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BIO 2103 General Biology - Botany, Evolutionary Mechanisms, and Ecology: Get Started



Assignment Objectives:

  1. Recognize the links between your personal area of interest in biology and botany, ecology or evolution by finding two (or more if you need to use interlibrary loan) article citations that relate to your interests in biology and a topic considered in BIO 2103.
  2. Improve your skills in literature searching by comparing three SPU library databases using advanced search techniques including Boolean operators (e.g. AND; OR), truncation symbols and other search approaches to construct the optimal search for your topic in each database.


  1. Learn a little about how databases work (Boolean operators, Truncation, and Parentheses)
  2. Individually, deeply investigate 3 of the 5 databases provided by the SPU library for researching biology topics (try out a variety of topics, but pay particular attention to your intended topic).
  3. Search at least 1 of theses databases for research articles on your topic, keeping track of the search terms you used (and any special features you tried).
  4. Find two article citations that relate to your specific area of interest in biology and a topic considered in BIO 2103 (botany, ecology, or evolution).
  5. Describe the experience on the Discussion Board in Canvas (see below for the questions asked in the discussion board).

1. Boolean operators, Truncation, and Parentheses

Boolean Logic: watch this short video on Boolean operators (e.g. AND; OR or NOT)

  • AND means that both ideas must be present (makes for more narrow results) - Fungi and Cancer
  • OR means that either idea may be present (makes for broader results) - Fungi OR Mushrooms
  • NOT means that on idea will be excluded from the results (make for more narrow results) - (Fungi OR Mushrooms) NOT Yeast

Parentheses: using parenthesis along with Boolean operators can help the database know what results you want (read the Boolean operators in the correct order).

  • This search, Cancer AND Fungi OR Mushrooms, will return articles about cancer and fungi and articles about mushrooms
  • This search, cancer AND (Fungi OR Mushrooms), will return articles about cancer and fungi and articles about cancer and mushrooms

In the EBSCO databases I will usually put synonyms in the same box with an OR and different concepts each in their own box (the boxes effectivly work as parentheses in the search:

screen capture of a EBSCOHost Database (MEDLINE) search showing cancer or neoplasm or tumor in one box and fungi or mushrooms in the second box

Truncation symbols: most databases allow the use of * to truncate a word.  In searching it will return results for any word that starts with the characters you enter for example: nurs* = nurse, nurses, nursing, and nursery (this can be very helpful if a word has multiple endings, but also note that this last word, nursery, actually has a different meaning than the rest, so sometimes truncating can bring in some irrelevant results.

Search strategy: Searching databases in a consistent, structured manner will save you time. Keeping track of your search history can help you refine your topic, your thinking and your search strategy, and ultimately retrieve more relevant results. After each search, relect on your keywords and synonyms and how these influence your search results.

Steps in developing a search strategy include:

   - defining terms and write down your research question 
    - identify, and keep track of key words, terms, and phrases
   - identify keyword synonyms or reflect on narrower (or broader search terms)
   - determine a timeframe for search results
   - consider what type of material you will include and why (in this case there are some assignment requirements
   - identify where you will search for the information

2. & 3. Biology Databases at SPU

Using the Science Database Chart (two pages) as a guide, and the Possible Topics Handout for optional topics to search, - both available in the Handouts Box on this page - investigate 3 of these database.  Think like a Scientist as you try out the databases!  Did something unexpected happen?  Did you get more or fewer results than expected.  What happens in you try different terms or limiter options?

4. Find your two articles

Keeping track of the search terms and strategies you used, construct a search that returns mainly results that are relevant to your topic. Then from those results select two articles that fulfill the assignment criteria.

The articles you find must include the following features:

  • be on the same topic (narrowed from a topic on the approved list, or approved as an alternative by Carrie Fry)
  • be related to botany, ecology, or evolution AND related to your specific area of interest in biology
  • come from a journal that is sub-discipline of biology
    • not a broad journal such as NatureScienceScientific AmericanPLOS One, etc.
    • nor from another discipline such as American Biology Teacher, which is primarily for the education discipline
  • be either a review or research article, not a news item, book review, etc.

Format your references using this style:

First Author Last name, First Initials, Additional Authors First Initials Last Name, and Last Author's First Initials Last Name. Year. Article Title. Journal Title Volume:page numbers

Nelson, T. A., A. V. Nelson and M. Tjoelker. 2003. Seasonal patterns in ulvoid algal biomass, productivity, and key environmental factors in the Northeast Pacific.   Botanica Marina 46:235-246

5. Discussion Board Questions & Sample Answers

After completing the assignment above (investigating 3 of the 5 library resources and finding two possible articles to turn in to Drs. Long and Nelson).  Please write a Discussion post in Canvas answering these three questions:

1. What is something that you learned about the databases while trying them out?

This could be a new search strategy, a new search limiter, or something you learned about Boolean operators (and, or , not).  I know you can find something!  I have been using these databases for years and still find cool new tricks!

2.  Describe your topic and how you narrowed it down to something more manageable  from one of the broader pre-approved topics. 

For example, perhaps you started with the pre-approved topic Biologically active compounds from fungi, and narrowed down the idea to a specific use: fungi and breast cancer.  Did you make that leap by searching generally and seeing what caught your eye?  By looking in an encyclopedia or on the web for possible bioactive compounds?  Or some other way?

3. Include your search strategy (for at least one database) showing how you improved your search.  I want some evidence that you tried some things out - and didn't just go with the first thing you located.

For example, I did a search for (fungi and bioactive compounds) and then when I was looking through them several were on cancer, so then I went to the encyclopedia AccessScience and looked up fungi and cancer and skimmed an article about Mushrooms and Breast Cancer to get an idea of some good search terms: this gave me some ideas of specific mushrooms I could search for (Lentinus (Lentinula), Auricularia, Hericium, Grifola, Flammulina, Pleurotus, and Tremella) - if I hadn't found anything with my general search, I would have tried these out. Then I went back to MEDLINE - the medicine database - and searched for:

(fungi and breast cancer) - there were 319 results, next I decided to broaden out fungi and also search for mushrooms

((fungi or mushroom) and breast cancer) -  462 results, looking through these results, I realized that while they had the words fungi or mushroom in the record, they weren't really looking at the fungi as a bioactive compound, so I decided to add that back in

((fungi or mushroom) and (bioactive or biologically active) and breast cancer) - 49 results, this seemed reasonable, so i decided to use limiters to bring my number of results down more

so using the above search I limited my results to the last 5 years - 30 results
then I said the word Cancer had to be in the title of the article - 11 results
of these 11 - many were available via full-text through Google Scholar, so I had my pick of articles


Finally, regarding how the databses work, please comment on one other post where someone shared something that was new, interesting, or is helpful for you when searching.