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Biological Sciences 102 (Surrey): Library research guide

Dr. Ivona Mladenovic

This web page is intended to help you with your Biological Sciences 102 assignment. Also refer to the main Biological Sciences Subject Research Guide for general information. Start early so you can get the information and assistance you need.

If you need help, please contact Hazel Plante, Liaison Librarian at 778.782.4173 or or Ask a librarian.

Slides available from the Spring 2015 library research session

IUCN Red List

For your assignment, you have the option of creating a poster on an endangered species. The IUCN Red List website will be a crucial resource for finding information on your species (including its scientific name, which will be useful throughout the research process). The World Conservation Union, or IUCN, compiles a definitive list of globally threatened species.  This list, known as The Red List, categorises each threatened species according to its assessed global risk of extinction.

Note: It will be easier to find information on your species if you choose a species that has been studied by researchers extensively. (This may seem obvious, but you should spend a little time seeing how much information you can find on a species before you commit to creating a poster on that organism.)

Research process

In research it is best to move from general to specific sources as you learn more about your topic and focus on the aspects that interest you. Begin by finding background information in books (including encyclopedias and laboratory manuals). Once you have enough background information and understand the topic, search for focused and current information in journal articles.

Popular science magazines summarize recent reports from the primary scholarly literature for the general public; scholarly journal articles provide sharply focused information on discoveries, research and recent events.

In class, we briefly discussed the research process. You can find a more detailed overview on the Library's Start Your Research Here page or you can Ask A Librarian.

Background information

You should begin your research by looking for background information on your topic. This information is often found in reference books (e.g., encyclopedias). After you have found the necessary background information on your species, you can search for scholarly articles. (Without some basic knowledge on your species, scholarly articles might be unnecessarily confusing.)

The examples in this section will be related to the endangered species topic, but the process is very similar for your other possible research topic. 

If you are writing about an endangered species, here are a few online encyclopedias that might include some background information:

There are many other other good resources (online and in print) listed in the Background Information section of the Biological Sciences research guide.

For background information on your species, the following websites may also be useful:

To find other relevant information on your topic in books, use the SFU Library catalogue. Try searching for your species, but don't be too surprised if there are no results. (You might not find any books dedicated to your particular organism. But there will be other books that may include a section or a chapter on your topic. I'll explain how to find these books in the next paragraph.) A keyword search in the library catalogue with manatee* results in several hits, including a book titled Conservation and management of marine mammals. This book has the following three subject headings: Marine mammals, Endangered species, and Wildlife conservation. Books about these topics might include some information on your species. If you click on one of these SUBJECT HEADINGS, you can find more books on marine mammals, endangered species, or wildlife conservation.

In general, to find information on your species in books, you may need to seach for books on a broader topic (e.g., books with the SUBJECT HEADING Endangered species). In these books, you will likely need to look at the tables of contents (at the front of the book) and the indexes (at the back) to see if they have any useful information on your topic.

To search by subject heading, go to the library catalogue and use the dropdown menu to the left of the search box (choose SUBJECT).

Here are just a few examples of SUBJECT HEADINGS that may be useful for your topic:

For help with the catalogue, ask a librarian or see the SFU Library Catalogue Search Guide.

Popular vs. scholarly publications

It is important to understand the differences in the type of publications you will encounter. Often popular science magazines will summarize recent reports from the primary scholarly literature for the general public. Scholarly publications report on new research or ideas and are used for scholarly communication. Each of these types of publications can be found in print and on the web.

See the What is a Scholarly Journal? guide for help in distinguishing between popular and scholarly sources. For more detail on the peer-review process, we also have a page that answers the question What is a Peer-reviewed Journal?

To help you evaluate information you find on the internet, see SFU Library's guide Internet Research: Finding and Evaluating Resources.

Finding scholarly articles

Library Search

A good way to begin searching for scholarly articles on your species is to use SFU Library's Library Search. I It is best to use the scientific name of your species for searches (e.g., Trichechus manatus). After your initial results appear, you can use the limiters on the left side of the screen to refine your search to include only articles from scholarly publications. You will still need to be able to recognize academic articles because not all articles in these publications are scholarly (e.g., book reviews, editorials).  

Article indexes and databases

Use article indexes and databases to find more articles on your topic.

If you have chosen the endangered species topic, here are a few key databases you could try:

If you are doing a non-endangered species topic, it's trickier to recommend where to start. Here are a couple of possible places to start  looking beyond Library Search:

Besides these multidisciplinary tools, you could take a look at the subject-specific databases, which you can find on this page. (Use the dropdown menu to find the best places to search in each subject area.) 

Citing sources

APA Style

When citing sources on your assignment, you will need to use APA citation style. 

It is always important to cite your sources. Citing your sources allows you to give credit to the original researchers, to point your reader(s) to where you found information, and to show that you know how to correctly cite sources.

Here are links to two useful citation guides:

If the document you are trying to cite is not included in either of these guides, you should consult the latest edition of the APA Publication Manual.

If you have questions about citing or doing research, please ask a librarian.