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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

BIOLOGY 312 Writing In Biology - Mary Packard

Recommended Databases for Your Paper

Here are a few databases that are good starting points to look for articles on your topic. For more options, use the link on the Link to Biology Research Guide page and go to the Find Articles tab.

Search Tips

These options are available in any database that has a dropdown menu with "AND" "OR" and "NOT" next to the search boxes, usually in the Advanced Search format.  Go to the Web of Science page on this Guide for a few more options that work in some databases but not others.

Search Term Connectors:

Use AND to find articles that contain both words you enter. AND narrows your search.

Use OR to find articles that contain either word you enter. OR broadens your search.

Use NOT to find articles that exclude words or terms you don't want. NOT narrows your search.

Finding Full Text & Interlibrary Loan

When you find an article you want, you can click on the UMass search button to get the full text.

The UMass search button connects to a tool that will find the full text online if it is available in any of the databases UMass has access to.

  • It will also search the library catalog to see if the library has it in print.

If an article or book is unavailable at UMass Amherst, you can get it using our Interlibrary Loan service. There will be a link to Request this resource through Interlibrary Loan on the window that opens after you click the UMass search button.

  • Here's a screenshot as an example of you might see after clicking the UMass search button.

More about Interlibrary Loan

To log into Interlibrary Loan use your UMass NetID and password (same as what you use for SPIRE and Moodle or Blackboard).

The first time you use Interlibrary Loan, you will be prompted to fill out a profile form, so we know who you are and how to contact you when your item arrives.

  • NOTE: In the Delivery Preferences section of the profile form, you must choose a Loan Delivery Method and a Pickup Location. All article requests are delivered electronically, so these options do not apply to articles.

After completing the profile, you should then see a pre-populated article request form. Make sure all the required fields are completed (sometimes they don't all transfer to the form), then submit it and usually in 1-2 business days you'll get an email that your article has arrived! The email will include a link into the Interlibrary Loan system, where your article PDF will be available to print or download.

Browsing Scientific Literature - By Journal

If you are interested in browsing some of the peer-reviewed science and medical journals, here are some suggested titles to start with.

NOTE: Not everything in these journals is peer-reviewed. Be sure to look for research articles (with Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, References) to use in your assignments!

Review Articles

Review articles are good ways to get an overview of a topic or subfield. Some publications only print reviews, but many others publish review articles along with research articles.

Is the journal Peer Reviewed?

Many of your assignments will require you to locate articles from Peer Reviewed journals. Some databases include an option to limit your search results to only articles from peer reviewed journal.

Other databases, like PubMed, do not. There are several ways you can find out if a journal is peer reviewed.

  • One of the easiest ways is to look the journal title up using the eJournals link on the UMass Amherst Libraries home page. Above the journal title, it will say peer reviewed if it is.

    Or, you can look it up in the Ulrich's database (linked below). Peer reviewed (also called refereed) journals will have this symbol next to the title:

Nature News and Views - Writing for a Nonspecialist Audience

These articles inform nonspecialist readers about new scientific advances, as reported in recently published papers (in Nature and elsewhere). This is a commission-only section.

While this type of article is intended for a general audience, the authors are experts on the topic.  Every detail should be accurate, and the goal is to unpack any inconsistencies or inaccuracies the news may have reported. 

Investigate the style of News & Views articles in Nature journals to get a feel for how to write your own.  Here are just some of the Nature journals available.  Open a specific issue, then scroll through the table of contents to find the News & Views articles (requires NetID login): 

Popular Science Articles

There are many places to find popular science articles or articles written more for the general population than career scientists. Some suggested websites and journals:

Science in the News

Many regular news outlets have specific Science and Health/Medicine sections.  Here are examples from the New York Times. See the next box for instructions on signing up for a New York Times online account.

Create New York Times Account

New York TImes Online
UMass Amherst Libraries have purchased access to the New York Times Academic Pass program for the UMass Amherst campus. To register for your academic account to the New York Times, you'll need a UMass Amherst email address. 

Follow the Registration instructions on our New York TImes Online guide to set up your account.

Background Research

You might not be very familiar with your topic to start.  Coming up with good keywords to use in a database can be challenging.  Use reference sources like encyclopedias to investigate your topic.  You can discover new keywords and form a more complete picture of your topic before diving into the journal literature.

Reputable Websites

These websites are not traditional news outlets but they often need to summarize important science information for a general audience.  They must be concise, clear, and informative: attributes you are aiming for in all of your writing in this course.