Biology

Related Library Research Guides

Research in Biology

Biological information exists in many different formats including: articles, books, and data. Sources can be primary, secondary, or tertiary. Authors of primary sources analyze data. Secondary and tertiary sources interpret and summarize other sources. Primary sources are often the most up-to-date, but can be difficult to read and understand. Secondary and tertiary sources are often easier to understand, but have undergone additional interpretation. 

Primary Sources

Original research, evidence, and analysis

Examples: Research articles, Patents, Research data, Lab notes, Conference papers, Clinical trials

Search tip: Did the authors themselves collect or analyze data? If the answer is yes, it is probably primary research.

 

 

 

 

Secondary Sources

Summaries, evaluations, or interpretations of others' original research

Examples: Review articles, Book reviews, Annotated bibliographies

Search tip: Scholarly review articles are usually easier to understand than the primary literature. Try adding the term "review" to your search strategy to find them. 

 

 

 

 

Tertiary Sources

Collections and summaries of primary and secondary sources

Examples: Reference books, Dictionaries, Encyclopedias

Search tip: Try searching by  the "Registry Number" to pull up properties in chemical databases.

 

Searching Tips

  1. Think about what you want to know
    The first step to successfully searching is having a mindset of inquiry. Design research questions when you develop your hypothesis, design your experiment, and explain your results. 
    Example: How does salinity affect rates of photosynthesis in Arabidopsis plants? 
     
  2. Gather a little background info and adjust the question as needed
    Go ahead. Google it.
     
  3. Narrow the question down to the main concepts and variables
    Example: salinity photosynthesis Arabidopsis
    ‚Äč
  4. Plan a search with boolean search strategies
    Symbol Example Description 
    " " "breast cancer" Searches the exact phrase found in the quotes. This search will yield articles with "breast cancer," but NOT articles that only contain the word "breast," or the word "cancer," or contain the words separately.
    * bio*

    Signifies a wild card. Will yield articles with the prefix submitted and any ending, such as: 
    biology, biological, biome, biometrics, biography, biotic, etc.

    AND (cats) AND (dogs) Adds search terms to the search, will limit the results to only articles that contain both terms. AND is usually implied, but can be used with parentheses and OR to make the search more precise.
    OR (Arabidopsis OR "A. thaliana") Expands the search, a good way to add synonyms or binomial names to search terms. This example will return any article with either the word "Arabidopsis" or A. thaliana.
    NOT Ash NOT tree Excludes articles that have the term. This will return results with the word "ash" but not if the results also contain the word "tree."
    Example: (salinity OR salt) AND (photosynthesis) AND (Arabidposis OR "A. thaliana") 
     
  5. Enter your search in a library database
    Try: Web of Science, Biological Abstracts, PubMed, or one of the databases listed below!
     
  6. Filter and sort your results
    Try the limiters (usually on the left side of database page) or sort the results by most cited, or newest. 
     
  7. Open, read, re-search

Ask a Librarian Chat

Chat now!

chat loading...
Get help from librarians at EMU and other schools.