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_PSYC5131: Meta Analysis: Theory and Practice — Searching APA PsycInfo

Library research guide for students in PSYC 5131.

A Quick Note

A lot of information on this page refers back to Searching PubMed, comparing methods of searching to what you'd see in the videos and content on that page. It's probably wise to work through that page before this one!

About APA PsycInfo

APA PsycInfo is the core database for research in psychology. If you're studying psychology, I have no doubt you've used it before. However, there may be aspects of its search capabilities and controlled vocabulary you've never taken advantage of, so that's what I'll be covering here.

Our access to APA PsycInfo is on a searching platform called EBSCO. Searching in EBSCO is similar to our other research databases, but very different than PubMed. One important difference is that the drop-down menus next to each search box are how you tell it where in the information about the article you want it to search, rather than using search tags, like [tiab], the way you did in PubMed. Whenever you adapt a search from one database to another, be sure you know what search syntax (AND, OR, truncation, search tags or menus) the new database uses, so you can make those changes.

It's also worth noting that other databases we access on EBSCO have the same search syntax. That includes ERIC, an important database for education research (including educational psychology), and CINAHL, an essential source for literature in nursing and allied health. Each of those databases, like PubMed and APA PsycInfo and almost--but not all--databases you search has its own controlled vocabulary, and on EBSCO that thesaurus can always be accessed in the navigation bar at the top, as in APA PsycInfo.

Controlled Vocabulary in APA PsycInfo

The controlled vocabulary in APA PsycInfo is called the APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms. You can find a link for it in the navigation bar at the top of APA PsycInfo. It's searched much like the MeSH thesaurus, but there are a couple of important differences.

  1. APA PsycInfo on EBSCO defaults to an alphabetical search. Be sure to select the Relevancy Ranked radio button underneath the thesaurus search box to do a keyword search of the controlled vocabulary.
  2. PubMed uses the words "entry terms" to tell you which words would automatically map to a particular MeSH term. In APA PsycInfo, if the thesaurus has a preferred term, you'll see what words it does not prefer under "Used for." As with entry terms, you can OR those words into your search to ensure you capture as many potentially relevant results as possible.
  3. Unlike in PubMed, where you can use the [mesh] tag and search for the MeSH term and any narrower term all the way down the tree, in APA PsycInfo you'll need to use OR to add all the more specific terms to your search. You may only want to select some of those, but whichever ones you want to need to be combined with OR.

Phrase Searching & Proximity Searching

Phrase Searching

Unlike in PubMed, APA PsycInfo (and other EBSCO databases) require you to use quotation marks around phrases to ensure the words are searched next to each other in that exact order. For example, if you're interested in low back pain, you need to search for "low back pain" if you want that to be the exact phrase found in your results. You can use truncation and other special characters inside the quotation marks, so you can also try "low* back pain" to ensure you get articles about lower back pain.

Proximity Searching

A really useful feature on the EBSCO platform that is available in some databases but not PubMed is proximity or adjacency searching. In proximity searching, you can tell the database to look for words near each other in a variety of ways. It's essential when you do this type of searching that you use parentheses to group terms accurately! 

EBSCO offers two proximity options: 

Near, which uses the letter N, finds words if they are a maximum of a certain number of words apart from one another, regardless of the order in which they appear. You decide the number. For example, teaching N3 strateg* will find results that have a maximum of three words between the beginning and ending terms. For example, you'll find results that mention teaching strategy, teaching strategies, or strategies often used for teaching. Note that you can use truncation and other syntax when employing proximity searching. That means you could also try something like mindfulness N5 "classroom management" or even, using parentheses to properly group your keywords, mindfulness N5 (anxiety OR depression).

Within, which uses the letter W, finds words if they are within a certain number of words of one another, in the order in which you entered them. For example, class* W2 manag* would find classroom management, classroom must be managed, but not managing your class.

You don't have to do proximity searching! But it can save you a lot of typing and create cleaner searches that are easier to read.

Designing a Thorough Search in APA PsycInfo

APA PsycInfo doesn't offer a convenient options like PubMed's [tiab] to look in multiple fields at once. Some helpful terminology here: a database includes many records. Each record is a collection of information about a single item, such as an article. Records are made up of fields, sections of the record that provides a specific piece of information about the item described (the title, the author, the abstract, etc.). PubMed's [tiab] looks in the title, the abstract, the keywords, and a few other places. 

Which fields interest you, and how they're searched, differs from database to database. In APA PsycInfo, you'll likely want to search the following fields:

  • Abstract (or AB) searches the abstract summaries
  • Keywords (or KW) searches in the author-supplied keywords
  • Subjects (or SU) searches in the APA subject headings (the database's controlled vocabulary); while MeSH terms appear in APA PsycInfo records, SU does not search those
  • Title (or TI) searches in the document title

As in PubMed, your best strategy is to set up each main idea as a single search, then combine the ideas with AND. That means, in APA PsycInfo (and other EBSCO databases), the easiest approach within each main idea is to use OR to look for the same words in each of the desired fields. If you need a fourth box to set that up (as you would in APA PsycInfo), just click the plus sign slightly below the Search button to add a row. Then you'll compose your search like this, generally using the exact same search statement (this OR this OR this) in each box.

Four line search using OR in PsycInfo

After you've completed all your main idea searches, go to the Search History (directly under the final search box in the image above) and combine all the main ideas using AND. In PubMed, that means something like #1 AND #2 AND #3. In APA PsycInfo, S is used (for Set) rather than a number sign, so you'd clear all your search boxes and drop-downs at the top and then type, for example, S1 AND S2 AND S3.