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BIOL 101: General Biology: Finding Articles

Prof. Schroeder - Fall 2020

General strategies

Think of some keywords to describe your topic:

There's probably going to be a few different terms you can use, so take a moment to brainstorm those terms.  Think about the different audiences for the articles you're searching for.  Authors may use different terms depending on the audience.

For example: a scientific article will likely use the scientific name for a species while an article for the general public might just use the common name.

Do you need to include a geographic region or description for your topic?

Some of your topics will be looking for information specific to our geographic region. There are a lot of different terms you could use to describe our region: Minnesota, Midwest, Upper midwest, Upper Mississippi River Valley, Norther United States, etc. Or, you might need to use terms like: urban or city.

Think about the audience you're searching for

As mentioned above, searching for articles for a scientific audience is much different from searching for an article for the general public. The terms used will be different and they places they're published will be different.  In the links below, I've tried to call out which databases have which types of articles.  Don't just search in one place, use at least a few of these resources to get a good list of results.

Do a search and then tweak it as needed

My general strategy is to throw a few terms into a search and then make tweaks from there.

Look at the results you get and pay attention to ways you could refine the results.  Most of our databases will let you refine or narrow results by things like type of source (peer-reviewed article, vs book, vs other articles) or by subject or by date.  These are all great ways to refine your results so they're more relevant.  See the box to the right for more information.

Also pay attention to the words used in titles and descriptions of the articles that are relevant.  What terms are they using that you might use to find more articles?

Start with LibrarySearch

More databases to search

Searching Google

When you're looking for information online, a Google search is quite likely your first stop.  Many of the same strategies listed above will apply to your search on google, though there are fewer ways to refine your results.

I've found that adding more keywords or typing out a full sentence works better in Google.  Look at the first few results, and if they are not relevant, think about what they're showing you and whether you can add or remove some words to get better results. 

If you want to narrow your results to only websites with a .edu or .org domain, you can use "site:[.xxx]" in your search

example: Google search for: pollinator overwintering Will return results from academic websites (that end in .edu)


Things to think about when evaluating a website:

  • Is there a date telling you when the content was written?
  • Who is responsible for the content?  Why might they be publishing the content
  • What other types of information is published on the website?
  • Who is the audience for this content?
  • Who is the author? What is their background?

Refining your results

Nearly every library database has a way to refine your results after you've run a search. I find this to be especially helpful! I can just throw some terms out there and then make adjustments to my search from the results screen.

Below is a screenshot of the "Refine Results" section on LibrarySearch - it's on the left side of the results screen.

Helpful refinements:

  • Include items at other libraries - this will return results that the library doesn't have on hand, but we can order through InterLibrary Loan. It may take a day or two to get to you, though.
  • Peer-reviewed articles - also look for scholarly articles in other interfaces. These will get you the peer-reviewed, scholarly articles written by researchers for researchers in their field
  • Resource Type - click "show more" to see all the options. If you know you just want articles or just want books, this is how you narrow to that type.
  • Publication Date - narrow to just the years you're looking for
  • Subject - click "show more" to see subjects that show up often in your search. This is my favorite way to start exploring a topic and seeing what other terms might be useful in my search.