BIOL 3360 Behavioural Ecology Research Guide

BIOL 3360 Behavioural Ecology Research Guide

If you require assistance finding resources for your research in this course, please don't hesitate to contact the Library at or book an appointment with a librarian. 

Journal Article Databases

General Reference Books

Article Searching Tips

There is no one right way to search.  You often need to be creative and persistent.  Below you'll find tips on how to brainstorm keywords and develop search strategies. You will find more tips in the Library Skills Tutorials.

In addition to the library's main academic search tool, Omni, there are subject specific indexes that can be used to find scholarly articles.  If you need to do a more controlled and focused search, try one of these (e.g. Web of Science, Medline, etc.). Knowledge of keyword searching strategies is useful for these databases.

Keyword searching - With a keyword search you look for a word, no matter where that word appears. If you like, you can specify that the word be in a particular field (e.g. the title, author, or subject), but it can be in any position (beginning, middle, or end).

  • Think of other words which express the same concepts as those you're looking for.  Keep in mind that the system searches for the exact letters you type, and not the general ideas they express. The system doesn't think. So you have to plan for single and plural, more specific and more general terms, nouns, adjectives, and verbs, etc.
  • Background reading on your topic will also help you identify important words.  Try your textbook or another reference source to learn more about your topic. 

    For example, for the topic avian alarm calls, keywords to consider may include:

          Concept 1:  avian OR bird


          Concept 2: alarm OR distress OR warning or anti-predator or antipredator


          Concept 3: call or vocal or sound or signal


  • To search for a phrase many databases require quotations marks around the words. Otherwise, the database assumes an AND between the words and will search for them seperately. Keep in mind every database is different so you should check the HELP section to see how that database searches phrases.

    Eg. "Savannah Sparrow"
  • Truncation and wildcards are used to find variations of words.

    Truncation will find any ending for the root of a word. The truncation symbol in most journal databases is the asterisk *.

    • vocal* will find vocal or vocals or vocalize or vocalization or vocalizations or vocalise or vocalisation or vocalisations
    • *bird* will find songbird or songbirds or bird or birds (Note: using truncation before a word works in only a few databases, including the Web of Science) 
  • Wildcards are used within a word, to represent any letter.
    • colo$r will find colour or color

Combining Keywords

  • When you use AND, you are specifying that both terms must be found in every item found

    E.g. avian* AND alarm* AND call*
  • When you use OR, you are specifying that items have either of the terms, but not necessarily both. Use an OR between synonymous or similar terms for a concept.

    E.g. call* OR vocal* OR sound* OR signal*
  • Some databases provide search forms (usually in an Advanced search screen) so that you don't need to type in AND or OR. For those that don't, you need to place parentheses around those terms that have OR between them.

    E.g. (avian* OR *bird*) AND (alarm* OR distress* OR warn* OR anti-predator* OR antipredator*) AND (call* OR vocal* OR sound* OR signal*) 
  • This is what a search could look like in the Web of Science:
    Screenshot of Web of Science Search Screen

Refining your results

  • In the Web of Science the default sort is by Relevance.  You can change this as needed.
  • Check the database for ways to limit your results to:
    • Language – e.g. English
    • Publication Type e.g. Review, Empirical study, case study
    • Scholarly articles/Peer Reviewed articles (Note: every journal indexed in the Web of Science is peer reviewed and scholarly)
    • Date range
  • Check the record where your search terms matched. The best matches for topics are in fields like Subject or Title. Search specific fields if there is an Advanced or Expert search option.
  • Use Subject Headings or Descriptors if available to increase the relevancy of your results
  • Add another concept to your search using the Boolean operator “AND”

Use a good article to find other articles: 

In the Web of Science, click on the title of an article in the list of results to see it's full record. In the full record you will see many options to help you find related articles including:

  • hyperlinked author names;
  • "Citations" or "Times Cited in All Databases" which links to articles that have cited this one, which will help you follow the scholarly conversation forward in time;
  • "Cited References" which are the articles the author used to support this article, which will help you follow the scholar conversation back in time;
  • "View Related Records";
  • "You may also like..."; and
  • "Author Kewyords" and "Keywords Plus" where you may find new terms to search with.
  • This is what the record of an article looks like in the Web of Science: 
    Screenshot of an article's full record in the Web of Science

Getting the Full-Text

When using the default search in Omni, most everything you find will be available online.  There will be a link "Available Online" below the citation in the results.

When using a more specific database to which we subscribe (e.g. Web of Science), not everything will be available full-text, online. Unlike Omni, these databases are not unique to Trent.

If you do not see a Full-Text link, this does not always mean we don't have the article. It may be available from another source. In this case, to determine if Trent has the full-text of an article, click on the Omni icon. This icon can be seen near each citation in a database.

If an article is not available, you can request an InterLibrary Loan (ILL) through RACER. Keep in mind articles via ILL are not available overnight, so this service is only useful if you have enough time to receive the article before your project is due. We recommend that you allow 7-10 days. For more information and to register for an account please go to the RACER web site.