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UMass Amherst Libraries

BIOLOGY 312 Writing In Biology - Ben Normark

Resources to help with your various writing assignments

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:

Getting the Full Text

Many databases index articles but do not have the full text.  You will need to click on the UMLinks button  to get to the full text.  UMLinks will search the databases and collections the UMass Libraries own, and take you to a new page with your options:

options for full text

If we don't have that article or book the 'Full Text' and the 'Catalog Information' sections will be empty.  The Libraries can still get you the full text!  Use the Interlibrary Loan link. It will bring you to your Interlibrary Loan account, where you can submit a request.

More about Interlibrary Loan

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.

The profile form also asks you to choose a campus pickup location. This does not mean you have to come to campus to retrieve your articles!  All article requests are filled electronically.

After completing the profile, you should then see a pre-populated article request form. Make sure all the required fields are completed (sometimes there's a glitch and they don't all transfer to the form), then submit it.  Within about 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 download.

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!