Biology 100 Guide for Finding Journal Articles: Products of the Evolutionary Process


I. Terminology
II. Sources for Your Poster
III. Steps to Take to Find Articles
IV. How to Tell the Difference between Primary and Secondary Resources
V. How to Get Help

I. Terminology

Primary resources—peer reviewed articles written by authors who actually performed an original experiment or are reporting their field observations, i.e., of organisms or medical patients; comprises main body of scientific information and knowledge

Secondary resources—peer reviewed articles written by authors who summarize or discuss trends in the primary literature

Tertiary resources—non-peer reviewed articles, books, etc.

Peer reviewed (also called Refereed)—process by which articles are submitted to experts in the scientific discipline for comments and criticism before publication in a scholarly journal

Scholarly journal—journal that publishes mostly scientific, primary articles; exists to disseminate knowledge (examples: Science, Nature, Cell, Ecology)

Trade journal—journal or magazine that publishes mostly non-peer reviewed articles and frequently contains advertisements; exists to make money (examples: Science News, National Geographic, Time)

Library catalog—a searchable database that includes records representing every item in the library, including books, journals, CDs, DVDs, maps, manuscripts, and microforms

Journal Article Databases (also called Periodical Indexes)—electronically searchable sources that provide reference information to articles published in hundreds and thousands of mostly scholarly journals; most databases include an abstract (summary of the article) and some provide links to the full text of the articles; mostly primary and secondary resource

Periodicals Room—area on the north side of the second floor of the Harold B. Lee Library in which the print copies of most journals and other serial publications are shelved

II. Sources for Your Poster

  • Articles in print from scholarly journals from the periodicals room
  • Online full-text articles from electronic databases
    • Databases allow access to reliable information

III. Steps to Take to Find Articles

1. Background research

  • Why?
    • Look for synonyms and additional keywords
    • Helps narrow your topic
    • Reference lists will give you important primary resources and search terminology
  • How?
    • Investigate library resources on your topic through the General Search page (
      • Searches general databases—to find articles
      • Searches the library catalog—to find books
    • Explore your topic through encyclopedia entries and other reference materials—search for reference books using the advanced keyword search (go to Library Catalog Advanced Keyword Search) and limit location to “Science Reference”
    • Search the Internet
      • Reliability: .edu and .gov are more reliable than .com sites
      • Good way to learn about the big picture
      • Look for author information and sites of trustworthy organizations
      • BE VERY CAREFUL about the sites you look at on the Internet, and DO NOT cite them in your bibliography

Examples of books: (you can find more by searching in the library catalog)

  • Reference sources
    • Encyclopedia of Evolution [Sci Ref QH 360.2 .O83 2002]
    • Encyclopedia of Biodiversity [Sci Ref QH 541.15 .B56 E63x 2001]
    • Encyclopedia of Genetics [Sci Ref QH 427 .E53x 2002]
    • Encyclopedia of Agricultural Sciences [Sci Ref S 411 .E713 1994 ]
    • Encyclopedia of Life Sciences [online at]
  • Books on your specific topic
    • The antibiotic paradox : how the misuse of antibiotics destroys their curative powers [QR 177 .L48x 2002]
    • Broadening the genetic base of crop production [SB 123.3 .B76 2001]
    • The GMO handbook : genetically modified animals, microbes, and plants in biotechnology [QH 442.6 .G657 2004]
    • Fruit breeding [SB 359.35 .F78 1996]
    • NOTE: these books will be on reserve at the Lee Library circulation desk, available for 2-hour checkout.

2. Search databases to find article citations and abstracts
3. Search techniques
  • Brainstorm search terms
    • Example: genetic variation
    • Other terms: genetic diversity, genetic biodiversity
    • Example: transgenic species
    • Other terms: genetically modified organisms, GMOs
  • Truncation: using a symbol to search for all variations of a word
    • Example: “resist*” will retrieve resist, resistance, etc.
    • Truncation symbols: * in most databases; $ in the library catalog
  • Boolean searching: using AND, OR, and NOT to combine two or more ideas or keywords
    • AND: use to find sources that include all keywords; limits to a smaller number of results
    • OR: use to find sources that include either one or the other keyword; retrieves larger number of results
    • NOT: use to remove articles with a certain keyword from the results
    • Example: “cattle AND milk production”
  • Subject headings: official vocabulary for what a book or an article is really about
    • Look for subject headings as you search in the library catalog and databases
    • Use subject searches to refine your results
    • Example: “transgenic plants—history”
  • How to narrow your search
    • Search terms in title only, instead of keyword
    • Add keywords to the search and combine them with “AND”
    • Limits:
      • publication date
      • English language

4. Find the article online or in the library - How to Locate the Full Text of a Journal Article in the Harold B. Lee Library (pdf)

IV. How to Tell the Difference between Primary and Secondary Resources

Primary Literature


Secondary Literature

  • Title states results or conclusions
  • Abstract includes experimental or observational conditions and a summary of the results
  • Often has the following sections: Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, and Discussion
  • Title often includes words like “trends,” “history,” “insights,” and “discussion of”
  • Often in review publications, like the Annual Review of Cell Biology
  • Extensive reference lists

V. How to Get Help

Ask a Librarian—Call, email, or chat online with a librarian (

Science/Maps Reference Desk—HBLL Level 2; 422-2987—Come get help from librarians and student assistants (Hours: 8 am-10 pm, M-Th; 8 am-6 pm, F; 10 am-6 pm, S)

Peer Research Help—Sign up at the Science Reference Desk for a 20 minute session of one-on-one help from a student reference assistant