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BIOL 211 : Ecology : Articles

Use this guide as a starting point for your literature research in ecology and related fields.

Spring 2022 Research Skills

Hello Biol 211 labs! Welcome to Spring 2022! Today we're going to practice a few essential skills:

  • Being able to tell the difference between primary literature and secondary literature (review articles, etc), as discussed on the 'Primary Literature' tab
  • Searching for known articles using Google Scholar
  • Using Google scholar to track the research conversation forward and backwards in time
  • Using subject-specific library databases, listed below, to search for primary literature related to your research topic

We will do the following searching exercise together in pairs, using this Google spreadsheet to keep track of our work

  1. Take a look at the Weiss 2006 Review article and use Google Scholar see how many times it's been cited. Pick one of the articles that you found that cited the Weiss 2006 review and try to add the article to your Zotero library.
  • Can you open it, and can you tell if it a primary article or no?
  • How many times has this article been cited?
  • Click the 'cited by' list and browse through it. What do you notice about the items on the list?
  1. Some foreshadowing here: you're about to do a lab report on Duckweed. Besides 'duckweed", what search terms might you use to try to find useful/relevant literature?
  • Pick one of the library databases (not Google scholar!)  and do some exploratory duckweed searching. Add some articles that you find to your Zotero library
  1. Pick one of those Duckweed articles to look up in Google Scholar.
    • How many times has it been cited?


Throughout, we will talk about how to use the really useful (and free!) citation management tool called Zotero, which can help you easily save articles as you find them, and then easily create properly formatted bibliographies. For more information, check out the Installing & Using Zotero tab. 

Searching Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a powerful search tool. See below for tips about using Google Scholar to do cited reference searching.

Google Scholar Cited Reference Search

One very useful feature of Google Scholar is its ability to allow for easily finding subsequent articles which have cited a particular article that you have located. 

Step 1: When looking at search results, check for the 'Cited by X' link underneath each result. That will tell you how many subsequent articles (that Google Scholar is aware's not 100% comprehensive! This is a ballpark figure) have cited this particular article.

  • Step 2: Click that link, and you will be taken to a new set of results, all of which have cited the original article, which will still be listed at the top of the page. 

Searching for Articles in Databases

Finding Full Text of Articles

There are three methods for obtaining the actual articles you wish to read:

Method 1: In some databases, you will be able to link directly to the full-text article. Look around, as different databases have different interfaces. Look for a link or buttons that says "Check for Full Text" or Download PDF or similar. If given the choice between a PDF or HTML version of the article, always choose the PDF format. This will give you an exact image, including page numbers, of the article as it appears in the paper journal.

Method 2: If a direct link to full text is not available, then check Primo Search to see if the library subscribes to the journal. Search for the title of the journal that the article was published in.

You may find that there is online access available for this journal. Check the dates that are available...most of the time the link will say "Fulltext access available from 19xx." Check to see whether the article that you're looking for was published during the date range that is available. If so, then click the 'View fulltext' link and either browse through past issues, or look for a "search within this publication" link until you find the article that you need.  You may find that Primo says the journal is available at Collins Memorial Library Print Journals, which means we have the journal physically in the library.  If the article you are looking for is only available in print in the library rather than online, in which case you  you will need to check either the current periodicals area on the first floor, or go downstairs to the basement to find the bound volumes of periodicals.  If the periodical is available only in microform, you may submit a request for electronic delivery of the article via your ILL account.

Method 3: If your searching indicates that the article is not available in any format, then request the article through ILL, our interlibrary loan service. (Most databases include links to our ILL within each record.) It usually takes about a week or less to receive an electronic copy of the article.

And at any time if you have questions, send Eli an email!