Tips for Getting Started

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Choosing a Topic

Because you will be doing a lot of reading on your topic, it is important to select one you are truly curious about. You can seek out ideas by looking through 1) the textbook and syllabus for the lecture section of this course; 2) the online Encyclopedia of Life Sciences; 3) journals that publish primary literature such as Evolution, American Naturalist, Science, and Nature; 4) review journals such as Evolutionary Biology, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics; 5) the popular media for interesting and thought-provoking articles of evolutionary interest; and 6) the list of possible topics on the EEB2245W website or provided by your W instructor.

Off-campus Access

Many electronic databases and journal articles are available only by subscription. UConn's electronic subscriptions are excellent, and if you are on campus, you should not have difficulty accessing this material. For access from off campus, you may need to configure a proxy account or use the VPN. Information on how to do this is available here.

Researching the Paper

The campus library ( is a tremendous resource. In addition to books and journals, it provides paper and electronic databases searchable by topic or author and an interlibrary loan service to obtain books and articles the library does not own. Below is a brief summary of some of these databases. The reference desk at the library is an excellent source of help if you have never used any of them. All of these databases can be accessed through the "Biology" link on the "Articles and Databases" page of the library website.

  • Biosis Previews. This database indexes all of the major journals in evolutionary and organismal biology and contains references back to 1969. Once you have chosen your topic, this is the place to start looking for references. The full record of journal articles includes the abstract for many articles, a good way to quickly browse through a lot of articles and figure out which ones are most likely going to be relevant to your paper. For many articles, it provides a direct link to the online version (through the UConn links button".
  • Science Citation Index/Web of Science. This database is available online from 1994-present through the library web site (under shortcuts or databases by title). A computer station in the Information Cafe 2 in the library contains a searchable CD-ROM version covering 1986-1999. Older versions are available only on paper. The SCI can be used to do standard author or topic searches (similar to BIOSIS previews). It can also be used to search for papers that have cited a relevant paper or author. This feature is particularly useful if you have discovered a key older paper on your chosen topic. Just as the Literature Cited section of a paper allows you to search backward in time, this SCI feature allows you to search forward in time. Another useful feature of the SCI is that you can limit the search to particular kinds of documents, such as review papers. This is useful when you are looking for more general papers to help with topic selection.
  • SCOPUS. This database has many of the same features as Web of Science, including a cited reference search feature.  Its coverage extends back to 1966
  • Zoological Record is a valuable database if your paper has a taxonomic focus (i.e. focuses on a particular species or group of species). Coverage in the online version extends back to 1945.

Interlibrary loan

During the course of writing the term paper, many of you will find yourselves wanting articles that are not available in the UConn library. To obtain these articles, you should submit a request online through the library web site. The first time you do this, you will have to set up a patron profile. Subsequently, all you will have to do is log on. Because it can take a little while, you are encouraged to begin your research early so that the library has time to respond to your request. Typically, if you are requesting a journal article, the library will give you a digital version or photocopy of the article. This process may be relatively slow (several weeks, depending on the obscurity of the requested article), but sometimes requested articles arrive in less than a week.

Obtaining articles electronically

The library has electronic subscriptions to most journals it receives. In many cases, the online version can be accessed directly from the database (by following either the "full text" or "UConn links" button. To directly search the library website for online access to an article, click on "Search Journal Titles" and enter the title of the journal the article was published in.