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Biological Sciences: 03-345: Experimental Cell and Developmental Biology: Finding Research Articles

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

Types of Scholarly Information

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.

PRIMARY RESEARCH ARTICLE:  A primary research article describes an empirical study 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, a primary article will often include the following sections:  Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.

REVIEW ARTICLEIn 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.

PEER-REVIEWEDRefers to articles that have undergone a rigorous review process by peers in their discipline, often including revisions to the original manuscript, before publication in a scholarly journal. Primary research articles in reputable life science journals are always peer-reviewed. Reviews are often peer-reviewed as well. 

How to Find Research Articles

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 the most comprehensive source to find scholarly journal articles 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.
  • 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. The following academic journals have publicly available articles:

 

To access journals with paid content, you can go directly to the publisher's site and view all the content if you are on campus. If you are off-campus, go to the library homepage and click on eJournals. It will give you options for finding articles from different years. You will be prompted to enter you Andrew ID and password but then you can access full-text articles and download PDFs.

Finding Full-Text Articles

Most research articles are not publicly available and require an institutional subscription to access them. If you have citations for specific articles, search for the article in the Library Catalog to see if have access to it. The Catalog will show whether or not we have access to the electronic version and/or the print version. If the CMU library collection doesn't have what you're looking for, you can request an article scan via Interlibrary Loan.

Request materials through Interlibrary Loan by following the instructions for ILLiad.

You can also search for specific articles by putting the article title in the PubMed or Google Scholar databases and following the instructions for finding full-text articles on the PubMed Tutorial and Google Scholar Tutorial tabs of this guide.

If you need help accessing articles, please contact the science librarian team at sciref@andrew.cmu.edu.

Search Tips for Finding Relevant Articles

  • START WITH A REVIEW ARTICLE. Review articles are excellent resources for finding a lot of primary research articles on a given topic. For example, if I'm interested in the development of visual cortical neurons, I could start my search by reading a recent review article on that topic and then look at the references section of the paper to find primary research articles.
  • FIND ONE OR A FEW RELEVANT PRIMARY RESEARCH ARTICLES. Having even a single relevant article of interest can be very useful in performing a literature search. You can look at the References section of that paper to find older related articles.But how do you find more recent articles that have used and cited the article of interest in their work? You can use Google Scholar to find all of the more recent articles that have cited your article of interest. This is a great way to understand how your article of interest has built on prior research and how it has influenced more recent research. In Google Scholar, you can find related articles by clicking on the "Related Articles" link. PubMed, you can find related articles by clicking on the "Similar Articles" link.

Let's look at the example below. I want to find some relevant articles on the development of visual cortical neurons.

 

Here, you can see my search for "development of visual cortical neurons" on Google Scholar. In this case, I'm interested in finding a relevant article that is fairly recent so I've set a filter on the left so that only articles published between 2016 and 2018 will appear in my search. The first hit, "Microglial P2Y12 is necessary for synaptic plasticity in visual cortex," looks particularly interesting to me.

I can see that 57 articles have cited this paper and I can click on the Cited by 57 link to see all of those articles. When I click on that link, I see the screen below. I can click on Sort by Date on the left and see that the most recent paper that cited "Microglial P2Y12 is necessary for synaptic plasticity in visual cortex" was published only two days ago! This is an excellent way of finding very recent relevant material. I can also click on the Related Articles link to see articles that are on the same topic. PubMed has a similar link that shows up underneath articles called Similar Articles.

 

 

Therefore, by finding a single relevant paper, we can easily find many more relevant articles by looking at the Reference section of "Microglial P2Y12 is necessary for synaptic plasticity in visual cortex", the Cited by link, and also the Related Articles link. Together, all of these articles will help us understand how the article, "Microglial P2Y12 is necessary for synaptic plasticity in visual cortex," has contributed to the collective body of knowledge on this topic.