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SPI 502: Psychology for Policy Analysis and Implementation


In this assignment, you will identify a policy topic and then contrast current policy approaches to this topic with behaviorally-informed insights which come from behavioral research. 

To locate 'behaviorally-informed insights', we will search for literature on our topic in psychology databases, identifying research articles that report original research findings as well as review articles which (if they exist on our topic) will give us a broad overview of the current research being done on our topic and lead us to relevant literature. 

Where to find research articles

Google Scholar can be a powerful tool for locating literature on your topic but it also has limitations. Keep these pros and cons in mind when working with Google Scholar.


  • Easy to get a quick impression of the scholarly conversation on your topic
  • Helpful in figuring out the language that authors use to describe a particular phenomenon
  • Google's relevancy ranked algorithm Identifies popular publications and authors
  • The Cited By link connects to more recent papers that have cited the article. 


  • Has no quality control filter (unlike a database)
  • Has very few methods for refining search results, often leading to thousands of irrelevant results
  • No method for limiting to only peer-reviewed articles
  • The relevancy ranked algorithm can exclude marginalized voices and over-emphasize articles with high numbers of citations.
  • Sometimes retrieves items which are decidedly not scholarly, like this lunch menu.

As useful as Google Scholar can be in locating relevant literature, at some point, you are likely to outgrow it and find that you need a way to refine your search to bring back more relevant results. This is a good time to transition to a database that specializes in psychology research.

The following databases are the best bets for finding psychology literature. 

How to search for research articles

Keyword searching is a method of finding articles by searching for keywords related to the topic you are interested in. Database limiters, boolean operators, and truncation devices can help you refine your search. 

Example topic: Policy that addresses food insecurity. 

Question: What research has been done on the effects of food insecurity on child development? 

Sample Search: 

1. Go to APA PsycINFO 

2. Enter the keywords relating to your topic, one concept per line. Ex. food security OR food insecurity AND childhood development

Note: You can use AND, OR, or NOT to expand or limit your search. (more info)

3. Check the box marker Peer Review to limit the results to peer-reviewed research articles.

4. Click Search


Where to find review articles

Review articles are different from research articles ('primary source' or 'primary research articles') in that they do not present original research and findings but rather synthesize the existing literature on a given topic. Systematic reviews use exhaustive searching methods to identify and synthesize all research findings relating to a specific research question. Meta-analyses are systematic reviews that use statistical methods to synthesize research findings. In psychology, these statistical methods may be used to measure a more accurate effect size of a phenomenon.  

There are two ways to locate review articles:

  • Conduct a keywords search or use database limiters to retrieve review articles from a database such as APA PsycINFO
  • Search sources that consist entirely of reviews such as the Annual Review of Psychology.

How to search for review articles

1. Go to APA PsycINFO

2. Enter your search terms. Ex. food security OR food insecurity AND childhood development

3. Enter terms relating to reviews. Ex review OR systematic review OR meta-analysis

4. From the drop-down box to the right of the search terms relating to review, select (TI) Title

3. Check the peer review box

4. Click Search


Open Access Resources

Accessing the full text of an article

As a Princeton Affiliate, you have access to an enormous amount of literature through the Princeton University Library and our institutional partners. 

That said, no library has everything. To request the full text of an article that we do not have access to, you can use our document delivery service called ArticleExpress. It typically takes only a day or two for the PDF to be delivered to you. 

But what do you do when you are no longer at Princeton? 

I would recommend using a combination of Google Scholar for searching (see above pros and cons!) and a tool such as Unpaywall to access an open access version of the paper you are looking for. 

Unpaywall is a browser extension which will attempt to locate an open access copy, preprint, or author manuscript. Anytime you are on a paper with a DOI the Unpaywall icon will appear. A green icon means a free version is available and clicking on the icon will take you straight to the PDF.

Meet with the Librarian

                            Still stuck after trying these strategies? Make an appointment with the Librarian for a research consultation!

Meghan Testerman (she/her) is the Behavioral Sciences Librarian at Princeton University where she serves the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.  

You can find her in the Psychology Department at 118 Peretsman Scully Hall, via email, or by making an appointment.