a scholarly article is accurate before it is published.  After an author submits their article to an academic journal, it is sent to other experts in their field (their peers) to be reviewed.  Those experts check to make sure the experiment is sound and the results make sense.  If they agree that the article contains good information, then it can be published.

Anatomy of a Psychology Article

documents iconAbstract

A brief summary of the article, less than 300 words. 

It contains...

The research question, argument, or thesis; the methodology of the study or experiment; and a summary of the conclusions or findings. 

Read it to find...

Whether or not the article meets your needs.

information iconIntroduction

A description of the problem and the authors' goals in conducting their research.  

It contains...

An explanation of how the research fits into the scholarly conversation and an overview of why it is important.

This section may also include a literature review, which covers the other research out there on related topics.

Read it to find...

How the article will fit into your research needs.

gears iconMethods

The way the researchers set up their study or experiment.  The type of data they collected and how they gathered it.

It contains...

Information about participants, materials, and procedures.  Explains how the researchers analyzed the data they collected.

Read it to find...

How reliable the information contained in the article will be.  Are there problems with the method, such as small sample sizes or a failure to control variables?

graph iconResults

What the researchers found through their study or experiment.  

It contains...

The findings of the study, often presented with tables, charts, or graphs.

Read it to find...

The raw data.

speech bubble iconDiscussion

The analysis of the results.  What do the researchers think their findings mean?

It contains...

Evaluation and interpretation of data.  Directions for further study.

Read it to find...

The answer to the researcher's original question.

Helpful hint: Read the discussion section after reading the abstract to determine if the final conclusion speaks to your research question.  This can help you find the most relevant articles without spending too much time reading!

How to tell if something is C.R.A.P.

calendar IconCurrency

Scholarly information should be current.

When reading an article, find the date it was published.  In many subjects, anything more than five years old is not considered current.


Ven diagram iconRelevance

Information you find should be related to your topic.

Does it...

  • Apply directly to your topic?  
  • Does the whole article apply, or only small parts?

Helpful hint: read the Discussion section first!  This will tell you what the writers concluded based on their study and analysis.  How is it related to the argument you're making?


Check mark iconReliability

Is the information reliable?  Can you count on it being true?  

Check for...

  • References and citations
  • Peer-review status
  • Is it consistent with the other information you've found?  If not, does it mention how or why it differs from the other research out there?
  • Is there any chance of bias from the author?

Head with glasses iconAuthority

Anyone can share their opinion online--but you're looking for experts!

  • How many authors?
  • What are their credentials (degrees, jobs at universities)?
  • Have they written other articles or books on related subjects?
  • Is there any potential for bias?

Target iconPurpose

Why was the article written?  

Knowing what an author hoped to do or gain by writing and publishing an article tells you a lot about how useful it is in an academic setting.

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the article meant to inform, entertain, persuade, sell, or add to an already existing scholarly conversation?
  • Does the article share the results of a study, experiment, or analysis?


Need Help? IconNeed a little extra help?

Contact your librarian.

Or use the links below to find more in-depth information and help on Methods for Psychological Research.