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.Biology Subject Guide: Introduction

Library and Internet resources useful for Biology students and researchers.


Key information

Introduction video

  • Use the tabs along the top of the page ↖↗ to find/learn about content types
  • If you are struggling, ask me ( or use the chat widget on the library homepage.
  • Never, ever pay for an article. We have lots of ways of getting it for you.
  • Use links from library pages to make sure that the vendors/publishers/websites recognize you as a WOU student (so you don't have to pay!)


When Searching

  • Use keywords, not sentences.
  • Break your concept down to the main ideas
  • Start with a few broad ideas/terms and add more as you go along to narrow your results down
  • Use parentheses to group terms e.g., (peanut butter OR jelly), and boolean terms (focus on "AND" and "OR") to make your search more effective:

    Image credit: Slippery Rock University



Searching Hacks

These are my favorite searching hacks:

  1. Truncation/Wildcards
    Truncation lets you search for a word that could have multiple endings. The symbol for truncation is usually an * at the point where the spelling of the word could change. For example, disease* AND zoo* would find articles with the terms disease/diseases and zoo/zoology/zoonotic/etc. in them. Truncation is very useful when you know one of your search terms has several endings, but all of the variations represent basically the same idea. It helps you search faster because you will not have to manually type in every possible word. Wildcards take the place of a single character in a word. For example woman and women are only one character off and we may want to find sources that include both. By replacing the a/e with a wildcard (often a ? but sometimes % or *), we can search for wom?n and cover both.
  2. Boolean searching
    Boolean searching (as shown in the graphic above), helps you search with greater precision. Using OR will bring back more results (but they only have to include one of your terms!). This is a great way to search synonyms or words with multiple spellings or that have been misspelled in the literature  (e.g. Kalapuya, Calapooia, Calapooya, Calapuya). AND and NOT help narrow your search. AND requires all of the terms be present and NOT will eliminate anything that contains the term.
  3. Mining subject terms/controlled vocabulary
    Did you know that most databases are organized using specific language to make them faster? A controlled vocabulary is a set of words that the folks who build the database use to categorize the main concepts of articles, so that all of the similar things are searched together. These are often called subject terms or keywords (sometimes there are both!). They are listed on the details page for articles and, when you click on them, they will take you to all of the other sources with that term. 
  4. Find a good article, then look at what it cited and who cited it.
    This is my favorite. Using a bibliography or even better, the cited by function in the library databases or Google Scholar (see right side of screen), is a fantastic way to let someone do a bunch of the research work for you. In order to write an article, the author has to explain how it fits into the literature. Take a look at what they've already done for you!

Finding articles that cite your source

We often use bibliographies to discover works that the scholar referenced.  These cited sources are necessarily older than the article.

How about reversing the process? Use Google Scholar to discover more recent works which cite the article or book you have.

Type the title of your article into the Google Scholar search box:

Google Scholar Search

Use the Cited by link at the bottom of the article's entry:

Google Scholar Result

Notice that the example "source" article above was published in 1995. See an annotated image of the Cited by results--all more recent scholarship than the original article.

Links to Google Scholar throughout the library's web pages are specially coded to tie in with our owned and licensed collections and to Interlibrary Loan when necessary, via the Find it at WOU link. Or, rather than hunting down the link every time, you can setting your Google Scholar preferences to connect with the library:

  • Sign into your Google account, and then go to Scholar Settings.
  • Type "wou" in the 'Library Links' section.
  • Select the access boxes for Western Oregon University, and click Save.
  • When you link into WOU library resources, authenticate yourself with your PawPrint when requested.

 Google Scholar preferences

Simply using the address without setting your preferences will cut you off from library access.