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BIO110 Inquiry Lab

This guide contains resources for the course BIO110: Inquiry Lab


Broad Science Databases

Subject-Specific Science Databases

Database How-To

The Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. While it is not a database and is not designed to input a search, you should be able to cut and paste the results into most databases' search boxes.

Concept 1 and Concept 2 and Concept 3
Name your concepts here    
Search terms Search terms Search terms
List alternate terms for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.

Use single words, or "short phrases" in quotes













The Search Strategy Builder was developed by the University of Arizona Libraries and is used under a Creative Commons License.

You need to use keywords and Boolean logic when searching for materials in library databases.

Keywords describe the main ideas of your research question - think nouns or short phrases instead of whole questions. Boolean logic is a way to combine your keywords to make your searches more efficient. Boolean operators include AND (narrows your search), OR (broadens your search), and NOT (excludes terms to narrow further).

Watch this short video for an overview of the best way to search in a database:

Video Length: 1:28

Used with permission from the Ronald Williams Library at Northeastern Illinois University.

Using Articles

In the sciences, primary sources are articles that give details about a specific experiment or series of experiments, and report the results of original research. They may be in the form of conference papers, monographic series, technical reports, theses and dissertations, or journal articles. They present information in its original form (that is, it has not been interpreted or condensed or otherwise “repackaged” by other writers). You can often identify them by the way they are structured. Primary sources usually have clearly labeled sections detailing the materials, methods, and results of an experiment. Think of them like a lab report.

Here is an example of a primary source on the topic of microplastic pollution: Microplastics cause neurotoxicity, oxidative damage and energy-related changes and interact with the bioaccumulation of mercury in the European seabass, Dicentrarchus labrax (Linnaeus, 1758)

By contrast, secondary sources are articles or books which summarize multiple primary sources and use them to increase understanding of a topic or identify areas for further research. They generalize, analyze, interpret, evaluate or otherwise add value to the original information. If published in a journal, these are usually called "review" articles. Unlike original research articles, which usually have a defined structure, review articles can be organized chronologically, by topic, or other ways the author chooses.

Here is an example of a secondary source on the topic of microplastic pollution: Marine microplastic debris: An emerging issue for food security, food safety and human health

If you check the references, you will discover that the primary source above was used as a reference for this review article.

What is a scholarly source?

Scholarly sources are materials that have been written by experts for an academic audience. For example, these can include peer-reviewed articles, certain books, and handbooks. Watch the video below for a quick review on scholarly sources and the peer review process.


Video Length: 1:22

Used with permission from the Ronald Williams Library at Northeastern Illinois University.

Reading scholarly articles can be a difficult task. Scholars have done their research and written up their results for many reasons, but not for many audiences. Although you as a student need to use the articles in your assignment, they were not written specifically for you. (No offense!)

The fact is, these scholars are experts in their field writing for other experts. They are using specialized language that can be difficult for someone new to understand. So, you can sit down with an article and start reading, but you may become discouraged pretty quickly.

The tips below are to help you read scholarly articles STRATEGICALLY. These tips can help you approach a scholarly text for easier reading and better understanding. 

1. Read the abstract first.

Titles can only tell you so much about the content of the article. The abstract acts as a preview for the entire article, including the methods and results. By reading the abstract first, you can get a better idea of what the article is actually about, if it relates to what you are researching, and whether it is worth your time to read the rest of it.

2. Next, read the introduction and conclusion.

These two sections give you the background information you need for the topic of the article as well as what happened in the study. The introduction also includes info about previous studies/papers that relate to the current one, which gives you, the reader, a context. By reading the conclusion you see whether the study answered the original research question and what the authors see as the next steps in the scholarship.

3. Take a look at the tables, charts and graphs.

Closely look at the visual representations of the data. See what conclusions you come to and make note of them. When you read through the entire article, compare your conclusions to what the authors saw in their results and data.

4. Read it! (for real this time)

Okay, now that you have pre-read some of the article and are sure it relates to your research topic, read the whole thing. It still might not be easy, but it will not be as hard as if you were reading it with no context.

Some more tips for reading:

  • Take notes
  • Summarize sections or paragraphs
  • Keep a subject dictionary, your textbook glossary or the Internet/Wikipedia close by. If you come across any unfamiliar terms, you can quickly look them up.  
  • Keep track of the citation information of the articles you do read and want to use in your paper or assignment. This will make life a lot easier at the end of the project.

Content in this box adapted from Navigating the Research Process, Sacred Heart University Libguide with permission from Urszula Lechtenberg.

You need to make sure you are using the best possible sources for your research. RADAR is a framework that helps evaluate sources for quality and usefulness. It stands for:

Rationale, Authority, Date, Accuracy, Relevance

Each step consists of questions you should ask yourself about the source you are considering. Click on the file below for a detailed, printable explanation of the framework and questions.