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BIOL/ESCI 304 - Ecology

A guide for BIOL/ESCI 304 students researching environmental topics in the library and on the internet.

Types of Information

For your climate change project and other writing assignments you will be using both primary and non-primary literature as sources of information. This page outlines the types of acceptable sources of information for your course writing assignments.

Your goal is to find the best and most appropriate sources of information. When in doubt about a source of information, ask your instructor for their opinion.

(1) Primary literature

Primary literature is an article published in a peer-reviewed journal AND on original research performed by the author(s).

The Find Articles section of this course guide provides strategies for finding primary literature.

(2) Review or monograph

These are generally publications that rely on primary literature and that review, synthesize, and summarize information on a topic. Review and synthesis papers are often published in scientific journals and are peer reviewed.

Monographs present primary research and are peer reviewed. They are often published when the information that the researcher or biologist would like to publish exceeds what would normally be published in a paper. Wilson and McArthur published their theory of island biogeography as a monograph. One of the first publications on the movements and migrations of manatees in Florida was published as a monograph. When it comes to organismal biology, monographs would be a great source of information. Usually, you will see monographs as scholarly books on either one topic or a group of related topics.

The Find Articles section of the course guide provides strategies for finding secondary literature and monographs.

(3) Grey Literature

Grey literature are publications produced outside of the peer-review process. There are many, many sites that have legitimate and well researched information on species. Government reports and publications are a very common source of information on organisms. Non-profit conservation organizations will often publish information in the form of reports. A general rule of thumb: if it has an author and the author is a professional biologist or scientist, it is likely a good source of information. But, you have some judgement calls to make here in terms of acceptability of the information.

The Find Secondary Sources section of the course guide provides strategies for finding these kinds of sources.

For this project, you may find acceptable grey literature in the form of theses or dissertations. These are documents based on original research, but may not be published in scientific journals. They are completed under the supervision of university faculty.

You may find theses and dissertations through both Secondary Sources as well as in Reference Lists.

(4) Websites/Data Repositories

There are quite a few quite acceptable sources of natural history information that you may find on websites. Deciding if these are acceptable is a bit trickier. You may want to think of the scope of the organization behind the website and its mission. You may want to see if the organization has a science arm (e.g., The Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy hire scientists). The Encyclopedia of Life, for example, gets its data from scientists and you can generally find an original source for the information. Sources that are based on primary literature are superior to sources that are not or that are uncited. These are largely judgement calls on your part.

A list of acceptable websites and data repositories are listed under Find Secondary Sources.

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