Library Research Guide to Psychology: Illustrated Search Strategy and Sources

By Nancy E. Douglas; Nathan E. Baum | Go to book overview

4 The Subject Approach and Computer Searching: Social Sciences Index, Psychological Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, and '"Permuterm Index" of Social Sciences Citation Index

"Every question in literature, religion, politics, social science, political economy, and in many other lines of human progress, finds its latest and freshest interpretations in the current periodicals. No one can thoroughly investigate any of these questions without knowing what the periodicals have said and are saying concerning them."

-- William Frederick Poole, Preface, Poole's Index to Periodical Literature

By this time, the preliminary stages of your research have been completed. You have consulted the appropriate encyclopedias to get an overview of your topic and have looked up some of the key sources listed in them in the card catalog. You have also used the card catalog to find other books on your topic and looked at these as well as the ones cited in the encyclopedias. In addition, you have read a review article from the Annual Review of Psychology or another review journal which indicates the state of knowledge about your topic at the time the review article was written, what work has been done, and what conclusions have been reached. The review article has also cited several relevant books and articles which you have noted.

Now you are ready to start searching for reports of original research which will update the information you have gathered thus far and focus more directly on your specific topic. For this final step in your search there are two basic approaches: the subject approach and the author approach. We will explain the first approach here and the second in Chapter 5.


Periodical Indexes

Maybe you had to write a paper early in your college career, and when it came time to find periodical articles, you turned to the Readers' Guide because that was the only periodical index you knew. Readers' Guide covers mostly popular magazines, however, which are inappropriate sources of information for a psychology paper. On the other hand, another student or your professor may have mentioned that you should use Psychological Abstracts ( Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1927- ) because it is generally the single best periodical index for psychological literature. Your library might not have it, though, and in some cases another index might be more appropriate.

No single index covers all the periodicals used in psychological research. Each index covers a different group, though there is some overlap, and a thorough search should include the use of several indexes. Indexes also use a variety of indexing techniques, and searching through several indexes can increase your chances of finding relevant articles. There are many -- in fact, hundreds -- of different indexes to periodical articles from which to choose, but few libraries have all of the indexes. The main part of this chapter will deal with four indexes to the psychological literature: 1) Social Sciences Index, 2) Psychological Abstracts, 3) Sociological Abstracts, and 4) the "Permuterm Index" of Social Sciences Citation Index. Later in this chapter we will say something about the choice of an appropriate index for a particular search.

The most efficient way to use any periodical index is to start with the most recent issues of the index and work your way back through older issues. When you start encountering the articles you had noted from your work with review serials, you will have searched backward far enough. Computers can also be used in the search process, as we will explain at the end of this chapter.


Social Sciences Index

Social Sciences Index ( NY: Wilson, 1974- ) is a companion to Readers' Guide. It is published by the same company and has the same general format. Social Sciences Index covers some 260 English language periodicals, about 35 of which are in psychology -- only a fraction of the literature as compared to the 900 periodicals indexed by Psychological Abstracts. However, Social Sciences Index has several advantages: the journals it indexes are among the most important and therefore likely to be available in most college and university libraries; its interdisciplinary coverage of all social sciences may be helpful when your topic borders on sociology, economics, or other social sciences; and it is somewhat easier to use than Psychological Abstracts. For these reasons, you may prefer to begin your search with Social Sciences Index and then go on to Psychological Abstracts if more references are necessary.

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