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BIOL 2120: Using Literature in Lab Reports

Search Strategies

1. Use Keywords

   Break down your topic into main ideas and brainstorm related terms and synonyms for your main concepts.



2. Search broadly to start. Use OR to search for all iterations of your concepts.


3. Narrow your topic as necessary, keeping in mind the following:


  • Time: Limit the time span that you are looking at. Narrowing your search to the last ten years, for example, will produce fewer results.
  • Event: Instead of focusing on The Civil War, for example, choose a particular battle to focus on
  • Place: Limit your topic by geographic area. Try limiting by country, state, or even city.
  • Population: Limit your search by age, race, gender, or occupation. Focusing on a particular population will narrow your focus.
  • Subtopic: Look at a particular area of a discipline. Instead of researching ecology, research grassland ecology or microbial ecology.


Enclosing a phrase in quotation marks is another way to narrow your search.

Power Internet Searching

If you are using Google, use it effectively and efficiently. Remember the below tips that we discussed:

Interdisciplinary Resources

Searching PubMed

PubMed is the go-to resource for scientific literature in the biomedical sciences. It is a very powerful tool; remember to use the following steps to locate literature that you can use in your lab reports.

1. Keywords

Start with keywords. Consider carefully whether or not you will use quotation marks or truncation, as this removes the "mapping" feature of PubMed.

2. MeSH

Search for MeSH terms on your topic using both the Advanced Search and the MeSH thesaurus available in the top dropdown menu. Searching the thesaurus allows you to locate helpful subheadings.

3. Reviews

Review articles summarize the literature and research on a topic, are sometimes easier to read and understand, and can be helpful in pointing you to other references.

4. Refine

You may need to add extra keywords to your search in order to get the most on-topic result.