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Biological Health Sciences

Iterative Searching

Iterative searching.

Searching in the sciences is best accomplished by searching iteratively.  Iterations are repetition of a sequence of operations where each repetition moves you closer to your desired result.  

Before you search:

  • Think of your topic. What are key words/terms that describe what you are looking for?
  • Take a minute to look at the search screen.  Ask yourself:
    • What features are available? 
    • How do I put in multiple key words and/or phrases? 
    • Is there a way I can limit my results?

After you perform a search:

  • Look at your results.  Skim and scan the results.  Read abstracts.
  • Ask yourself:
    • Do I need to broaden or narrow your search? 
    • Do I need to use different key words?
    • Can I use some of the features of the database:
      • Hyperlinked subjects, authors, and subject fields that you can click to perform another search.
      • Limits such as date, publication type, subject, journal name.

Refine your search strategy and search again.

Using the Web of Science

The best database to use for a biology topic is the Web of Science

Searching the Web of Science can search BIOSIS Previews, MEDLINE, and the Science Citation Index all at once or you can search each individually.  Web of Science allows you to search on a variety of topics across all biology sub-disciplines and medicine.

Watch this short video to see how to search in the Web of Science.

Tips for using the Web of Science

Use truncation symbols (wildcard characters)

  • Use "*" (asterisk) for zero or more characters.  
    • eg. gene* will retrieve gene, genes, genetics
  • Use "$" (dollar sign) for zero or one character.  Use for spelling variants. 
    • eg. behavi$r will retrieve behavior and behaviour
  • Use "?" (question mark) for one character only.  Use for variant spellings. 
    • eg. en?oblast will retrieve entoblast and endoblast


Use " " (quotes) when searching for a phrase

Use the "*" (asterisk) for name variants or use the author index.  Many publications use only the author's initial for their first name.

  • eg. Smith J* will retrieve Smith J as well as Smith John, Smith Jim, etc. 

Tips for analyzing your results in Web of Science

There are features in the Web of Science that can help you narrow and analyze your results.

  • Use facets such as date and publication type to either select or exclude records. (See quick reference card)
  • Use the analyze feature to find out the author(s) who have written the most papers on your topic, institution(s) where most research has been done, or see subject areas of the records in your results.

Citation Searching

Researchers in the sciences tend to research on the same or similar topic throughout their career.  Science builds on the science of others.  So, when you find a paper:

Forward and backward citation searching

  • you can see the research that informed the paper in the references in the back of the paper (backwards citation searching)
  • you can find more current research that used this paper in their references (forward citation searching).

To find the more current research (forward citation searching):

  • Search for the title using the Web of Science database and click the "times cited" link.
  • Search for the title in Google Scholar and click the "cited by" link under the record.