The process of conducting research in psychology oftentimes resembles a cycle. This cycle begins with a decision about a topic of study. Psychologists determine an idea about which they would like to know more. This may be a relatively novel area for which little prior research exists, or a topic that has been studied more extensively. Ideally, the topic will be consistent with current research trends, but not so well studied that additional meaningful research findings are limited, and reflect a topic of personal interest for the psychologist.
After determining a topic of study, a researcher would then use a database to conduct a literature search of existing work on that topic. The researcher is likely to use one of the following databases for this search: PsychINFO, PsycARTICLES, PubMed, or Google Scholar. When conducting a literature search, it is important to use precise and relevant keywords. This approach should allow researchers to find articles that are directly relevant to their topic of interest.
The types of articles resulting from the literature search may range widely, and include the following: primary source articles, which report research conducted by the author or authors; review articles, which are large-scale summaries of a number of primary source articles on the same general topic; and meta-analyses, which are review articles that have been subjected to new statistical tests to better determine the overall validity of a relationship or relationships between variables.
Not all research articles are created equal, and readers can evaluate the quality of the research based on a number of dimensions. For example, does the author of the study have any conflicts of interest that might influence his or her methods and interpretations? In addition, some journals are seen as publishing more influential work than others. The higher a journal’s impact factor, the greater weight the work in that journal holds in that academic community. Finally, projects can be evaluated in terms of the reliability of their findings (i.e., significance), as well as meaningfulness, which is determined by the strength or effect size of a project’s findings.
After conducting a review of the literature, a researcher then seeks out to create a study that successfully addresses their topic of interest. In general, the features of a psychological investigation include the following: variables, the specific topics the researcher is studying; a sample, who specifically is being studied; a design, the specific way in which a researcher tests the relationship(s) between variables in his or her sample; and analysis, the way a researcher understand patterns of relationships that resulting from his or her study design. Statistics are the primary form of analysis for quantitative research. Qualitative research relies on other, non-mathematical strategies of analysis.
Much psychological research requires funding from external agencies in order to be conducted. Researchers write grant proposals that are evaluated by fellow psychologists. Those applicants who are successful are then given monetary support to conduct their research. Not all research in psychology is funded by research grants, though there are several public organizations in Canada and private industries that offer this form of support for psychological researchers.
After a study has been conducted, the next step is to write up and publish the study’s findings. By and large, research articles consist of the following features (in order): title, keywords, abstract, introduction, method, statistical analyses, results, discussion, and limitations. After writing is complete, the final step in the research cycle is to find a suitable publisher for the work by considering the fit between the paper in question and different journals in terms of prestige, influence, and relevance of topic. After publication, the cycle of research starts again, with a new topic or an extension of prior work.
Additional Online Resources
Guide to conducting literature searches developed by the American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/education/undergrad/library-research.aspx
List of psychology journals and their impact factors: http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Impact_factors_of_psychology_journals
Canadian Psychological Association’s guide for applying for research grants: http://www.cpa.ca/researchers/researchfunding/applyingforagrant
“Guidelines for writing a Psychology Paper.” By Kristina Olson and C.A. Meyersburg of Harvard University: http://writingproject.fas.harvard.edu/files/hwp/files/bg_psychology.pdf
Test your knowledge of the keywords and definitions in the chapter.
Interactive Quiz for Chapter 2
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