Research Guide: Behavioral Science Research Methods (BESC 3020)

This guide will help you locate sources for the literature review portion of your Research Methods for the Behavioral Sciences (BESC 3020) research proposal assignment. A literature review is an opportunity for you to locate, evaluate, and summarize currently available research on your topic. When reading scholarly articles, you’ll often see a literature review at the beginning of the article or incorporated into the article’s introduction. You will similarly include a literature review in your research proposal. The literature review is also a chance for you to demonstrate a need for your proposed research study. While reviewing the current literature you may discover a gap in the available research, such as little or no research focusing on a specific group of people or a specific age range. It’s OK if you can’t find an article that exactly aligns with your proposal—this shows why your research is needed.




Background Information (Reference Works)

Quite often when doing research you will come across concepts, theories, names, and terms that are new and unfamiliar. Reference works like encyclopedias and handbooks are good sources for becoming familiar with the unfamiliar. You can also use reference works to identify keywords for your topic that may be useful for locating scholarly articles. In addition to the many print volumes located on the Library’s first floor, the Library has a collection of reference works you can read online. Use the Books tab on the Library’s homepage to search for reference works on your topic.


Some academic disciplines have dictionaries to explain specific terminology used in that field. Behavioral Science examples include:


Subject-specific encyclopedias contain in-depth essays on individual aspects of a broader topic or discipline. Some examples include: 

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5

If you’re looking for the official definition and diagnosing criteria for a mental disorder, you’ll want the DSM-5. Copies are available in the Library’s first floor reference collection at call number RC455.2 .C4 D54 2013. This book doesn’t circulate but you can use a library scanner to make copies of the pages you need.


For all its faults, Wikipedia can be a great source for background information and learning the basics on your topic. Some articles may be quite long and include extensive citations you can use to track down more scholarly sources on the topic. The entry on Max Weber, the German sociologist, is a good example.

Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Articles

When you’ve learned the basics on your topic, you’ll mostly focus on finding scholarly, peer-reviewed articles from academic journals. Use the OneSearch database on the Library’s homepage to locate this type of source. Type simple, descriptive keywords for your topic into the search box, using AND to combine ideas. Click the Peer-Reviewed box before starting the search to limit to only scholarly articles. Scholarly articles about an original or primary research study will almost always include a section labeled Methods.

Examples of keyword searches include:

  • autism AND “occupational therapy”
  • hunger AND “academic achievement”
  • bullying AND schools AND prevent

Other Databases

OneSearch on the Library’s homepage searches most of the Library’s databases and is a great tool for locating scholarly articles on behavioral science topics. Other recommended databases are found by clicking the DATABASES icon on the Library’s homepage and then choosing Behavioral Science & Communication from the dropdown menu. This page includes smaller, subject-specific databases useful for researching topics in Anthropology, Psychology, and Sociology, plus other large databases such as JSTOR, Sage Online, and ScienceDirect that include articles on many aspects of behavioral science. Some of these databases may not be included in OneSearch or they may include additional search features that OneSearch doesn’t offer, such as the ability to search specifically for articles that include survey instruments.

Literature Review Articles

You may want to look at examples of literature reviews published in academic journals to help with writing yours or to locate a list of potential sources. To do this, simply search for peer-reviewed articles in OneSearch and add AND review or AND “literature review” or AND meta-analysis to your keyword search.

For example, a search in OneSearch for autism AND “literature review” will include the article “Diagnostic Procedures in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Literature Review.”


Handbooks are collections of scholarly essays on a topic and include extensive bibliographies of additional sources. For example, The Oxford Handbook of Human Motivation contains more than 30 essays on specific topics related to motivation, like ego depletion and curiosity. You can search for these books by simply adding AND handbook to your keyword search.

For example, to search for handbooks on music therapy, click the Books tab on the Library’s homepage and then search for “music therapy” AND handbook. If you’re crunched for time you can often focus on only a chapter or two in the book.

Using Citations to Find Items

When doing research you will find references to books and articles that you will want to read. There are several methods you can use to locate these items. If you don't find the item with your first search, try using a different method. Sometimes there are errors in the citation or quirks in the search engines that hide the item. If you don't find the item ask a librarian for help or request the item through interlibrary loan (ILL).

  • OneSearch
    • To quickly see if the Library has the item, copy the title and try searching for it in OneSearch. It often helps to place quotations around the title.
  • Journals by Title
    • You can also see if the Library has access to the journal that published the article. Hover over Find in the toolbar along the top of the Library’s homepage, then click Journals by Title, then search for the journal title.
  • Google
    • If you don't find the item at the library try searching for it using Google. Sometimes journals post articles on the web and allow you to download them for free.
  • Google Scholar
    • An extra, nifty feature from Google is their Scholar search. When you find an important article, search for it in Google Scholar. Under the entry for an item you will see a ‘Cited by’ link followed by a number. That is the number of items that have cited the article, and following that link will list all of those items. This is a great tool for tracing the path of research forward. If you find an article on Google Scholar that doesn’t include the full text, try searching for the article through the Library using the above methods or use ILL if the Library doesn’t have the article. 

Public Information

In addition to scholarly sources, you’ll often find yourself needing data for your research. A great number of public and private agencies now make their data publicly available online. 


The United States federal government is the champion data collector. Every federal agency collects data and most of it is placed on the web. A few examples of good sources of data include the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Institute of Mental Health. On Google, you can add to the end of your search to limit the results to only .gov websites.


Like the federal government, state governments also collect and publish data. The state of Utah has collected all of its data sources in a single webpage called Utah Data.

Research Centers

Some research centers also publish their findings on the web. Generally these centers have a public policy interest. A couple of examples are the Pew Research Center, which tracks demographic and public opinion trends, and the Guttmacher Institute, which promotes reproductive health. 

Other Sources

Finally, there are other sources of data that don't fit into these neat categories. These sources can be found with a modest amount of effort with your favorite web search tool. A new trend in research is visualizing data. A couple of fun examples of this are Gapminder and Google Ngrams.

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