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Searching for Articles

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Topic Searching

The Bio 1B Library Assignment focuses on the database BIOSIS Previews; however, most of the search strategies discussed here are applicable in other databases as well.

Starting your search: Developing keywords from a topic

To find articles on a topic you must craft a search strategy, which involves the following steps:

  1. Break your topic down into search terms (keywords).

    Example: if your topic is the impacts of climate change on the migration of marine mammals, the search terms for this topic would be climate change, migration, and marine mammals

    Note for the Bio 1B assignment: Your string of initial search terms should be given the way you would enter them in a database search box, without commas: climate change migration marine mammals

  2. Select an appropriate database in which to begin your search. You may find that you need to use more than one database; see Databases for Life Sciences Research for a descriptive list.

    Note for the Bio 1B assignment: You will be using BIOSIS Previews.

Building your search using AND/OR


  • is used for additional concepts to make the search more specific
  • will retrieve results that include ALL of the terms
  • should be used to join terms describing different concepts
    • Example: primates AND behavior
  • narrows a search to retrieve fewer results
  • in most databases and search engines, including AND is optional


  • is used to join synonyms for a concept
  • will retrieve results that include ANY of the terms
  • should be used to join terms describing the same concept
    • Examples: climate change OR global warming; migration OR movement
  • broadens a search to retrieve more results

Parentheses: if you're using both AND and OR in your search, use parentheses to group together terms connected with OR.

  • Less effective: global warming OR climate change AND marine mammals

    This search will retrieve every record that includes global warming, whether or not it has anything to do with marine mammals. It will also retrieve records that include both climate change and marine mammals.

  • More effective: (global warming OR climate change) AND marine mammal

    This search will retrieve all records that include marine mammal and either global warming or climate change

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Narrowing a Search

The strategies described here are helpful in refining a search if you've retrieved a large number of irrelevant records

Phrase searching

Enclosing two or more words in quotes will search for those words as a phrase. For example, a search on "marine mammal" will retrieve all records in which the words marine and mammal occur together, but no records in which they occur separately.

A common error is to enclose too many words in quotes. Only words that usually occur together should be enclosed in quotes. Usually, phrase searching on more than two words will limit your search too much.

  • Less effective:
  • "primary production in tropical rainforests"
  • More effective:
  • "primary production" AND "tropical rainforests"


Most article databases provide options to limit searches by various criteria. In BIOSIS, it's possible to limit searches by:

  • Date
  • Document Type (article, book chapter, etc.)
  • Literature Type (such as literature reviews... learn more)
  • Language
  • Major Concept (Ecology, Behavior, etc.)
  • Taxonomic Data

All of these options are available in the "Refine Results" sidebar, which is visible in the results screen after you've done an initial search in BIOSIS.

The BIOSIS quick guide contains additional information about searching in BIOSIS.

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Broadening a Search

The following strategies may be helpful if your search has retrieved too few results.

Add synonyms with OR

Adding synonyms to your search is a powerful way to retrieve more results. For instance, an author may write about climate change but not mention global warming. By incorporating (global warming OR climate change) into your search, cover more of the possible ways in which that concept can be expressed. More about using OR

One common error is to use OR to join terms that don't express the same concept. This will generally retrieve far too many irrelevant results:

  • Less effective: migration OR birds
  • More effective: migration OR movement


You can broaden a search by using truncation to find different forms of a search term.

Example: If migration is one of your search terms, you would want to retrieve articles that include the following forms of the term:

  • migrate
  • migrated
  • migrates
  • migrating
  • migration
  • migrator
  • migratorial
  • migratory, etc.

Find the last letter that is common to all of the different forms of the term, and after it place the wildcard character (in BIOSIS Previews and many other databases, an asterisk (*)):

  • migrat*

Beware: If you truncate incorrectly, you will either miss relevant results, or retrieve irrelevant results:

  • migrati* will miss migrate, migrated, migrates, etc., which are all relevant.
  • migra* will retrieve migraine, an irrelevant word.

Some words shouldn't be truncated:

  • gene* will find genetic and genes, but will also find general, generally, etc.
  • ant* will find ants, but also anthropology, anthropological, anterior, etc.

The BIOSIS quick guide contains additional information about searching in BIOSIS.

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Searching for Literature Reviews in BIOSIS

Find literature reviews in BIOSIS by doing a search on your topic, then narrowing the results to just literature reviews using the Refine Results sidebar

  1. Conduct your search
  2. Under Refine Results on the left side, scroll down until you see Literature Types
  3. Click on the triangle next to Literature Types to see your options
  4. Select the Literature Review checkbox, then click Refine
  5. If you don't see the Literature Review option, try clicking "more options/values"
literature review checkbox

If there are no literature reviews in your original search results, you won't see a Literature Review option under Literature Types. You may want to broaden your search, then try limiting to literature reviews again.

Learn more about literature reviews

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Searching for Authors in BIOSIS

Many authors publish using different forms of their name (e.g., R D Jones, Robert D Jones, Robert Jones, etc.). To find all articles published under different forms of an author's name, use the BIOSIS author index:

  1. Change the search field from the default Topic to Author by using the drop-down menu. Be sure to clear any previous terms from the search box.

  2. Click the "Select from index" link below Author search field:

    select from index link

  3. Type in the author's last name and first initial in the search box. Click the "Move to" button to go to that name in the alphabetical list of authors.

  4. Example: To find articles by Brent D. Mishler, type mishler b and click "Move To":

    Author index screen

  5. From the list, select the name forms that correspond to the author in question. Click the "Add" button next to each one.

    Author index screen

  6. When you have selected all the different forms of the author's name, click "OK" at the bottom of the screen.

    Author index screen

  7. The name forms will be entered into the search screen. Click "Search" to complete the search.

    Author search

Not finding what you need? Contact a librarian!
Please visit us at the Reference Desk between 1 - 5 pm Monday-Friday, or call us at (510) 642-0456. Or, send us an email. We're here to help!

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