Skip to Main Content


A subject research guide for the students and faculty of the OSU Biology department in the discipline of Biology.

Working with Your Topic

Identify the main concepts within your topic.

  • What are they?
  • What are other words that might be used to express each one?
  • How can you combine them to get the most relevant results? Use terms for the most important concepts alone or in combination with each other.


Finding useful sources is highly dependent upon the words you choose to use in your searching.

  • Try encyclopedias, handbooks, or read some journal articles on your topic to get a better grounding in the vocabulary of the field.
  • Use the subject(s) listed in the library catalog and/or database entries you find that are relevant to your topic. These "subject headings" will almost always bring up more sources that are relevant.

Citation Guides

Citation styles vary widely by journal.  Check the journal's website to see if they provide citation instructions under a section typically called "instructions for authors."  If you can't find this information on the website, use the references section of the journal article you want to model your references after as an example.   Pay particular attention to the order they place the information in, whether or not they use italics or bold, how they abbreviate journal titles, and how they use punctuation.

For some examples of some common citation styles preferred in the sciences see the CSE style guide or the APA style guide.

How to Read a Journal Article

The following websites give some tips on how to read scientific journal articles:

Reading a scientific article

How to Read a Journal Article 

My brief advice for reading journal articles is to keep a pen handy to write notes to yourself in the margins, and always write a summary of what you learned from the paper at the top of the paper or on a post-it note immediately after you finish reading the paper.

Evaluate Your Sources

  • Does the source have a bibliography? This can lead you to other sources.
  • Is there an author listed as part of the citation? Judging authority can be difficult without an author.
  • Is the journal refereed (peer reviewed)?
  • How old is the source? Will this matter for your topic? Currency of information can be important. Some aspects of a topic may need currency more than others.
  • What other terminology is being used either by the author or by the database? Keep an eye out for other words you can use in your search statements.
  • Does The Valley Library own the journal (either in print or electronically)? If we don't own it, it will take more time to get your hands on the source.

How to Tell if a Journal is Peer-Reviewed

If you are not sure that an article you would like to use as a reference for your project is from a peer-reviewed journal, you can

  • Ask an expert in the field (e.g. your instructor).
  • Look inside an issue of the journal to see if it describes the kind of material published in the journal.
  • Look at the journal's web site for the above information. Try a search in Google for the journal title and then look in their "about" section or their homepage for this information.
  • Ask a librarian at the Reference Desk or email your department's primary contact.