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BIOL 171: General Biology: Preliminary Research

Information resources in the general life sciences

Preliminary Research

An important early step is to become familiar with the overall topic of interest. You'll get a sense of what is known on the subject and various subtopics. Follow your interests and decide on a specific focus for your research.

Explore your topic by using encyclopedias, scanning books, looking at headlines in the news and popular media, and by skimming journal titles and abstracts. 

Write down the terms, symbols, people, events, or categories used to describe your topic and your (ever more) specific focus. These words (and their synonyms) will help you to find additional information sources.

Preliminary Research Strategies

Use encyclopedias to gather leads...

such as terms, concepts, names, and more. 

Skim tables-of-contents & indexes of books

Glance through news & magazine articles

Browse websites or blog posts

Read titles & abstracts from journals

It's All in the Name(s)

Names are crucial to finding information about organisms. Each kind of life form may have many names:

  • a scientific name, genus & species, and
  • common names (including local & English names).

Note that an organism's name may have changed over time (more on this Plant Names page).

There's one more name to know: the family name.

As you do your research, make a list of all the names that refer to the organism plus its family name and variant spellings. Search using different names and spellings. 

Some resources may be organized by family or by genus. Some resources have common name indexes and scientific name indexes.

If you may not find information about your particular species, try looking for its genus.

When searching for your plant in a database or on the Web, try these tips:

  • Put quotation marks around the scientific name
  • String all the names & spellings together with OR, like this: "Ranunculus hawaiensis" OR makou OR "awa kanaloa" OR buttercup
  • Leave out any diacritics

How to Use Wikipedia for Academic Research

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