Skip to Main Content

Psychology Library Research: Searching Across Databases


When deciding where to begin your search for peer-reviewed literature in the Walden Library, you’ll want to consider your topic and what database, or combination of databases, will give you the most relevant results. It’s not only how you search but where you search that will influence the type and number of results the database returns. 

This guide will walk you through a search in two subject-specific databases, which search journals related to that subject area and compare those results to a search in Thoreau, the Library’s multi-database search tool.

Why use subject-specific databases?

  • to quickly focus a search within a specific subject area
  • to utilize specialized search limiters only available in subject-specific databases
  • to search more narrowly if you get too many results in Thoreau

Why use the Thoreau Multi-Database Search?

  • your topic spans multiple subject areas
  • for exploratory searching to get a general sense of what has been published on a topic
  • to search more broadly if you get few results in a subject-specific database

Search example

Let's use this topic for our search example: What are the risk factors associated with domestic violence?

Where to search

Subject-specific databases

Subject-specific databases can be found under the Research by Subject button on the Library homepage. We're going to look at our topic from a psychology perspective and criminal justice perspective, so we'll choose a database from each of those subjects. These links will bring you to that subject research page where you can choose a database to search. 


On the Psychology Research Page look for the Psychology articles, journals, & books section and click the Psychology databases drop-down menu. From here we'll choose APA PsycInfo.


On the Criminal Justice Research Page look for the Criminal Justice articles, journals, & books section and click the Criminal Justice databases drop-down menu. From here we'll choose the Criminal Justice Database.


Thoreau Multi-Database Search

Thoreau is the search box at the top of the Library homepage. You can search using the main search box or by clicking on the Advanced Search link.

How to search

Setting up your search

Database searches follow this format: one idea or concept per search box. Synonyms and similar concepts can be added to the same search box separated by OR. 

Let's break up our search into its main ideas and brainstorm synonyms: What are the risk factors associated with domestic violence

  • Concept 1: risk factors
  • Concept 2: domestic violence, domestic abuse, intimate partner violence 

There are also three limiters you'll want to consider as well which can be found beneath the search boxes in each database. Select these options when you set up each of your searches:

  • Full-text: select to display only full-text articles
  • Peer review: select to display only articles from peer-reviewed journals 
  • Publication date: enter 2017 (to the present) to display articles published in the last 5 years

APA PsycInfo search

Criminal Justice Database search

Thoreau Multi-Database Search

Comparing your results

These are the search parameters we used in each database:

  • 1st search box: risk factors
  • 2nd search box: domestic violence OR domestic abuse OR intimate partner violence
  • Check full-text
  • Check peer review
  • Search from 2017 (to the present)

These are the approximate results you will get in each:

  • APA PsycInfo: 933
  • Criminal Justice Database: 101
  • Thoreau: 8,500

Reviewing your results and modifying your search

Criminal Justice Database

You'll see the fewest results in the Criminal Justice Database which is not surprising since it's searching a relatively specific subject area. You could quickly review all the results without needing to modify the search (unless the results were not relevant). 

APA PsycInfo

APA PsycInfo has nine times the results, again, which isn't surprising because it's one of the primary databases used in psychology research. Since there are quite a few results, you'll want to consider limiting the search further. You could modify your search by:

  • searching only intimate partner violence since domestic violence and domestic abuse might include too many results on family violence not specific to romantic relationships
  • adding in another concept to the third search box such as intervention OR prevention


Thoreau has the most results because it's searching the entire Library. It looks like there is a lot of literature on this topic even within just the last 5 years. It would be too difficult to review all these results, so you would want to consider limiting the search using the same suggestions above for APA PsycInfo. If you started your search here, another search strategy would be to move into a subject-specific database which would quickly limit your results.