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Biology: Create a Plan

Library resources for the Department of Biology at UTA

Finding Keywords

Once you have identified a topic, select the terms and phrases that are essential to understanding the topic. 

Explore Subject/Heading/Descriptors/Major Concepts found when during a test search in a relevant database. Use these found terms and phases in a new search.

For example:

Topic – "In the yellow fever and dengue vector Aedes aegypti, both sexes interact acoustically by shifting their flight tones to match, resulting in a courtship duet" (Lauren J. Cator, Lauren J., Arthur, Ben J., Harrington, Laura C. & Hoy, Ronald, R., 2009).

Keywords: Aedes aegypti, acoustics, mating
Subjects (found): Behavior; Reproduction; mating success; genetic quality; harmonic frequency; bioacoustic signal; flight tone; harmonic convergence; signal coevolution

Once you have identified the keywords, find a way to think of related terms and phrases. If you are having trouble identifying additional keywords, thesauri, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and online encyclopedias like Wikipedia can be great places to look for inspiration even though this background might not be specifically used in the project.

Using Subject Thesauri

Using Database Subject Thesauri & Terms

Take note of Subject/Heading/Descriptors found during a test search in a relevant database. Use these found terms and phases in a new search.

Many scientific dasebases use standardized subject headings - look for links to Subjects, Headings, MeSH, Major Concepts or Thesaurus to explore the standard terms used to group similar articles. These terms can be used to help generate more ideas for your research and make your searches more precise.

Build a good search by doing a broad search with no limits. Be prepared to do several similar fast searches, quickly scanning the titles found. Redo the search in steps, adding one limit at each step. This allows you to see where things start getting better or go wrong. Do NOT limit to full text unless there are still too many records in the final search. The Click here for more information link will very, very often connect to full text in one of many other UT Arlington library databases.

For example: In the database Biological Abstracts, using the Major Concepts link, typing in reproduction will display the following -


Scope Note: The study of the processes involved in the production of offspring. Includes studies on all forms of sexual and asexual reproduction and reproductive structures in plants. Examples include fission, sporulation, cell division of a single cell organism, parthenogenesis, fertilization, syngamy, pollination, and viral reproduction. Examples include fission, sporulation, cell division of a single cell organism, parthenogenesis, fertilization, syngamy, pollination, and viral reproduction.
For non-clinical studies, see Reproductive System.
See also Development; Molecular Genetics.

Narrower Terms: Reproduction System
Related Terms: Development      Molecular Genetics

Broaden/Limit Search Results

It is important to know when to broaden or narrow/limit a search. Broaden the search if there are few or inaccurate results.

Ways of broadening a search:

  • Truncation symbols (*, ?, etc.) - example: biolog* =  returns terms that match these first letters: biological, biologically, biology, or any matches
  • Use "OR" for alternate spellings or synonyms- example: Aedes aegypti OR dengue mosquito*

Narrow or limit thesearch when - there are a very large number of hits or if the search topic is very broad.

Ways of limiting/narrowing a search:

  • Phrase searching - Use " " - this will find words together in same order - example: "dengue mosquito"
  • Use "AND" - to combine words - e.g. "structural steel' AND design
  • Use menus to select where the search term must located - in the title, as an author name, as a formal subject, etc.
  • If available, use the check boxes for that database's limits. In EBSCOHost databases, these can be found by clicking on the Refine Your Seach, Show More link. 


Important Terms

Peer Reviewed Articles: Articles that have been evaluated by other professionals in the field to check for accuracy and adherence to disciplinary standards.

Primary Article: Report of a study or set of studies written by the researchers who did the study. Usually includes an introduction and labled sections that include (a)Introduction, (b) MethodsMethodology, orMaterials and Methods, (c) Results, and (d)Discussion and/or Conclusion. The article will also have a list of highly relevantReferences and may have various charts, graphs, and/or graphics explaining the methods and results.

Qualitative Studies: Research on the quality of the experience under study. If microbiological, will be about number and type of detected microbes. If human research, investigates beliefs, attitludes, opinions, etc. and will have few participants, often less than 20. Usually includes quotations or transcripts of participants' conversations.

Quantiative Studies: Research that includes counting occurences of the aspects of the phenomenon being studied. Counts may be incidence of disease or number of people who checked a specific box on a form. Many participants, usually more than 50. Usually includes tables and statistical information related to the data being counted.  

Scholarly Sources: Well researched sources that have been written for scholars and experts in the discipline area.

Secondary Article: Summary or overview a study or series of studies that is often written by someone other than the researchers who performed the study. If written by the researchers themselves, the article will reference back to the primary studies that have been published earlier. Often written in a more conversational style and has far fewer charts and graphs showing specific results.

Standard Headings (Controlled Vocabulary): Specific words & phrases used in databases to standarize meaning and orgranize the content.