Locate and use reference databases and abstracting services

Reference databases (Table 1.1) are particularly fruitful sources of information. Maintained by both private and public organizations, these services focus on a specific kind of document (such as theses and dissertations) or field (such as agriculture or medicine). At present, most include only titles and abstracts, but full-text databases are becoming more prevalent and probably will be the norm in the future.

Table 1.1. Examples of helpful literature abstracting and indexing databases available to biological and medical researchers. All are available in both traditional formats and online from various vendors

Database

Description

Agricola Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Abstracts Bioengineering Abstracts

BIOSIS (Biological Abstracts)

Biological and Agricultural Index

Books in Print

CAB Abstracts

Cambridge Scientific Abstracts CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health) Current Contents

Dissertation Abstracts

Covers all major areas of agricultural sciences.

Especially useful for genetic engineering and its agricultural implications.

Covers biomedical and genetic engineering and related fields.

Widely used for literature in biology, agriculture, and biomedicine. Includes five different indexes -author, genus, biosystematic grouping from phylum through family, concept, and subject. Records prior to 1993 are formatted and indexed different from records since that time.

Particularly useful for environmental and conservation sciences, agriculture, veterinary medicine, and related areas of applied biology.

Covers in-print, out-of-print, and forthcoming books from North American publishers.

Excellent coverage for agriculture, veterinary medicine, and biology.

Source of several particularly useful databases.

Particularly strong coverage of the nursing and allied health professions literature.

Indexes recent articles in a variety of life sciences by reproducing the tables of contents of numerous journals. Authors' addresses enable contact to request a copy of the paper if the journal is unavailable. Includes abstracts.

Provides complete abstracts of dissertations from U.S., Canadian, British, and other countries, plus select coverage of masters theses.

Database

Description

General Science Index

Journal Citation Reports (an annual volume of Science Citation Index)

Medical and Pharmaceutical

Biotechnology Abstracts PubMed (MEDLINE)

Science Citation Index Web of Knowledge

Zoological Record

Helpful place to start when working with a broad topic. Includes both papers in selected technical journals and nontechnical overviews, many of which are written by scientists who have also published technical papers on the same topic. (Locate the latter by searching by author names in more specialized databases.)

Lists indexed journals grouped by subject field. Ranks journals by their relative "impact factors," including number of citations of a journal's papers in other publications during a given calendar year and other statistics.

Covers human health, molecular biology, and biotechnology.

The online counterpart to Index Medicus, and one of a group of databases (MEDLARS = Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System) produced by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Includes all the medical and health sciences; unsurpassed for preclinical and clinical medicine.

Widely used to locate other authors who have mentioned a paper relevant to one's topic.

Incorporates various searchable databases (including Science Citation Index) from Thomson Scientific (formerly Institute of Scientific Information [ISI]).

The most comprehensive index to zoological literature.

All major research libraries subscribe to numerous reference databases and have reference librarians to help first-time users. Many databases are available in more than one medium or format. The older media (print, microfilm, microfiche, and more recently CD-ROMs) require physically visiting the library. Using online reference databases can save considerable time and ensure a high degree of accuracy Furthermore, online reference databases are sometimes updated more frequently than their CD-ROM or print equivalents. Some databases are accessible only through licensed sites, such as a university library.

Individual vendors and reference database publishers provide detailed and readily available instructions on database searching. Learn the shortcuts that make can make your life easier. For example, database software usually has the capacity to format reference citations in a variety of ways, representative of the formats most commonly found in the scientific literature. Some database software programs also can be integrated with many word processing programs to format references automatically within a document and insert them during typescript preparation. Become familiar with the most widely used formats in

Search and research Table 1.2. Preliminary questions to ask about research design

The basic question

Examples of ways in which it might be assessed

2. Do my proposed experiments meet accepted ethical standards?

3. What practical and political considerations need to be addressed?

4. How will I record the work as it proceeds?

Have I drawn up a plan (a protocol) for what I intend to do? Do the proposed studies cover all the criticisms likely to be made? Are the statistical methods valid?

If my experiments involve human beings or animals, do they meet accepted standards? Could my work adversely affect the environment or the place where I am doing field work?

Is publication of my work likely to break any official secrecy regulations? Could publication invalidate a later application for a patent? Are collecting or other permits required?

How will I record what I read? How will I record what I do? How will I ensure that my records are complete? How will I ensure that I can access the records again when I or others need them?

your discipline and select the most up-to-date and versatile tools available. Take the time to master them.

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