Help finding resources for your research.

Research Assignment: Personal Motivation Plan (15%)

Create a personal motivational plan for yourself, designed to help you reach a desired goal.  To accomplish this, draw on self-determination theory as discussed in course readings and relevant empirical research. This guide helps with the research element of the assignment.

A library seminar is scheduled for the weeks of October 5 and 12.  On these dates, meet in BL 201 (main floor) instead of your regular classroom.  A required assignment will be completed during this session.

Steps to Completing the Research

Step 1

Read the relevant textbook chapters (5&6) that cover the self-determination theory, so that you have some sound background knowledge.

Search for scholarly articles that outline empirial studies using the self-determination theory. 

  • PsycINFO finds over 1,700 scholarly articles on "self-determination theory", with publication dates ranging from the 1800s to present day. 
    • Over 1,400 of them are identified as "Empirical Study" using the limits under "Methodology" in the left menu.

It's important to read the foundational article from 2000 (cited on the right), then see how it developed going forward through time.  This is how scholarly communication works; researchers read the work of those before them and then design studies to take knowledge a bit further.  Try to find a selection of older and newer articles, to cover an extended time period.

See the "Search Tips" for using PsycINFO to find articles (on the right).  These techniques are/were covered in the seminar class given in the library.

Your paper must clearly explain the theory, how it works, and how it's been used in studies, summarizing some relevant research you've found.

  • Summarizing does not mean listing each study and describing it.  Write a "story" about the overall research that's been done over time, and incorporate citations into your discussion.

Step 2

Choose one of the elements of the self-determination theory: autonomy, competence, relatedness.

Choose the motivational challenge you're using.

Search for empirical articles from scholarly journals that have studied this specific element and how it's related to your motivational challenge. Examples of a PsycINFO search are:

  • "self-determination theory" and autonomy and stress
  • sdt and competence
  • ("self-determination theory" or sdt) and relatedness and diet

Summarize the research that's been done on your chosen element, incorporating citations into the text as you go.  Again, this is not a list; it's a discussion.

Step 3

Use what you've learned through your research to formulate and describe a personal behaviour change plan, and make a case for why your plan is likely to address your motivational challenge.  This is a practical and applied use of the theory you've researched, so be sure to include specific examples of how your plan will work and how it illustrates the theory "in action".


There's a process to follow to find scholarly articles appropriate for third-year courses.  If you're not familiar with the databases, and linking from a database to the full-text journals available through the library, you need to read the tutorial on Finding Articles.


PsycINFO is the best database to start with, since it's the most important and inclusive database for finding Psychology articles. It covers material back a long way, so it's your best choice for finding foundational articles from when a theory was first developed.

Limit your results to empirical articles using PsycINFO:

  1. Select "Scholarly journals" on the search screen, before you do the search.
  2. Once you have results, use the "Narrow Results" menu on the left of the screen to select a study type under "Methodology". Select all or some of:
    • Empirical Study
    • Quantitative Study
    • Longitudinal Study

To identify foundational articles:

  • On the left side of your results, look for the "Sort" button.
  • Change the order to "oldest first".

Web of Science

This is a second useful database for finding scholarly articles in Psychology.  There will be a good deal of overlap, but you should find some unique articles here. 

  • This database only goes back to 1981, so if you want older articles you won't find them here.

Limit to scholarly articles:

  • once you have results, look for "Document Types" in the left menu and select "ARTICLE"

This database does not identify empirical articles, so you need to decide if there's a study described, by reading the abstract. 

  • All results are from scholarly journals because this database only covers scholarly material.
  • If it describes an original study performed by the authors, it's empirical.
  • If you're not certain, ask your TA, instructor, or librarian for an opinion.


This is a nursing database and a good source of information on health-related topics.  If you don't find what you need in the other databases, check this one.  There will probably be a lot of overlap, so you'll see many of the same articles, but there should be some new ones, too.

Use the Limiter options on the left side of your results to see only "Academic journals".  The system doesn't identify "empirical" studies, so you'll need to use your own judgment, based on the abstract.

Foundational Article

To earn top marks on your paper, be sure to include this foundational article in your discussion of the theory and in your Works Cited list.  Read the article carefully, and use it to show your understanding of the theory.  But don't stop there - you still need to look for further articles.

If you need help finding the article, review the tutorial on "Navigating from a Citation to a Document".

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Finding Empirical Articles

What is an Empirical Article?

Look for articles that are:

  1. in scholarly journals - see the tutorial on Scholarly Articles to learn how to identify these
  2. describe a study

Avoid articles that:

  • review other articles or books
  • give personal opinions
  • offer new interpretations of previous studies

The following tutorial is not essential ready if you use library databases; in PsycINFO, you can limit your results to scholarly articles and Web of Science only searches scholarly journals.

However, if you use Google, or even Google Scholar,  it's important to know how to distinguish them.

Search Tips


  • Put quotes around your terms if you want to ensure all your results show the words together.
  • Examples: "self-determination model", "substance abuse".

Motivational Challenges

  • Use broad terms to start your search, rather than being too specific.  For instance, use "diet" instead of "changing diet" or "healthy diet".  A single word will always find more results than a phrase.

Short Forms

  • As you read about a theory, you may notice that abbreviations develop, as it becomes better known.  You can broaden your search by including the abbreviated name as an optional (or) term.
  • Example: "self-determination theory" or sdt.

Location of Search Terms

  • Start with a broad "anywhere" kind of search, but if your results aren't specific enough, specify where the terms should be found.
  • If your terms are in the abstract or title, they're very important to the article.
  • If your terms are in the Subjects or Identifiers, someone has attached that "tag" to the article to help you find it.

PyscINFO: Limit to Empirical Studies

Need to filter your results to "empirical studies"?  Empirical articles report on a measurable (quantitative) study done by the authors.

In PsycINFO it's easy to show only empirical studies.  After performing your search, look at the results screen. 

  • On the left-side menu, find the heading: "Methodology".  Click the arrow to expand it.
  • It shows a list of the main types of articles you found, and how many of the items fit each one.
  • Click "Empirical Study" to see only those.
    • Depending on your need, "Quantitative Study" or "Longitudinal Study" may also be acceptable.

Screen capture.

Screen capture of the "Methodology" limiter box described.

To remove this restriction, click on the "X". You'll be shown all your results again.

Screen capture of removing a filter.

Video: Using PsycINFO to Find Articles

This video walks you through the process of accessing and searching PsycINFO, then following the link to an online article.  This is a demonstration of the process outlined in the Finding Articles tutorial.