BIOL 100: Survey of Biology (Bodas)

This guide is for students in Kanchan Bodas' sections of Biology 100. Use this guide for your biology research projects.

Research Strategies for Biology 100 Bodas

Research is a Strategic Process

Before you dive in, take a moment to set yourself up for research success!

  • Strategize Keywords that capture what you are researching.
  • Strategize Sources that should be useful for your specific project.
  • Strategize Effective Searches - with your keywords in library databases.

Be sure to read through the three steps outlined on this page and watch the video, "Searching Databases with Keywords."

I also recommend using this research log to keep track of the keywords and sources you identify along the way.

Strategize Keywords

Identify keywords that capture the main concepts you want to research. 

If I start with this research topic and questions:

  • Genetic Modification of Food Crops: Do the potential benefits outweigh possible negative environmental consequences? Are GM foods safe to eat?

My starting keywords might be:

  • genetic modification of food crops 
  • benefits
  • consequences
  • safety 
Sample keyword chart
Key Concept 1: Key Concept 2: Key Concept 3: Key Concept 4:
genetic modification of food crops benefits consequences safety
Synonyms/ Related Ideas Synonyms/ Related Ideas Synonyms/ Related Ideas Synonyms/ Related Ideas

GM foods




environmental impact



Use a variety of search terms and look for the terminology of the field and key concepts as you go. Keep track of the new words you find! 


Strategize Information Sources 

Information is created for different purposes and audiences. 

  • For your project, you are required to use two scholarly articles. Check the chart below to see why!
  • I also suggest using at least one reference article to get started. Academic encyclopedia articles will give you the big picture on a topic - and that's useful to have before turning to scholarship!
Consider the Information Timeline
There are many type of sources you can get your info from, so....which source should you use?

It depends...

  • are you looking for info on a general theme?  Consider the "Your Info Need" in the chart below  
    • It is generally helpful to start with Reference Sources first, then choose other source types based on the level of info most helpful to you
  • are you looking for info on a specific event in time?  Consider the "Timeline" in the chart below

(Click on image to enlarge)

Image of a table showing the breakdown of the information timeline, outlined also in the text below the image.

As shown in the image above, information is created, recorded, and distributed various different mediums at different times. 

Information Timeline 

The event occurs and…

  • Within minutes or hours - you can find info on Social media platforms – such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc.

    • Good for: short personal reactions, opinion, announcements

  • Within hours, a day – you can find info in Newspapers, news sites, TV, Radio – such as, BBC radio, New York Times, etc.

    • Good for: current or local info, facts, viewpoints, breaking news

  • Within a week to a month – you can find info in Magazines or Trade journals – such as Time, People Magazine, Wired, Education Week, etc.

    • Good for: summaries of info, some analysis for general public or specific profession

  • Within 6 to 8 months later and continuing – you can find info in Peer-Reviewed scholarly journals­ - such as like Nature, Journal of American Medical Association, etc.

    • Good for:  deep analysis of specific topics in academic research

  • Within 1 year later and continuing – you can find info in Books and Films – such as non-fiction, biographies, documentaries, etc.

    • Good for: thorough, comparative coverage of a topic history, complexity

  • Within 2 years later and continuing – you can find info in Reference Sources – such as encyclopedias, textbooks, atlases, manuals, etc.

    • Good for: broad overviews, key issues, statistics, topic specialized vocabulary

Image source: all images here created by GRC librarians


Strategize your Searches

You've identified useful search terms, or keywords, for your topic, and you've thought about where to look for the info you need. 

Search Tips and Tricks

Use these tips and tricks to search effectively in library databases: 

Helpful Search Strategies

When you search in library databases:

  • Use quotation marks to keep words together.
    • Ex: "genetic modification of food crops"
  • Use OR to search for synonyms or like words. 
    • Ex: "genetic modification of food crops" OR "GM food" OR "genetically modified food"
  • Use AND to narrow and focus your search.
    • Ex: GMOs AND environment
  • Use truncation to search for forms of a word
    • Ex: GMOs AND environment* looks for environment, environmental, and environmentalism
  • Use NOT to omit some results from a search.
    • Ex: NOT reviews

Keep searches simple using basic search words and phrases rather than natural language and sentences.

  • Ex: search nutrition AND "fast food" instead of what is the nutritional value of fast food? 

Let library databases help you:

  • Look for useful Subject Terms associated with an article and try them to find more
  • Click on the title of an article that looks relevant and read the abstract, which is a summary of the article. That will help you decide if it is useful and worth reading, and also, if it's comprehensible.
  • Use the data limits available in databases to find things that are more current.

Video: Using Keywords in Databases

This video uses the sample research question: "Does bilingualism impact the reading skills of teenagers?

While that question is not on your list, this video offers a very useful "think aloud" of the research process - from identifying keywords on a topic, brainstorming additional keywords, and using those search terms effectively in library databases. 

Source: "Searching Databases with Keywords" by lehmanlibrary , is licensed under a Standard YouTube License.