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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

BIOLOGY 312 Writing In Biology - Joshua Lonthair

Tips for Searching in a Database

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.

You can also narrow your search by putting a search phrase in quotation marks. For example, searching for "heart attack" will usually give you fewer results than just searching heart attack because it restricts results to those with the words next to each other, in that order.  This is phrase searching.

Many databases allow truncation where you enter the stem of your keyword but put an * instead of the end of the word: cranberr* will return both cranberry and cranberries.

I prefer using multiple lines to organize my search and group keywords. For example:

Web of Science advanced search demo of strategies

Is the Article Peer Reviewed?

Many of your assignments (now and in the future) will require you to locate peer reviewed articles. Some databases include an option to limit your search results to only articles from peer reviewed journals.*

Other databases, like PubMed, do not have a way to limit.  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 E-Journal Titles link on the UMass Amherst Libraries home page. The journal title will have an icon of a book with an eye over it next to it if it has peer reviewed content:book with eye icon 
  • Or, you can look it up in the Ulrich's database (see handout below). Peer reviewed (also called refereed) journals will have a symbol that looks like the striped shirt of a sports referee next to the title: referee's shirt icon

*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!

You've probably done peer review for fellow students in a class before.  For a refresher on how it works for scholarly papers, and why it's the highest quality information for new research, check out this brief video from librarians at North Carolina State University.

This video is available under a CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.  Credits:

  • Anne Burke: Project Co-Lead, Script, Storyboards
  • Andreas Orphanides: Project Co-Lead, Script, Technical Infrastructure
  • Hyun-Duck Chung: Original Script and Concept
  • Daria Dorafshar: Graphics and Animation
  • Kyle Langdon: Narration
  • Kim Duckett: Team Lead