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Gerstein Science Information Centre

BIO120: Adaptation and Biodiversity

This guide will assist BIO120 students, as well as other biology students, when starting to look for and gather research for papers and assignments.

Where Do I Begin?

American Flamingo or Caribbean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) dragonfly

Images: cliff1066 (flamingo) and  Er. We (dragonfly) /

Starting with just a photograph, how do I come up with information on my species? How can I come up with ideas for a proposal?

First, study your photograph. What about the animal is interesting? Unique? Is there anything about the morphology that looks important for its survival or reproduction? Are there any behaviours evident in the photograph that might serve a purpose? Write down some notes before you start your research.

Then, research your species. Use the following tutorial to help you come up with keywords to use in a web or library search. When in doubt, try something - you might be surprised with what you come up with.

Finally, think about the facts you learn while researching your species. Is there anything that strikes you as unusual or interesting about the species' environment or interactions with other species? Does any of this information correspond with what you have noticed about the species' morphology or behaviour?

From an image to keywords

Here is an example:

Image of a hawk moth

Image from USDA USDA Forest Service
Hawk moth (Eumorpha typhon)

Examine the photograph. What do you notice??   Hmmm.... that's a pretty long tongue.

Try these keywords: hawk moth AND  tongue

  1. Go to Google and enter hawk moth tongue. The first item in the results is a page from the USDA Forest Services and when we scan this page, we notice another word for "tongue" is "proboscis":
  2. Try the search again with a new/additional term:
    • We can do another search for "hawk moth proboscis"
    • Article from Wikipedia is near the top and has general background information:
    • This Wikipedia article also has References at the end of the article which can lead you to further
  3. Then, we can then look at the references to see which are available from the library:
    • e.g. "Grimaldi, David & Engel, Michael S. (2005): Evolution of the Insects. Cambridge University Press"  is available from several UofT Libraries: Evolution of the insects

Developing Keywords

Choosing Keywords

The first step in choosing keywords is to think about what information you need to search for. This seems obvious, and to a certain extent you are probably already doing it. But a more systematic approach will reward you.

  1. Break the search down into the key concepts:

    • hawk moth and tongue
  2. Brainstorm (or look for in your background reading) synonyms. Tip: You will get more results if you use the common and scientific names for organisms.
    • hawk moth OR sphingidae
    • tongue OR proboscis
  3. Combine these terms in a logical way:
    • OR: combines synonyms -  hawk moth OR sphingidae (either of these concepts should be present in results - not ALL terms need to be present)
    • AND: use when combining different concepts since both these concepts need to be present in results
    • (hawk moth OR sphingidae) AND (tongue OR proboscis)
  4. Things to consider when considering words/terms to include in your search:
    • think of synonyms
    • think of plural and singular variations of words (e.g. moth or moths)
    • use truncation to search for singular and plural versions of words: (e.g. moth*)
    • think of spelling variations: (e.g. behaviour OR behavior)

Additional Search Tips

Too Many Results?

  1. Did you combine with OR rather than AND? Remember to combine similar terms with OR
    (e.g. SARS OR severe acute respiratory syndrome and different terms with AND (e.g. SARS AND vaccines)
  2. Is there a more specific term or phrase you can use?
    e.g. SARS instead of infectious disease?
  3. Is there another word or phrase you can add? The more words you AND together, the more focused your results.
    e.g. SARS AND vaccines AND human
  4. Can you limit your search words/terms to the title or subject/descriptor fields? This makes for a more precise search.
  5. Can you limit your search by publication year or language?

Too Few Results?

  1. Did you combine all your words with AND? Remember to combine similar terms with OR
    e.g. SARS OR severe acute respiratoty syndrome
  2. Use a wildcard (*) to retrieve different word endings (plural vs. singular, Canadian vs. American spelling).
    e.g. vaccin* to find vaccine, vaccines, vaccination, etc.
  3. Consider using more broad terms.
    e.g. infectious diseases instead of SARS
  4. Remove limits such as publication year.
  5. Try another journal article database.
  6. Look for references cited in the articles you find

Web Search Strategies (Video)

Common Craft Web Serach Strategies Video