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BIO272: Vertebrate Biology: Search Tips

Spring 2011, V. Hayssen

Search Tips

    Whether you are searching for books in the Five College Library Catalog, or searching for scholarly articles in a library database, it pays to be organized as you start your search. Break dow n searching into a three step process.

Write down as much information about your topic as possible. Answer the following questions:

  • What is your topic?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What do you know? What don't you know?

Then, try to summarize what you are looking for in one or two sentences.

EXAMPLE: I am interested in learning more about the respiration system of the hagfish, and how gills play a role.

Using the information in Step 1, list the main concepts of your topic.

EXAMPLE: hagfish, respiration, anatomical system, gills

Now create a list of synonyms of your key concepts. Think broadly, think narrowly! This step is helping you expand your search by expressing your query in a variety of ways. If you get too many results, then you can work on focusing your search.



Myxiniformes (Order)

Agnatha (Class)

Myxinidae (Family)

Myxine (Genus)





respiratory system



gill pouch

gill duct

branchial skeleton

branchial circulation

bursae branchiales


anatomical system

comparative anatomy


You will use the word lists you developed in Step 3 to create search strategies. Use "OR" between synonyms and "AND" between concepts. For instance:

(hagfish* OR myxin*) AND (ventilation OR respir*)  AND (gill* OR branchial*)



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