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Cambridge LibGuides

Ecology: Researching a Topic

Finding Journal Articles

If you know the author and title of a paper, Google Scholar should find it; and if your computer is set up to link Google Scholar to Cambridge resources, you should be able to get straight to the full-text paper if we have online access.

A very common problem with e-journals is not being able to get access to the full text of a paper from a reference. There is a barrier because we usually have to pay subscriptions for access, but the place where you found the reference may not 'know' we pay.

If you have located the paper, but cannot seem to get the full-text online, try this :

Search for the journal in which the paper was published in the box in the e-journals column in the very useful E-resources LibGuide. This is a useful route in because it shows :

  1. If we do actually have online access
  2. Which years are covered by which database [often there is more than one] - If the relevant year is covered, click on the link to the database and navigate to the article
  3. If you are away from Cambridge, accessing the journal via this interface will eliminate all complicated password requests - you will be recognised as coming from Cambridge, and asked for your Raven password

You need to know that, despite what some people say, all journal papers are not online! But even if we don't have e-access, a library in Cambridge probably has a paper copy: enter the journal title in iDiscover to find out. And if Cambridge does not have a paper copy - ask your subject librarian if a copy can be obtained from elsewhere.




It is generally better to carry out a subject search in subject-specific databases, indexed by subject specialists. These will present you with fewer results, but they are likely to be more closely related to your query than if you use a general search engine like Google. So you won't be wasting time 'filtering' the results yourself to find what you need!

The key things to remember when conducting a subject search, wherever you look, are:

  1. Think carefully about how to express what exactly it is you are looking for : Breaking the search down into its components helps you think about the concepts and how they might be phrased.                 For example : muntjac deer + damage + woodland = Each of these concepts may have alternative ways of expressing them, or you may not need exactly that. In this example: Might you actually also need to see what has been written about damage to saplings by any type of deer? You could also ask yourself things like : Are you just looking at the UK, or should other countries be included? Factoring these into the search will immediately focus retrieval
  2. Unless you are very adept at searching, never accept the first batch of references retrieved as 'it'. You can almost certainly hone your search to get better retrieval - which will save you checking through lots of hits, or conversely missing something important. If you have broken the search into its components, this should also help you recognise where you may need to change key words

Check out the 'Online Databases' box on the right for suggested resources >>>>>


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Online databases for finding information on a topic

The recommendations below are major resources favoured by many researchers, but there are plenty of others to choose from - see the other 2 tabs in this box.

Ecology Abstracts is a subset of ProQuest - use the latter to widen your search

Some databases tend to represent older material - which can still be highly relevant!  JSTOR, Biodiversity Heritage Library and Botanicus Digital Library come into this category. Zetoc indexes contents pages, and is useful for picking up papers in journals not covered by the big databases - for example, journals produced by smaller local ecological societies

Which database is 'best' really depends on what information you are looking for - Are you an 'field' ecologist? Or working at the molecular level?

Most people tend to use the same resource all the time. But it is a good idea to try others as well for important searches, as you will often find some different items will be retrieved, even using the same search terms.

The E-Resources Libguide allows you to find suitable databases by subject. Click on the link under the top search box in the 'Databases' column, and on the next page you'll see a drop-down 'Subjects' menu. There's no list for ecology per se, but there are links, for example, for 'Biodiversity & Conservation' or 'Plant Sciences'. Check out some of the recommendations - You might find that databases you were not previously aware of give excellent results for your query - the only way to find out is to try different resources!

A good way of comparing how suited different resources are to your research questions is to set up saved searches and alerts in several databases, then see what they 'feed' you. Click on the 'Keeping up with Research' tab above for more information.

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E-resource help