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BIO 491: Senior Seminar: Home

Course Description

BIO 491: Senior Seminar provides students the opportunity to conduct original research on a topic in biology and write and research on that particular topic.

The Course Guide to BIO 491 provides quick access link to top resources in biological research.
Image available for reuse under CC0 public domain.

Research Process

  1. Define the Problem
    Identifying your research problem or question in the initial stages of research is the key to starting the research process. Your question will act as your roadmap to how you will conduct your research.
  2. Conduct Background Research
    Familiarize yourself with your topic by doing some initial searching.  This can be in encyclopedias, dictionaries, web resources, newspapers, popular magazine articles, and more.  Use this preliminary research to inform your understanding of the topic.
  3. Develop a search plan
    Using your research problem/question and your background research develop a search plan.  This includes both the keywords you will use when searching for sources and the type of information you will look for.  
    1. TIP FOR IDENTIFYING KEYWORDS
      Look at your research problem/question and identify the key nouns that appear in the topic.  These often form a good starting place for your keywords.  Once you have identified 2-3 keywords to start your search, then think of some potential synonyms for your keywords.  
      Example: 
                       methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus OR MRSA OR staph AND
                       hospital acquired
    2. Note the use of the search operators AND and OR above.  This is how search strings are connected together so the database understands how to conduct the search.  
  4. Gather sources
    Use the "Databases" tab on this course guide for suggestions on Biology related databases that you might begin searching for scholarly journal articles.  Enter each one of your keywords onto a separate line to start searching. 
  5. Read, analyze, and interpret sources
    Analyze your search results, paying attention to the article titles and what journal they are published in.  Click on the title of interesting articles to read the abstract (summary) to get familiar with the article.  Make sure you save promising articles somewhere you can find again like Zotero or your EBSCO folder.
  6. Revisit the search plan and refine search strategy
    Use the information you have found from the promising articles and revisit your search plan.  How does this information you have found impact your initial keywords?  Try looking at the subject or descriptor words on an articles for keyword ideas.  

Tips for Research

  1. Identify a clear and narrow thesis statement.
    Your thesis statement is your research roadmap. If specific and narrow, your thesis will guide exactly what kind of information you should find in your research. 
    For example: a research paper about the effects of noise pollution from boating or shipping on marine mammals is much more specific than a topic about the effects of ocean noise on marine ecosystems. With the narrower research topic, we know we will need to look for information about boating or shipping travel, ocean noise pollution, and marine mammal auditory function. 
  2. Use scholarly sources for all stages of research, including definitions of terms.
    Library resources that can help with introductory material, definitions, and quick facts are encyclopedias and dictionaries available in the Reference Room and online such as Credo Reference and Oxford Reference Online.
  3. Use a variety of scholarly sources in your paper.
    Do not rely on the same few resources throughout your paper. Instead research thoroughly to find a variety of scholarly sources that help to support your thesis. Use the Bibliographies of articles to review a list of scholarship published on your topic. 
  4. Start your research with primary sources.
    Primary sources in scientific research are the actual research studies conducted by scientists within their field. These article should be easily identifiable by their clear sections: introduction, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. 
  5. Always follow the trails of research from the information you consult.
    Whether it's a popular source magazine article, a secondary source journal article, or reports produced by committees or organizations, track down the studies mentioned in these publications. Often times resources like these reference studies conducted. You want to try to find the original research.
  6. Make sure all sources cited are relevant to your thesis.
    If your paper is about ocean noises effects on marine life, do not cite noise impact on humans, unless you can make the case why this is relevant to include. 

Zotero Reference Management Tool

A useful strategy for research is to identify an organization method that works for you as you gather your research.  Keeping yourself organized as a research will help you better make connections between sources and help further your ideas.  One tool you can use to help keep yourself organized is Zotero.  Zotero is a reference management software that helps you store, organize, and cite information. 

The Zotero tool is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux users.  You can choose to download "Zotero for Firefox" which will link with your Firefox browser or download the "Zotero Standalone" option which will allow you to use the web browser of your choice.  If you are using the Standalone client, first download Zotero and then add the appropriate browser extension for your prefered web browser.