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Tutorial: Using PsycINFO Expertly:

What you need to know to make full use of this important database.

Link to PsycINFO


Use the tabs at the top of this box to navigate through the pages of this tutorial.

What is PsycINFO?

PsycINFO is the main database used for locating articles within scholarly journals in Psychology. Produced by the American Psychological Association, and available on the ProQuest platform, PsycINFO is the first place to look for research in Psychology.  It is NOT a full-text database.

It provides descriptions (citations) for:

  • articles published in over 1,800 professional journals
  • select book chapters
  • select books
  • reports
  • theses and dissertations.

Links are provided from these citations to the full text when it is available.  Get It! Trent links also search our online resources for further access to full text.

PsycINFO offers a variety of search options - from a broad keyword search to a highly controlled search. Understand the options available to improve your results.  Since it's designed for Psychology scholars, it offers search options of unique to Psychology.

Also see the ProQuest guide to PsycINFO.

Basic Search

In PsycINFO, a basic search finds your keywords in the:

  • title,
  • author,
  • abstract,or
  • subjects

of the citation of an article. If you've assigned your own tags to an item, it will search those too.

It can't search the full text of an article, because there is no full text in the PsycINFO database - only citations. Choose search terms that will show up in descriptions of articles.

See the ProQuest Help page for Basic Search if you'd like more details on a basic search.


In the Keyword Searching Tutorial, we explained that truncation is a valuable trick for finding multiple endings on a word. For instance, searching for "educat*" finds "educate", "educated", "education", etc.

In PsycINFO, it's not as important to think about this, because the ProQuest interface provides automatic truncation.  You don't need to use * at the end of a root to find all forms of a word, because the system will look for them anyway. 

If you do choose to use truncation, it disables the automatic truncation and ONLY searches for what you enter.  Sometimes this is helpful.


The basic search is a very broad search that often finds items of limited value. The only control you have with this search is to limit your findings to "Peer reviewed" or "Scholarly journals".

Sometimes this is a good way to get started, and you can get ideas from your results to help you narrow your search or limit your results. However, you can control your results better by using an "Advanced Search".

Advanced Searching

In PsycINFO, an Advanced Search provides several search boxes, each allowing you to specify where you want your keywords to appear (i.e. what field they're in). This helps control the relevancy of your results. Click on the arrow to select locations to search: author, title, subjects, abstract, affiliation, etc.

The default is Anywhere, which is often fine as a starting point. (Keep in mind that this WON'T search the text of an article because there is no full text in this database - only citations.)

The search boxes are joined with AND, OR, or NOT. (See the Keyword Searching Tutorial for an explanation of these operators.)  Note that, as with the basic search, ProQuest provides automatic truncation and the full text of articles is NOT searched for your terms.

The Advanced Search provides many options for narrowing down (limiting) your results, explained below.

Classification Codes

Every record in PsycINFO has a Classification Code - a code used to categorize a document according to the primary subject.

  • These classification codes can help you target your search by searching within a specific classification.
  • When you select this location to search, an option to look up the correct code is offered; select your classification and add the code to your search using the Add to Search button.


The Advanced Search page also offers a selection of limitations to help identify exactly what you need to find.

You can limit a search by:

  • Peer reviewed or Scholarly journals (often the same thing, but a journal could possibly be one or the other)
  • Location (using a list presented when you click on Look up Locations)
  • Classification (if you didn't use it as a search term - see above)
  • Test and Measure used in the study (using a list)
  • Record Type: ie. Peer-Reviewed Article, Book, Chapter, Dissertation, Conference Proceeding, Letter, Bibliography, etc.
  • Methodology: ie. Field Study, Focus Group, Interview, Literature Review, etc.
  • Supplemental Data: ie. Audio, Tables, Video, etc.
  • Language (the language of the article - they aren't always in English!)
  • Age Group (of the study subjects)
  • Target Audience
  • Population: ie. Male, Human, Animal, etc.

All of these are available on the Advanced Search page. Here's a screen capture of the page (it's long!):

Screenshot of PsycINFO Advanced Search

Screenshot of PsycINFO Advanced Search continued

Screenshot of PsycINFO Advanced search continued

The PsycINFO Thesaurus

PsycINFO offers detailed searching through a controlled vocabulary of Subject Terms.  The controlled vocabulary is a specific list of Terms used to describe an item. In this case the terms are controlled by the publisher (PsycINFO) and applied consistently by scholarly staff who determine which terms should be applied. This is significant because we can be confident that the same terminology is applied in the same way to each article, linking relevant items.  (Most databases rely on authors to provide subject terms, causing inconsistency in how they're applied.)

  • Click on Thesaurus near the top of the Search screen.
  • Enter a word appropriate for your topic to get a list of potential Subject Terms to use.

The Thesaurus tells you if the term entered is an official Subject Term. It explains what each Subject Term means and how it's used. It also provides a list of:

  • Broader terms,
  • Narrower terms, and
  • Related terms.

Search the Thesaurus for a Subject Term that "Starts with" or "Contains" the word you enter.

  • Get a list of all Subject Terms that apply to your search.
  • Click on the blue square icon beside a Term, to open a popup with more information on it:
    • a definition or description of how/when it's used
    • suggestions for better Terms, if appropriate
    • a list of related terms.
  • Click in a box to the left of a Term to "Add to search".

Here's a marked-up screen capture showing how to use the Thesaurus results:

Screen capture of the thesaurus search in PsycINFO


Limiting by Subject

Subject Terms can be helpful in other ways.

  • Related searches are shown at the top of your results screen after you perform a search.
    • These are suggested new searches, based on what other users have previously done.  (They may not always be reliable if the other users weren't talented searchers!)
    • Clicking on one of these performs a new search.
  • Narrow results by shows on the left side of your results screen after you perform a search.
    • Click Subject and select a particular subject term.
    • This shows you ONLY the items from your existing search results which have this specific subject term.
    • The number beside each term tells you how many items from your existing results have this term.

Here's a marked-up screen capture showing how to narrow your results:

Screen capture of the Subject limits

Using Your Results

In PsycINFO, the results are first presented in short form, so that many can fit on a screen. This Results list provides information and options:

  • Full Record (description): click the title.
  • Sort: change the order in which the results are displayed.
    • The default is by date, with the most recent first, but you can change it to show the most relevant first.
    • Sometimes relevancy is not helpful because the computer isn't always good at knowing what's most relevant.
  • Narrow results by: create a sub-set of your current results.
    • Narrow to a particular journal, subject, methodology, language, date, etc.
  • Cite, Email, Print, More...  Select one or more items by clicking on the box beside the title.
    • Provide a full citation for your bibliography (Works Cited) for all articles selected.
    • Save, Print, or Email the selected citations.
    • Download the selected citations to a citation manager.

All of these options are presented on the Results screen. Here's what it looks like:

Screen capture of the Results List in PsycINFO

PsycINFO Full Records

A record describes an item in the database in detail. PsycINFO records are citations - descriptions of articles, conference proceedings, or book sections.

  • A citation includes the
    • title of the item, the authors,
    • affiliation of the authors (where they work),
    • source (where it was published), and
    • subject terms.
  • Usually there's also an abstract, which describes the article.
  • Related, Cited by, Shared
    • Provides links to other citations that have something in common.
    • Find these on right side of the screen.
  • Details
    • At the bottom find details about the study: the age group studied, the type of study, tests used, etc.
    • Document URL (durable link) and DOI (if available) can be found here.
  • Most of this information is searchable.


Here's marked-up screen capture of the full view of a record:

Screen capture of the full record view in PsycINFO

The ProQuest interface offers options for dealing with your results and your searches. 

Save search/alert

Find this option directly under the Search bar to:

  • Save your search, to try it again later.  You need to create a ProQuest account for yourself to use this.
  • Create Alert, to request notification if anything new is added that relates to your search.
  • Create RSS Feed
  • View Recent Searches, to see and re-use any of your searches.