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Earth & Environmental Sciences Research Guide

Think About Your Search

What type of publication do you need?

Use different databases and search engines to retrieve different publication types
Most library databases have filters you can use to retrieve only selected publication types.

   Journal articles (primary, review articles, systematic reviews, etc.)

   Books, book chapters

   Proceedings of conference presentations (often abstracts only)

   Theses and dissertations

   Research reports (from government, research or professional organizations)


   Trade Publications

   Magazine articles

   News sources




Scholarly Articles

   ♦  Scholarly journal articles are written by and for people in the same and or related academic or professional fields.
   ♦  They use terminology specific to the field.
   ♦  They aim to contribute to the scholarly conversation by advancing knowledge.
   ♦  They are usually peer-reviewed (aka "refereed") or undergo an editorial review by specialists
       in the discipline or profession.
   ♦  They carefully document (cite) their sources, and these cited references may point to earlier sources
       relevant to your topic.
   ♦  Scholarly journal articles also may include links to files with useful supplementary information.

Primary Research Articles

Primary / First / "I" / eye for eyewitness=primary eyewitness 

Scholarly journals include articles that are reports and discussions of the results of original research, are written by those who carried out the studies, and are based on the results of their experiments or observations.

These articles are also called primary research articles.

In the social sciences, they are often referred to as empirical articles, and the studies use qualitative or quantitative research methods.

Typical Format of a Primary Research Article
  • Abstract: summary of what the study is about, how the research was conducted, what the findings are.
  • Introduction and Literature Review: background of problem, reasons for/objectives of the study, prior research & literature on the topic.
  • Methods & Results: how the study was conducted, what was found (samples, measurement, procedures)
  • Discussion & Conclusion: Interpretation of the results, summary of important findings & their meaning to the field; sometimes what the limitations of the study are and need for future research.
  • References
  • [May include] Appendices or Supplemental Information files
Anatomy of a Scholarly Article (interactive graphic). NCSU Libraries
How to Read a Scientific Paper (pdf slides) Purdue University Libraries

Is This A Primary Research Article?? How To Tell

1. Is the journal academic/scholarly? Does it include peer-reviewed articles?

A.  Search for your journal title in  Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory to see if it is scholarly/academic
      and refereed (peer-reviewed).

B. Use the Scholarly/Academic Journals limit within many databases
     Most article databases allow you to limit your results to only scholarly/academic journals.
     (Use other methods to verify if some results seem wrong: this method does not always work well.)

C. Check the journal's website
    Search for the journals website. It will describe the purpose of the journal.
    Look in the  About This Journal section, or in the Instructions to Authors to see if the journal is peer-reviewed.

2.  Is it a primary research article? (i.e., a report of original research, written by the researcher(s))

Even if you have determined that the journal in which an article was published is scholarly, these journals usually also contain other types of articles such as editorials, commentary, review articles, book reviews, and news.

A.  Clues you might find in the abstract include words such as:
      study, results, methods/methodology, data, experimental, field trial

B.  Look at the format of the article. Does it follow the typical format?

What Are You Searching For?

Build Your Search

Main concept
    common name, scientific name: bladder cancer, bladder neoplasms;    sleeping sickness, African trypanosomiasis  

Modify that concept: What aspects?
    etiology, epidemiology, therap*, treatment, prevention, control, vectors, transmission, diagnosis, 
    complications, drug therapy, risk factors, biological control, prevalence


Take Control of Your Search

Use Boolean Operators to specify how to connect your search words:
       and to get results including both terms
       or to search either term
       not to omit a word from the results
Use an asterisk * to get different word endings:   photosynthe* to get photosynthesis, photosynthetic, photosynthesize, etc.)
Use quotation marks around words to have them searched as a phrase:   "rumen fermentation"

Play With Your Search

Try adding different aspects to your main concept, synonyms, broader or more specific terms.
        Look at terms used in the title, abstract, and subjects of results that you like for ideas.

What options does the database/search engine give for you to Refine Your Results?
        e.g., publication dates, publication types (e.g. scholarly journals), age groups, human/animal, language...

To get more

Use * for alternate word endings
        e.g.,   sustainab* retrieves sustainable, sustainability etc.

Use the different search lines to enter key words (not sentences) describing the different components of your search topic

Redo your search using new keywords you find in article titles, abstracts, and subject terms given to the articles by the database

Use or between synonyms or alternate concepts
        e.g.,    greenhouse gases* or ghg* or carbon dioxide

Use fewer search terms. 
Each time you put in another search term (unless they are synonyms combined with or)  you will get fewer results.
Start with a small number of keywords and then add more terms or try different terms based on your results.

To get less

Use quotation marks around words you want searched as a phrase
e.g.,  "greenhouse gases"

Databases usually offer ways to Limit or Refine your search results, such as:
   to Scholarly/Peer-reviewed journals
   by publication date range
   to journal articles only (or books, dissertations, etc)

Some databases also have specific limits or search options such as:
   Age Groups

Add more search terms:
Each time you put in another search term, you will retrieve fewer results.
    Start with a small number of keywords and then add more terms or try different terms based on your results.
    Use the different search lines to enter more  key words (not sentences) describing different components of your topic
    In articles that look good, look for other terms in the title, abstract, and subjects.

What is it:
    A primary research article? 
    A review article (which surveys, summarizes, and gives context to primary research articles on a specific topic)?
    A dissertation?  

Is it relevant to your specific topic, does it give you useful background information, or use a methodology you could use or adapt to your project?

Does publication date matter? If so, is it in an appropriate date range?

Watch for other terms that you can search with that might bring back other results