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BIOL 111: Unity of Life

Finding Articles FAQ

You can find articles by searching databases. When researchers write an article, they submit it to a publisher, who publishes the article in a journal. Databases then collect journals, and academic libraries subscribe to those databases. You can view the biology databases we subscribe to below.

Primo is a search tool that searches most of the databases the library subscribes to, all at once.

Google Scholar is a search tool that searches many different databases, even those we don't subscribe to. If you find an article while using Google Scholar that we don't subscribe to, you can still read it by submitting an interlibrary loan request to have a librarian from a partner library scan the article and email it to you in 2-10 days.

It really depends on your topic. I like to start by searching a key database below, and following it up with Primo and Google Scholar, which search as many sources as possible to find articles if I'm not discovering enough relevant articles. Read our descriptions for each database and if you’re still not sure feel free to send me an email or book an appointment with a librarian.

Searching databases is different from searching Google. Let’s say I want to research supports for people with arthritis. My research question is “What new supports are being tested for people living with arthritis?”

In Google, I usually just type in my question and it’ll find me the most relevant results. When I type my research question into a database, in this case the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health (CINAHL), it finds no results.

CINAHL database showing no results for 'What new supports are being
        tested for people living with arthritis?'

Does this mean there’s no research being done on new supports for people living with arthritis? No! The problem here is that many databases consider each word in your search as a keyword. So CINAHL is looking for the words “what,” “new,” “are,” “being,” “for,” and “with,” in all the articles it searches, which cuts out all of our results. Instead, I’m just going to search "new supports AND arthritis"".

This returns 67 results, which isn’t bad. But if I want more relevant results, I can go a step further and take out the word “new,” while using the left sidebar to filter sources from 2022-2023. This gets me 839 results.

839 is too many to look through individually, so instead I’m going to ask for the word “supports” in the title (or subject) of the article. I do this in CINAHL by going to "advanced search" and choosing to "Title" from the dropdown. “Supports” might also not be the most relevant term, so I’m going to add some synonyms using the “OR” keyword. This gives me a final search term of: TI(supports OR strategies OR interventions) AND arthritis

For me, this search term worked great, and I see a lot of relevant sources. But if I didn’t, I would keep experimenting with different search phrases to find a relevant article. Once I find a relevant article, I can use that article to find more relevant articles.

Once you find an article with a title and abstract that seems interesting, you'll likely be able to find a link to the full text on that page. Look for a link or buttons that says "Check for Full Text" or "Download PDF" or similar.

If you can't find a full text button, then you can try copying the article into Google Scholar or our catalog. With Google Scholar, you may be able to find a PDF from another source. In our catalog, you can see if we have access through another database. If we don’t, then you can use our catalog to request it via interlibrary loan, and a partner library will scan and email you the article within 2-10 days. Still not sure if you can find the full text? Send me an email!

When I search a database for articles, I usually start by just opening the ones with titles that seem like they may be useful in new tabs. When I have about 5-10 tabs open, then I go through them one by one to decide whether to keep or discard them. First, I read the title again. Then, I quickly read the abstract, spending maybe a minute or two. When I read the abstract, I look for four things:

  • Is it a primary or secondary source? Does the abstract describe the article as a trial, study or experiment? Or does it describe the article as a review or meta-analysis?
  • What was their research question? What did they want to find out?
  • What were their methods? How did they study their research question?
  • What were their results?

Usually, the abstract will have one or two sentences for each of the questions above. If you read the abstract and can’t find an answer to all of the questions, then the author isn’t doing their job, and you’ll unfortunately have to check the respective sections of the paper itself (background, methods, results, and maybe discussion).

Once I decide a source is relevant, then I save it to my citation manager, where I can read and annotate it after I finish gathering my sources.

Reliability is harder to measure. There's no easy way to tell whether an article is reliable, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Is the article published in a peer-reviewed journal?
  • Was the article written by authors affiliated with reputable institutions?
  • How old is the article?
  • How many other articles have cited this article?

If you aren't sure, feel free to send me an email!

A citation manager is a great way to keep track of sources. Zotero can save your sources, annotate PDFs, and automatically generate bibliographies and in-text citations. Take a look at our Zotero tutorial here!

If you're just looking to generate a bibliography quickly, then you should use Zbib. Zbib is the best online citation generator.

Searching for Articles in Databases

Search these databases to find the sources you need to support your lab work: