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BIOL 201: Diversity of Life I


This guide will help you build on the research skills you gained in Biology 103.

Please read the Biology 102 Course Guide to review your knowledge of library resources, biology databases, the difference between primary and secondary scientific literature, and basic search strategies.

Research Literature

An important part of scientific research is communicating one's findings to the scholarly community at large. Primary and secondary literature is produced at different stages in the research process.

[image depicting research process]

* When a researcher or groups of researchers submit a scientific article to a scholarly publication, the article is reviewed by several colleagues (peers) with expertise in the same research field. This is known as peer review. These experts independently: -

  • evaluate the manuscript for errors or mistakes in the research,
  • suggest revisions, and
  • recommend the acceptance (with or without revisions) or rejection of the work to the publication’s editor.

The purpose of peer review is to maintain or raise the quality of work published in scholarly journals. To maintain integrity in the system, reviewers are not paid for their reviews, and avoid conflict-of-interest with the authors of the articles reviewed.

** A review article is an example of secondary literature. The authors do not present original findings; instead, they survey all the scholarly articles available on a specific topic (usually primary literature), summarize these findings, and interpret them.

Review articles are an excellent source of information for someone just beginning to research a topic. These articles provide:

  • a comprehensive and historical overview of past research on the topic,
  • an evaluation/interpretation of this research,
  • an easy way to discover who the main researchers are in this particular area (look at the reference list at the end), and
  • a means of discovering the researchers writing on this topic AFTER the review article’s publication date (via Web of Science’s Cited Reference search).

Advanced Searching ("I can't find any papers!")

To search effectively and find the articles you need:

i) Choose the appropriate database(s) to search.

ii) Maximize each search by constructing appropriate search phrases. The HELP section in each database has detailed information about the search syntax it uses.

  • Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to broaden or narrow your search.

  • Use truncation symbols to search for alternate word endings/spellings.
    - child* searches for records with child or children
  • Use “” or () to search for exact phrases, depending on the database.

    - “low energy building”

    - (sugar maple)

iii) Compile a vocabulary list for your topic.

iv) Use keyword/subject/descriptor searching.

  • Most databases assign formal topic designations (called keywords, subjects, or descriptors) to each article. Use these to find all the articles with a specific designation.

v) The reference list at the end of each paper is a good starting point for more searching.

  • Web of Science has specialized Cited Reference searching (with links to the cited and citing articles).
  • BioOne contains links to cited records within the main record of an article.

vi) Understand what you are reading.

vii) Recognize the difference between Scholarly and Non-Scholarly Articles.

Academic Integrity

Academic Integrity @ Queen's

A tutorial from the Writing Centre about Avoiding Plagarism.

A very informative and practical tutorial on plagiarism from the University of Guelph: Test Your Understanding of Plagiarism

Managing Your References

Refworks is an online citation management software freely available to all Queen's students. You can use it to create your own searchable database of references. It will also allow you to create bibliographies for your papers easily in a variety of citation styles.

RefWorks Guides:
Refworks (pdf) - how to sign up for an account, build databases, create folders etc.
How to Import/Export to Refworks

Last Updated: 20 October 2011