Skip to Main Content
Hunter Library
Research Guides
Western Carolina University

Biology 697: Home

Biology Research Guide & Databases

Search Strategies

Research is messy. We want the path to look like this:

Example of straight line in research


But most of the time, research looks like this:

Reality of messy research.

It is not unusual to need to look for more information as you make your way through your initial idea or topic, planning and research methodology, or results. And as you do that, you may create searches that find the perfect article and searches that get you nothing that is useful or informative. What to do?  The key is to be flexible with your topic and to think more broadly about related concepts.  Here's an example:

You are studying the taxonomy for a specific plant species.  You've exhausted all of the literature that you can find using the species name but your professor says that you need to study more background information.  That might mean thinking more broadly about species concepts, species delimitation, hybridization, introgression, relictual species, etc. - all as they relate to botany (or even a types of plant: wildflowers, woody plants, succulents).

Google Search Tips


Tips for making Google work better for you!

  1. Use - before a word to exclude it:  environmental science -law
  2. Use quotation marks for words/phrases (see Krista's search tips above):  "green technology"
  3. Limit results to a certain site or domain:
  4. Enter most important term first:  environmental fire effects

See UWW's list for additional tips!

You can accomplish a lot of these same tips by using Google's advanced search!

Background, Background, Background

Citation Searching & Surfing

Citation searching can be a very valuable tool for finding additional research about or closely related to your research topic.  Here are the main three types and how they help you:

  1. Cited references
    The bibliography or reference list of an article. Helps you determine where a) the original article got its information and b) what was known at the time. Useful for finding related and potentially useful articles but also for tracking down original research that's secondarily cited.
  2. Citing references
    Articles that cite this article.  Helps you find newer research related to your topic and can help track changes in research over time.
  3. Related references
    Who else is citing the same resources in a bibliography or reference list?  Helps you find related research.  The higher the percentage of citations shared, the more likely the research is related.

Best bets for citation searching:

All scientific topics:

Biological-related topics:


Chemistry and biochemical topics

Google Scholar Tips

If you are using Google Scholar (GS) - particularly if you are using it from off campus - you'll want to connect it with Hunter Library's resources.  That means that when you search, GS will include full text options from Hunter library for you.  Once you get that set up, here's what it looks like:

Google Scholar citation result with orange arrows pointing to FullText@WesternCarolinaU link.

So how do you set this up?  Follow these steps!

  1. Go to Google Scholar and look for the three vertical lines in the top left corner.
  2. This opens an options menu in Google Scholar.
  3. Select "Settings" (it's the one with the gear icon).
  4. Look for "Library links" in the list of options in the top left corner.
  5. Type in Western Carolina University to search for Hunter Library.
  6. Check the box next to Western Carolina University - FullText@WesternCarolinaU.
  7. Click the Save button.

And that's it, you will now be linked to many of the library's holdings in Google Scholar.  You can then click on "FullText@WesternCarolinaU" when it appears next to a citation and be taken to WCU's access to the content.  If you are off campus, you will be asked to login.

Great Tools for Research Articles

Full Text FTW


The catalog links you to access points that we have for scholarly journals. <unnecessary caps, probably> YOU CANNOT LOOK UP JOURNAL ARTICLES USING THE CATALOG </end unnecessary caps>.  The catalog does not function as a index to the contents of journals.  You need to use a database or search within the publication itself (I will show you how!).


Ask me!

You asked and I'm answering!

  1. What is a review article?
  2. Are there physical copies of some journals in the library
  3. What's the fastest way to search for articles?
  4. How do I use Zotero?
  5. How long does it take to access articles via Interlibrary Loan?

1.  What is a review article?

A review article is an article that reports on the findings of other empirical or primary research articles.  I think of it as a "state of the state" about a specific research area or topic.  For that topic, review articles often address questions such as: what do we know, what don't we know, what are some possible shortcomings of current research, etc.  It does not itself report any of its own experiments or findings. 

2.  Are there physical copies of some journals in the library?

There are physical copies of journals in the library but we have fewer than we have ever had primarily due to a) migrating many of our holdings to online only so that more of our WCU community members can have easy access and b) due to recent mold outbreak in the library.   We do not have an easy to browse comprehensive list, but you can do a journal search on your favorite title and both print and electronic holdings will appear.  If you have other questions about journals, feel free to ask me directly.

3.  What's the fastest way to search for journal articles?

This is actually very topic dependent.  However, I still have some info to share.  Front loading thinking about your topic rather than just googling incessantly is actually faster even if it feels harder at first.  That means making a list of key ideas and concepts you want to search (plus any variations of those).  The second thing is to pick a good database, generally one that is more focused on your topic.  For example, using Medline for biomedical or molecular biology topics or Zoological Record for zoological topics.  Lastly, know when to stop and ask for help.  If you aren't making progress after half an hour of trying, reach out to a librarian - sometimes it's simply a matter of adjusting keywords or switching to a new database (maybe even one you didn't know about).

4.  How do you use Zotero?

That's really more than I can answer here so feel free to set up an appointment with me.  However, we do have a good Zotero guide that can help you get started!

5.  How long does it take to access articles in Interlibrary Loan?

Another "it depends" answer here.  Generally it is quite quick, a few days but it can vary from that to just a few hours to over a week.  It depends on the journal we are trying to request and how quickly lending libraries respond to us.  After we send the request, it's up to the lending libraries to send us a copy of the item.  One way to make it quicker for journal articles is to include the ISSN for the journal.  An ISSN identifies that specific journal and can make it much easier for us to request the correct one.  If you are on the publisher's website, look for it, it will a series of numbers like this:  1234-4321.  We do not guarantee an arrival time ever, and our interlibrary loan unit is not staffed after regular business horus, so do not procrastinate!