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Subject Guides

Plant Sciences: 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 e-journals box on the 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 - 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 only

You need to know that, despite what some people say, all journal papers are not online! Furthermore, we have to pay for much of the access we have, so if we do not have a subscription, you will not have instant online access. 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 - e-mail



Use subject-specific databases to carry out a subject search. These will give you fewer results, but they are likely to be more closely related to your query than a general search engine like Google Scholar. The most popular databases for geneticists are listed in the 'Online Resources' box on the 'Home' page of this guide.

The key things to remember when conducting a subject search are:

  1. Think carefully about how to express what exactly it is you are looking for
  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
  3. A specialist database covering your subject area is likely to provide you with more relevant hits than Google, but one database is unlikely to fit all - try several for important research questions

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

'The essential guide to using the web for research' which is available to us online as part of Sage Research Methods, provide some extremely useful tips on how to search, where to search, writing your report etc.

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Online databases for finding information on a topic

Using subject-specific and subject-indexed resources will give you far fewer results than a general search like Google, but that is not a bad thing! If your search question was worded well, the references retrieved will be more appropriate. The recommendations above are major resources favoured by many in the Department, but there are plenty of others to choose from - see the other 2 tabs in this box

Which database is 'best' really depends on what information you are looking for : Are you an ecologist? Or working at the molecular level? Most people tend to use the same resource all the time - 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.

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

A list of databases relevant to Plant Sciences can be found here : 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!


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E-resource help

  • Check in the e-journal box in the e-resources LibGuide to see if the journal you need is available online
  • For answers to other common questions about e-resources, (journals, ebooks, databases)  see these Frequently Asked Questions
  • Please also feel free to get in touch with your subject specialist librarian, at
  • The e-resources blog will inform you of new databases and trials