Searching for biological literature at the University of Delaware

This is a guide to using the Web of Science to search for biological literature at the University of Delaware. It also includes links to help you obtain the references you've uncovered.

All of the resources mentioned here can be accessed from anywhere on campus, including dorm rooms, using the "on campus" links. The "off campus" links take you to a proxy server, where you enter your UD user ID and password. Some of these resources seem to change web addresses fairly often. If a link doesn't work, go to the main library web page from on campus or the main library web page from off campus and find what you need.

The Web of Science is a database of scientific references from thousands of journals going back to 1900. Like several other literature databases, the Web of Science indexes authors and titles, and for most papers since 1991, it also indexes the abstracts. What makes the Web of Science particularly valuable is that it indexes citations; thus if you have an older paper on a particular topic, you can see the more recent papers that cite that older reference.

To access the Web of Science, go to here if you're on campus or here if you're off campus, then click on the Connect button.


Choose a database

Use the pulldown menu to choose the database you want to search. You'll probably want to start with "All databases." If that gives you too much crap (patents, supplemental figures, etc.) for your topic, you should set it to Web of Science Core Collection. One problem with Web of Science Core Collection is that it only has abstracts of articles published after 1990; Medline and Zoological Record have abstracts for some articles older than that, so if you want to see the abstract of an older article, you should try searching for it in Medline or Zoological Record. Medline is limited to biomedical journals, and Zoological Record is limited to animals (excluding laboratory animals like mice, rats, Drosophila melanogaster, and humans), so the old article that Web of Science does not have an abstract for may not be in either of the other databases.

Choose a search type

Using the pull-down menu next to the search box, choose the type of search you want to do. These are the options you'll mostly need:

Click on "Add another field" to do a combination search. For example, if you wanted to find papers about Mytilus trossulus by J.H. McDonald, you could enter mytilus trossulus in the search box for Topic and mcdonald jh in a second search box for Author.

Topic searches

A topic search finds words and phrases in the title, abstract, and keywords of articles. The rules for searches are similar to those used in many Internet search engines:

A topic search also finds matches in the "Keywords Plus," which seem to be random words pulled from the reference list of a paper. Thus if you search for mytilus trossulus, you'll get papers that mention that species of mussel in their title, abstract or keywords; you'll also get a few papers about clams, starfish and snails that merely cite a paper or two about Mytilus trossulus. This is annoying, but there doesn't seem to be any way to limit a topic search to just the title, abstract and keywords.

Keep in mind that for papers from before 1991, the Web of Science does not include abstracts or keywords. Medline and Zoological Record do have abstracts for some older papers, but they don't cover as many journals as Web of Science. To do a thorough search of the valuable older literature, you're going to have to do more than topic searches.

Author searches

Enter author names as last name followed by initials, with no punctuation. You may use the wildcard symbol, Boolean operators and parentheses for author searches as well. Thus searching for kreitman m and aguade m finds only the papers that these two authors published together. Some authors are inconsistent about whether they use their middle initial; for example, if you just search for kreitman m you'll miss papers he published as M.E. Kreitman; a search for kreitman m* would be one way to get all his papers; kreitman m or kreitman me would be even better.

Hyphenated names are sometimes indexed with the hyphen and sometimes without, so if you are searching for papers by M.C. Farach-Carson, for example, you should enter farachcarson mc or farach-carson mc. People with two unhyphenated last names sometimes have them combined and sometimes have one treated as a middle name; thus to find papers by J. Maynard Smith you should enter maynardsmith j or smith jm (and then expect to wade through a lot of references by other people named J.M. Smith).

If you're beginning a career as a research scientist, do an author search for your own name. If there are a lot of publications by people with the same name as you, you might want to add a middle initial or two to the name you use in publications; it will help you literally make a name for yourself. While you're practicing with Web of Science, it also fun to see how many authors have last names that would be rather embarrassing when they introduce themselves to English speakers.

You may combine author and topic searches. If you're only interested in R.K. Koehn's papers on the heterozygosity-fitness relationship, you could enter heterozygosity in the topic box and koehn rk in the author box.

Address and Publication Name

Almost the only way you'll use these fields is in combination with a Topic or Author search, to narrow down the search. If you are searching for papers by a particular author, and they share last name and first initials with other people, you can put a word from their address in the Address search box. For example, an author search for smith jm yields over 2600 papers; if you know that J. Maynard Smith is at the University of Sussex, you can enter smith jm in the Author box and sussex in the Address box and just get papers by him. Of course, if you want all of the papers by an author, you need to know all the places they've been. The Address field only works for papers published after 1972.

Almost the only time you'll use Publication Name in a search is when you know there's a article on a topic in a particular journal, but you don't know much more about it. For example, if you see a newspaper article that says there's a new Nature paper about sonic hedgehog, but the stupid newspaper doesn't give the article title or authors, you can enter sonic hedgehog in the Topic box and nature in the Publication Name box and find it.

Refine results

If a search gives you a lot of irrelevant references, you may want to narrow it down using the Refine Results choices on the left side of the page. For example, a Topic search for tarantula evolution yields 142 references. However, some of them are in the subject area Astronomy and Astrophysics, presumably because they refer to the evolution of the Tarantula Nebula. Choosing Evolutionary Biology under Research Area, then clicking on Refine, yields 61 references that will mostly be about the evolution of big scary spiders.

Finding a particular paper

Often you will want to look up one paper that you've seen referenced somewhere else. The quickest way to do that is to enter the title, or at least a large chunk of the title, into the search box, surrounded by quotation marks. You can then do either a Topic or Title search and, unless the authors picked a really boring title, you'll find just that paper. For example, if you see a reference to the article "Life-history and spatial determinants of somatic growth dynamics in Komodo dragon populations" you could do a Title search for "somatic growth dynamics in Komodo dragon" and it would be the only result.

Finding more references


A search gives you a list of references, from most recent to oldest, that meet the search criteria. Click on the title of a paper to see an expanded version of the reference, often with the abstract. Skimming throught the abstract will often tell you whether you want to obtain the full paper and read it in depth.

The "Times Cited" link, circled in green above, gives you newer papers that have cited the one you are looking at. In the example shown above, I started with a Topic search for talorchestia longicornis, an amphipod crustacean that lives on sandy beaches. The paper I've shown, Walsh et al. (2010), describes experiments that are trying to figure out how these amphipods navigate from low on the beach (where they forage for seaweed at night) to higher on the beach (where they burrow into the sand for the day). The "7 Times Cited" link shows the 7 papers published since 2010 that include Walsh et al. (2010) in their reference list. This can be a very useful search, especially if your topic is kind of vague. A Topic search for talorchestia longicornis will get most of recent references on this species, but if you're interested in "how do invertebrates use the sun to navigate," it would be hard to find topic terms that would find all of the relevant papers. But someone who's writing a paper about whether a species of snail uses the sun to navigate will probably cite the Walsh et al. (2010) paper, and the "Times Cited" link will find it for you.

The "Cited References" link gives you a list of the older papers that are in the reference list of the main paper. Most of them will have links you can click on for the abstract, times cited, etc. Some of the references will be in such abbreviated format that you'll have to look at the full text of the paper to get enough information to find them.

The "View Related References" link yields papers that cite many of the same references as the one you're looking at. Sometimes this is useful, and sometimes it isn't; it doesn't hurt to try it.

Cited Reference Search

All of the above searches started on the "Search" page. The "Cited Reference Search" page is useful for finding papers that have cited multiple papers by the same author, or for finding papers that have cited sources that aren't in the SCI database, such as books, book chapters, papers from before 1900, and papers from obscure journals. To use the Cited Reference Search page, set the database to "Web of Science Core Collection" and then click on the blue box next to "Basic Search" and change the search type to "Cited Reference Search."

The main use of the Cited Reference Search is to find papers that cite items that aren't in the Web of Science database, so they don't have their own page with a "Times Cited" link. Enter the name of the author in the Cited Author box. If the list of references this yields is too long, enter the date to narrow it down. For example, to find papers that have cited the book The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms, published in 1881 by C. Darwin, enter darwin c in the Cited Author box and 1881 in the Cited Year box. You'll get a list of references published in that year by Darwin. Click on the one you want, then click on the Finish Search button.

The other common use for Cited Reference Search is to find papers that have cited multiple works by a particular author. If you're interested in snake venom evolution, you'll quickly find a lot of papers by Bryan G. Fry. If you look at the Times Cited link for each of Fry's papers, you'll see a lot of the same papers over and over, since many papers will cite multiple Fry papers. You could do a Cited Reference Search for papers by Fry, select a few that are relevant, and then you'll get a list of papers that cite any of the Fry papers you chose.

Obtaining papers

Once you've got a list of relevant references, you'll want to read them. You can get many of them with the "Full Text" buttons in Web of Science; click it, then click on the "Get It!" button. This will often take you to a page that shows just the abstract; look around on it for a link to the full text.

There used to be some journals that the library had online, but that weren't linked to the Web of Science. I don't know if there are still some like that, but you can check by going to the main library page, available on-campus or from off-campus. Enter the first part of the journal title in the "E-journals by Title or ISSN" box and hit Search. Different journals have different ways of getting to a particular article, some of which are kind of tedious, so even when you have one particular article you're looking for, it's usually easier to find it through Web of Science rather than the journal's web page.

If the library doesn't have the online version of your journal, or if you need an old article that's not included in the online version, the library may have the printed version. To find out whether the print version of a journal is in the library, use Delcat from on campus or off campus. You may be able to find the journal with a Basic Search, the default when you first go to Delcat. If the journal name is so simple that Basic Search gives you too many results, choose "Search Journals/Serials" and try again.



Once you get to the record for the journal, click on the link next to "Location." This will tell you which volumes of the journal are in the Morris Library, the Agriculture Library, the Marine Studies Library, or the Library Annex. In the listing above for the journal Biochemical Genetics, the library has it in three places; the Library Annex, the Morris Library, and online. Clicking on the Location links will tell you that the Library Annex has volumes 1-17, the Morris Library has volumes 18-35, and the online version has volumes 35 to the current volume. The call number is QH431 .B54, so if you need something from volumes 18-35 of Biochemical Genetics, you can go to the Morris Library and find it on the shelf.

If the article you need is in the Library Annex, where older bound journals are stored, use this online form. If you do this by 2 p.m. on a weekday, your journal will be available at the circulation desk in the main library by 4 p.m.

If the article or book you need is only in the Agriculture Library, you can go to Townsend Hall, on South Campus, and use it there. You can check out books from there and return them to the Morris Library.

If the article or book you need is only in the Marine Studies Library, which is in Lewes, Delaware, you can order it from there. To order from the Marine Studies Library, use the online recall form. Put "Marine Studies" before the call number and include the journal name, volume and page numbers in the Title box. In a few days, you'll be notified that your journal is being held for you at the circulation desk in the main library.

If the article you need is not in the UD library system, you can order it through Interlibrary Loan. There is no cost for this to you (but it does cost the University a few bucks for each item, so don't go crazy). There's an online form for this, too. Sometimes you'll get a pdf file e-mailed to you; other times, you'll be notified that a dusty old volume is waiting for you at the circulation desk. It may take a couple days, or it may take a couple weeks, so don't put this off until the last minute.

Reference lists usually abbreviate the names of journals, but you'll need the full name of the journal to look it up in Delcat or order it via Interlibrary Loan. You can use this list of journal titles with abbreviations). if you still can't find it, ask for help at the Reference Desk in the main library.

Return to John McDonald's home page.

This page was last revised February 6, 2014. Its URL is