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Plant Science: Research Tips and Tricks

Research Tips and Tricks

This section includes 4 short videos that explain the basic search process, from how to find a database related to your field to how to create more complex search queries. A written summary is given next to each video. If you need help with your research, don't hesitate to contact your liaison librarian, she is there to help!


This video will show you how to locate and access databases using McGill's catalogue, Databases A-Z and the subject guides.










1. Formulate a specific research question.
For example, "Which methods of biological control are effective on invasive ladybug species?"

2. Identify the main concepts.
In our question, the main concepts would be "biological control", "invasive" and "ladybug".

3. Brainstorm synonyms and related terms for each of your concepts. For "ladybug", we could have "coccinellidae", "ladybird" and "lady beetle".

It’s important to find related terms to obtain more relevant results. If we search only “ladybug”, we may miss articles that are relevant but that have used a different term instead, like “ladybird”.


Boolean operators are used to narrow or broaden your search.

AND: results include all keywords (used to narrow a search)
Example: bee AND neonicotinoids AND monsanto
Search results will contain all three terms.

OR: results include any or all keywords (used to broaden a search)
Example: ladybug OR ladybird
Search results will contain any of these terms.

NOT: results ignore a keyword (used to narrow a search)
Example: Turkey NOT Thanksgiving
Search results will exclude articles containing Thanksgiving.


Truncation (*): used to search variations on a word stem.
Example: Canad*
Search results will include Canada, Canadian, Canadians.
Be careful with truncation as it may yield results that contain unrelated words. Example: leg*
Search results will include leg, legs, legging, legal, legalized, etc.

Phrase searching (“”): used to search for an exact phrase or a concept containing more than one word.
Example: “climate change”
Search results will include the exact phrase, with the keywords next to each other and in the order they are typed.
Climate change (without quotation marks) will be searched as separate keywords.

Parentheses (): used to control the order in which Boolean operators are resolved. Operations within parentheses are resolved first followed by those outside the parentheses.

Evaluating your sources is critical if you want to know if the information you found in a book, in an article or on the Web is good information you can use. If you're unsure where to start, the CRAAP Test (see below) is a great tool to point you in the right direction! 


Currency: The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • If it is a website, are the links functional?

A microbiology textbook from 1950 might not be current because there has been a lot of progress in that field, but an insect identification manual from 1910 might be – depending on the topic.


Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience? (General public? Researchers?)
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.

  • Where does the information come from? Are there references?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

Adapted from: Blakeslee, S. (2010). Evaluating Information – Applying the CRAAP Test. Retrieved from http://www.csuchico.edu/lins/handouts/eval_websites.pdf

When given a citation in a reference list or on your professor’s syllabus, you will need to understand how to read the citation in order to find and access the resource material. There are several citation styles and each has a unique approach to arranging the information you need. All examples given here are in APA style. For different styles, you can check the appropriate manuals. Please feel free to come see your liaison librarian if you can’t find or access a document.

The three most common types of material are books, book chapters and journal articles.

Book
Oberhauser, K. S., & Solensky, M. J. (2004). Monarch butterfly biology & conservation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Elements of a book reference:
Author: Oberhauser, K. S., & Solensky, M. J.
Date of publication: 2004
Title: Monarch butterfly biology & conversation
Place of publication: Ithaca
Publisher: Cornell University Press

How to search for it in the catalogue:
Use the author’s name or the title of the book.


Book Chapter
Spencer, J. L., & Levine, E. (2008). Resistance to crop rotation. In Onstad, D. W. (Ed.), Insect resistance management: Biology, economics, and prediction (pp. 153-183). Amsterdam: Elsevier. 

Elements of a book chapter reference:
Authors of chapter: Spencer, J. L., & Levine, E.
Date of publication: 2008
Title of chapter: Resistance to crop rotation
Author of book: Onstad, D. W. (Ed.).
Title of book: Insect resistance management: Biology, economics, and prediction
Page range of the chapter: (pp. 153-183)
Place of publication: Amsterdam
Publisher: Elsevier

This is a book chapter because:
On top of all the specific elements you find in a book reference (mainly place of publication and name of the publisher), your best clue is the word “in” after the title of the chapter, as it means that Chapter X can be found “in” Book Y.

How to search for it in the catalogue:
Use the book author’s name (NOT the chapter author’s name) or the title of the book (NOT the title of the chapter).


Journal Article
Parvu, M., Andronie, I. C., Amfim, A., & Simion, V. E. (2015). Studies concerning the wintering of bees. Scientific Papers: Animal Science and Biotechnologies, 48(2), 120-122. 

Elements of a journal article reference:
Authors: Parvu, M., Andronie, I. C., Amfim, A., & Simion, V. E.
Date of publication: 2015
Title of article: Studies concerning the wintering of bees.
Journal Title: Scientific Papers: Animal Science and Biotechnologies
Volume number: 48
Issue number: 5
Page range: 711-727


This is a journal article because:
It has volume and issue numbers.

How to search for it in the catalogue: 
You can try with the author’s name or the title of the article, but there’s a good chance you won’t find it that way. The easiest way is to search the journal’s title and use the information from the citation to find the article. 

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