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Biology (general)

A general guide for finding information sources about biology topics through the library and the web.

Introductory content

When writing a paper or creating a project for a class assignment, you will likely have to do some library research to provide a background for what you are presenting. This guide shows some ways to help you efficiently find print books, e-books, and journal articles. I have also included some information about things to look for when using internet sites, if you are lucky enough to be able to use them. To start, below are a few tips that you might find helpful when deciding the keywords (or phrases) that you will use to search library databases.

Basic Tips:

Keep the following tips in mind when searching library catalogs for books and research databases for journal, magazine, or newspaper articles:

  • Using more search terms will find fewer, more specific results. For example, "wolves" finds more articles than "wolves and moose", but not as many of the articles will be relevant to your topic if you want to know specifically about how wolf predation affects moose populations.
  • Specific vs. general terms.

Books - you will tend to use more general terms

You might not find an entire book about a specific species. You might have to get more general by searching for the genus, family, or class to find a chapter, subchapter, or a few pages about your species.

Search for your species/genera/family/class along with "handbook", "guide", "field guide", and "encyclopedia" as well as without these terms. Encyclopedias, field guides, guides, and handbooks are a great place to start!

Search for both singular and plural ("fir" and "firs", for example).

The order in which you enter your terms sometimes matters. For example, searching for "birds and handbook" brings up a much different set of results than "handbook and birds".

Journal Articles

Be more specific. For example, don’t use the term “predators” if you really mean “American marten”, "peregrine falcon", or "northern pike".

Remember to search for both singular and plurals. This is especially important if you are searching for a family or class of organisms. For example, search for both "mushroom" and "mushrooms".

Use scientific as well as common names. Articles will always use scientific names because there are many regionalisms in common names. For example, Puma concolor is is commonly known as cougar, mountain lion, painter, and puma, but journal articles will always include the scientific name, no matter which common name it uses.

  • If you are getting thousands of results, you may need to add more search terms, or use more specific terms.
  • If you are not getting enough results, you may need to use fewer search terms or broader search terms. Or, use an "asterisked term", such as "ecolog*" to search variations of the term. Searching for, "ecolog*" will find "ecology", "ecologic", "ecological", "ecologically", and "ecologist".
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