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Biological Sciences: 03-161 Molecules to Mind Research Guide: Finding research articles

This guide provides links, tutorials and tips to finding and accessing scholarly research in biology and neuroscience.

Types of scholarly literature

You will encounter many types of articles and it is important to distinguish between these different categories of scholarly literature.  Keep in mind the following definitions.

Peer-reviewed (or refereed):  Refers to articles that have undergone a rigorous review process, often including revisions to the original manuscript, by peers in their discipline, before publication in a scholarly journal.  This can include empirical studies, review articles, meta-analyses among others.

Empirical study (or primary article):  An empirical study is one that aims to gain new knowledge on a topic through direct or indirect observation and research.  These include quantitative or qualitative data and analysis. In science, an empirical article will often include the following sections:  Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.

Review article:  In the scientific literature, this is a type of article that provides a synthesis of existing research on a particular topic.  These are useful when you want to get an idea of a body of research that you are not yet familiar with.  It differs from a systematic review in that it does not aim to capture ALL of the research on a particular topic.

Systematic review:  This is a methodical and thorough literature review focused on a particular research question.  It's aim is to identify and synthesize all of the scholarly research on a particular topic in an unbiased, reproducible way to provide evidence for practice and policy-making.  It may involve a meta-analysis (see below). 

Meta-analysis:  This is a type of research study that combines or contrasts data from different independent studies in a new analysis in order to strengthen the understanding of a particular topic.  There are many methods, some complex, applied to performing this type of analysis.


Where to look

Research Databases

Research databases are key to conducting comprehensive or specific searches of the scholarly literature across many different publishers and journals. They include special tools and filters to help you narrow and expand your search.

  • PubMed: PubMed is a key, publicly available resource for searching the literature in biology, health and medicine. It is maintained by the National Library of Medicine and contains millions of citations and is updated daily with newly published research.
  • Web of Science:  Web of Science is a database accessible online through the CMU Libraries. It is a multi-disciplinary database for the life and social sciences literature. 
  • Google Scholar: Google Scholar is a freely available search engine to find scholarly literature in all fields and disciplines. It lacks the many built-in filtering capabilities of subject-specific databases, like PubMed, but can be a useful place to start your research when you are trying to narrow your research topic or to search broadly across many subject areas.
Academic journals

You can browse the contents of specific journals in a field by going to the publisher's websites. This is a good way to get to know the type of research being conducted in particular fields.

Finding Full-Text Articles

Get It at CMU button image

Use the Get it @ CMU links wherever you see them!

If you have citations for specific articles, check the Journal Search to see if we subscribe to the journal that contains the article. If the CMU library collection doesn't have what you're looking for, you can request an article scan via Interlibrary Loan.

Reference librarians are here to help you - so please contact us with any questions!

The value of citation searching

Schematic showing backward and forward citation searching

An excellent way of discovering new and relevant resources is to use the articles that you have already identified as important works in you search.  The articles and resources in the references or bibliography can point you to other relevant sources that were published prior to the article of interest. 

But how do you find more recent articles that have used and cited the article of interest in their work?


Web of Science is a database of scholarly literature that also tracks citations and allows citation searching.  In the search results window you can:

Screenshot of Web of Science search results indicating sorting option and link to Times Cited