How to Find Sources for Psychology Research Papers

Searching for sources
Marc Romanelli / Blend Images / Getty Images

The entire process of writing a psychology research paper can be stressful for college students. Sometimes, just picking a topic can seem daunting! Once you settled on a subject, actually finding sources to document your ideas and support your claims can be just as difficult. Where exactly should you look to find quality and reputable sources for your psychology research papers?

When you first start researching a subject, figuring out where to begin can be a real challenge. Where should you look for information? What kinds of sources are available? How do you decide which sources to include in your paper? While there is no simple way to make the research process fast and easy, there are steps you can take to ensure that you find the information you need.

If you are working on a psychology paper and are struggling to find sources, consider following the steps below.

1. Start by Choosing a Strong Topic

A good research topic is neither too broad nor too narrow. If you choose a subject that is too general, you will probably find yourself overwhelmed by information. Choosing a subject that is too specific leads to the opposite problem; not being able to find enough information to write about.

For example, if you chose "drug abuse" as the topic for your research paper, you would quickly find that there is no way to fully cover the subject in the limited number of pages you have to write. However, you can easily narrow this overly broad topic into something that will work.

Start by thinking of some questions that you might have about drug addiction. "How does drug use impact the health and well-being of college students?" is an example of a research question that would yield plenty of information without being overwhelming.

2. Find Basic Background Information

The next step is to search for some basic background information on the topic for your psychology paper. At this stage, you're mostly looking for introductory information, but many of the sources you browse at this stage may also contain information on more in-depth sources.

For example, you might look through encyclopedias, online reference sites, lecture notes, supplementary course readings, or your own class textbooks for information on your topic. Pay careful attention to any sources that are cited in these readings and make note of these references so you can locate them in your school's library or online during the next phase of the research process.

Sometimes finding sources involves following a trail of sources starting with general information until you drill down to more specific references.

3. Use Library Catalogs to Search for Books

The next step is to pay a visit to your university library. The basic background research you did in the previous step should have offered some hints on what you need to look for. If you're still struggling, be sure to ask the librarian for assistance. Library staff are trained and skilled at locating all kinds of information.

If you are a distance education student, don't fret; there are still plenty of ways to access library resources. Start by checking with your school to see what type of distance resources they offer to online students. In many cases, you can access the materials you need via an interlibrary loan in which your local library is able to borrow books or other documents that are owned by another library.

Once you've located some books on your topic, spend some time browsing through the references listed in each book. For each and every source you find, think of the bibliography as a guide to further sources of information that might be helpful.

4. Utilize Online Databases to Find Periodicals

The next step is to start looking through online databases such as PsycINFO, PsycNET, and EBSCOhost in order to find journal articles on your topic. While some of these can be accessed online from your home computer, you might have to visit your library in order to access your school's subscription to certain databases.

In some cases, full-text versions of articles might be available online, but you will probably have head to the stacks to look up hard copies of many articles in your university's library. If you're not sure how to access these databases or how to perform a search, be sure to seek assistance from a librarian.

5. Search for Online Sources

The Internet can be a great way to find sources for your psychology research paper, but you need to know how to use it effectively. Start by checking with your instructor to find out what kinds of online sources can be used as references. Some instructors do not allow students to use any online references, while others allow only certain types. Online journal articles, newspapers, magazines, forums, blogs, and informational websites are all possible sources of different types of information.

A number of professional journals offer free access to full-text articles.

Even if your instructor does not allow online sources, the Internet can still be a useful tool. Online articles often contain information about books, journal articles or other offline sources that you are allowed to use in your paper.

6. Carefully Evaluate Each Source

Once you have assembled a good selection of possible sources, the next step is to start carefully evaluating each one to determine if it is credible and appropriate for your paper. Evaluating your sources involves a number of things, including noting the age of the information, the author, and the publisher.

Evaluating online sources can be a bit trickier. While there is a lot of great information out there on the web, there are also plenty of websites that are poor quality, misleading or downright incorrect.

7. Create a Working Bibliography

Even if your instructor does not require you to write and hand in a bibliography, creating one can be a very helpful part of the research process. A bibliography is basically a list of all the sources that you might use in your paper. In addition to listing all of the sources you've collected, consider adding a brief annotation to each entry that describes what the book or article is about. As you begin outlining your paper, refer back to your working bibliography in order to determine which sources to use in order to back up your arguments, analysis, or claims.


  1. Work from the general to the specific. Start with general resources like encyclopedias, and then start working your way down to more specific references like journal articles.
  2. Keep track of where you got your information! Maintain careful notes or a working bibliography in order to ensure that each source is properly cited in your paper.
  3. Don't be afraid to ask your librarian for help. When you talk to a librarian, offer details about the specific research question or thesis of your paper. Your librarian will be better able to help you find great sources if you provide detailed rather than general information about what you're looking for.

 A Word From Verywell

While finding sources for your psychology papers can certainly be challenging at times, breaking it down into a step-by-step process can make it a lot less daunting. Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask your course instructor or university library staff for help. Your teacher might be able to point you towards some sources of background information, while a librarian can aid you in searching and locating source materials related to your topic.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Psychological Association. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2019.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.