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BIOA01 & BIOA02: Research & Writing Help

A guide describing how to find and use research and writing resources for your assignments.

Keyword searching VS descriptor searching

Keyword Searching:  Taking your best guess at the terms which will appear in articles on your topic can be an effective search strategy. However, you may get a number of irrelevant results. You also never know if you've found all the articles on your topic. 

Descriptor Searching:  Descriptors are the controlled vocabulary (or tags) used in a database to organize material.  If you can find the right descriptors for your topic, you can focus your search on relevant articles and be sure that you've found everything on your topic.

Search Strategies


Task Why am I doing this? More help

Choose keywords or descriptors for your topic, to use as search terms.

Developing an effective search strategy will help you get better quality results when searching the library catalogue, databases and the internet.

Try using:

Boolean operators 

Phrase searching



Choose a relevant journal database to search for scientific articles on your topic. Visit the 'FInd articles: By topic' tab in this guide to find a database with articles on your topic. Journal articles provide the most current information. Searching a database is a great way to find articles on a specific topic.

Types of journals

Finding Databases

Troubleshooting Your Search

  1. Check your spelling: Google your keywords to make sure you spelled them correctly.  

  2. Too many results?  Add keywords to focus your search results. For example, if you tried searcing the word pollutants, you might focus on a specific type (dioxins), industry (pulp & paper industry), and/or medium (water).  Check your course notes or look at your current search results for more ideas on focusing your search.

  3. Too few results?  Take keywords away to broaden your search.

  4. Try descriptors:  Using the database's own vocabulary (descriptors or subjects) can vastly improve your search.  Ask a librarian for help if needed.