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Clinical Psychology

This guide provides quick access to the best resources at WU for conducting research related to clinical psychology research

Evidence Based Practice Tips

Evidence-based practice in psychology (EBPP) is the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences.2 This definition of EBPP closely parallels the definition of evidence-based practice adopted by the Institute of Medicine (2001, p. 147) as adapted from Sackett and colleagues (2000): "Evidence-based practice is the integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values." The purpose of EBPP is to promote effective psychological practice and enhance public health by applying empirically supported principles of psychological assessment, case formulation, therapeutic relationship, and intervention.

Evidence based practice involves 5 steps:

1. Ask a focused question to satisfy the health needs of a specific patient 

  • What is your clinical question? Use the PICO model from the Forming an EBP Question tab above.
  • What type of clinical question is this?  Therapy?  Diagnosis?  Use the table from the Clinical above.
  • What is the best study design to answer this type of clinical question? See Types of Study Design tab above.

2. Find the best evidence by searching the literature 

  • What is the highest level of literature to support the question?  See Levels of Evidence tab above.
  • Where should you look for this material?  Also on the Levels of Evidence tab above.

3.  Critically appraise the literature: testing for validity, clinical relevance, and applicability

  •   What are the results of the study?

4. Apply the results in clinical practice

5. Evaluate the outcomes in your patient

Adapted from: the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and Sackett DL, Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn't. BMJ. 1996 Jan 13;312(7023):71-2.

Breaking up your question into these 4 elements (which you can easily remember with the mnemonic device PICO) will make your literature search process easier:

1. "P" Patient, population, or problem 2. "I": Intervention, prognostic factor or exposure 3. "C" comparison 4. "O" outcome you would like to measure

Use the links below to search using the PICO method.

What type of question are you asking and which would be best to support the evidence?

Type of Question Type of Study/Methodology to Look at

Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial; Systematic Review/Meta Analysis of RCT

Diagnosis Controlled Trial; Systematic Review/Meta Analysis of Controlled Trial
Harm Cohort studies
Prognosis Cohort Studies; Case control, case studies
Etiology Cohort studies
Prevention Randomized Controlled Trial; Cohort studies
Quality Improvement Randomized Controlled Trial
Quality of Life Qualitative Study
Cost Effectiveness Economic Evaluation
Clinical Exam Prospective, blind comparison to gold standard

The Evidence Pyramid is often used to illustrate the development of evidence. At the base of the pyramid is animal research and laboratory studies - this is where ideas are first developed. As you progress up the pyramid the amount of information available decreases in volume, but increases in relevance to the clinical setting.  Adaptation of the Evidence Pyramid Diagram developed by the Medical Research Library of Brooklyn, SUNY Downstate Medical Center.


Type of Study Where to Find it
Systematic Reviews or Meta-analysis Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE
Critically-Appraised Topics DynaMed, UpToDate
Critically-Appraised Articles ACP Journal Club
Randomized Controlled Trials Original articles (search MEDLINE, EMBASE)
Cohort Studies Original articles (search MEDLINE, EMBASE)
Case-Controlled Studies etc. Original articles (search MEDLINE, EMBASE)
Background Info/Expert Opinion Books, editorials

Adapted from Study Designs. In NICHSR Introduction to Health Services Research: a Self-Study Course. and Glossary of EBM Terms.

What is an Empirical Article?

"An empirical article is a research article that reports the results of a study that uses data derived from actual observation or experimentation."

How to Recognize an Empirical Research Article

To identify an article based on empirical research, look for the following characteristics:

  • The article is published in a Scholarly / Peer-Reviewed journal.
  • The article abstract mentions a study, observation, analysis, # of participants/subjects.
  • The article includes charts, graphs, or statistical analysis.
  • The article is substantial in size, likely to be more than 5 pages long.
  • The article contains the following sections (the exact terms may vary): abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, references.

Sections of a Standard Empirical Research Article

  • Abstract: A brief overview of the research conducted.
  • Introduction: Puts the research in context, discusses related research and the hypotheses for the research.
  • Methodology: Describes how the research was conducted.
  • Results: Describes the outcome of the research.
  • Discussion: Contains the interpretations and implications of the study.
  • References / Bibliography: Citation list for all material referenced during the research process.

Finding an Empirical Article

From the PsycARTICLES Database advanced search page:

  1. Enter your keywords/search term(s)
  2. Select Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals
  3. Under the Methodology section, chose Empirical Study
  4. Conduct your search

From the PsycINFO Database advanced search page:

  1. Enter your keyword/search term(s)
  2. Select Peer Reviewed
  3. Under the Methodology section, chose Empirical Study
  4. Conduct your search

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Sources

(Refereed, Peer-Reviewed) Journal Articles
(Popular) Journal Articles

Scholarly articles are "peer-reviewed" by other experts in the field. Are also sometimes called "refereed articles."

Non-scholarly articles are meant to inform or entertain readers rather than provide in-depth analysis.
Content Content of articles usually reports on original research or experimentation. Content of articles often reports on other research or events rather than presenting original research.
Bibliography Articles usually list references in footnotes or endnotes. Articles are seldom footnoted and the source of information is seldom given.
Illustrations Illustrations, if any, are usually graphs and charts that support the subject content. Often are illustrated with glossy or color photographs.
Author(s) Articles are written by experts in the field. Authors are usually on the staff of the magazine or are freelance writers. Author's name is often not supplied
Length/Depth Articles are generally long and contain in-depth coverage of the topic. Articles are often short and intended to provide an overview of a topic rather than an in-depth analysis.
Advertising Contain few if any advertisements. Usually contain many advertisements.
Publisher Frequently, articles are published by a scholarly professional organization (e.g. American Chemical Society, American Psychological Association). Publishers are marketing to the general public and usually make their publications available in stores and newsstands.
Language Authors write in the language of their discipline. Readers are assumed to have some knowledge of the field. Articles are directed towards the general public and written in non-technical language.


Types of Sources

Access Tools

Access tools help locate primary and secondary sources. Some types of access tools are:

Databases Bibliographies
Subject Guides Online Catalogs
Subject Directories Search Engines


Examples of Access Tools:

  • ERIC - index of educational research
  • WebPAC - online catalog
  • - search engine

There are three types of sources used in research: Primary, Secondary and Access Tools.

Primary Sources

A primary source is a firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. Primary sources are written or created during the time period being studied, or by a person directly involved in the event. Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event or time period. Some types of primary sources are:

Original Documents Creative Works Artifacts
Diaries Novels Jewelry
Speeches Music Tools
Letters Films Pottery
Meeting Minutes Visual Art Clothing
Interviews Poetry Buildings
Research Data Performing Arts Furniture
Autobiographies Film Footage

Examples of Primary Sources:

  • Diary of Ann Frank - experience of Jews in World War II
  • The Declaration of Independence - United States History
  • Arrowheads and pottery - Native American history

Secondary Sources

A Secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. Secondary sources are one step removed from the primary sources. Some types of secondary sources are:

Textbooks Journal Articles Commentaries
Bibliographies Criticism Histories
Encyclopedias Book Reviews  

Examples of Secondary Sources:

  • Thomas Jefferson: A Life - a biography of Thomas Jefferson
  • The Encyclopedia of Education - brief treatments of educational topic
  • Introduction to Psychology - Psychology textbook