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MICRO 440: Laboratory in Microbial Physiology, Diversity, and Genetics

Why Can't I Just Use Google?

Google is a very helpful tool - but sometimes it's not the right tool for the job.

Databases and websites devoted to one topic offer special tools and features that general services like Google cannot. IMDB offers much more information on movies than Google for example.


Google only covers the "free web" and access to most scholarly articles is not free and not all articles are online.

If you rely only on Google for academic research you risk missing relevant and important research in your field.


Google was built to search web pages not research journals, articles, book chapters, conference proceedings, etc.

Academic library tools and databases offer special search features to help you narrow or broaden your searches of research literature. Example features not found in Google: article key words and subjects,author affiliation, year published, etc.

Primary & Secondary Sources for the Sciences

Primary vs. Secondary sources for the sciences


Definition: An eye-witness account - i.e. results are reported for the first time by the authors/researchers.

Types: research articles, conference papers, lab notebooks, proceedings, technical reports, theses and studies.


Definition: A second-hand report - i.e. results are summarized, interpreted, or commented upon by others who were not witnesses or participants.

Types: review articles, encyclopedias, magazine articles and text-books.

Warning signs that you are reading a secondary source:

  • Results are summarized with little detail.
  • Researchers, labs or groups are referred to by name.
  • Results are displayed in eye-catching graphics or info-graphics.
  • Results are discussed in synthesis with other experiments.

Scholarly vs Popular Articles

Scholarly vs. Popular

The following sites have more information regarding the differences between scholarly and popular sources of information:

Where do I start?

Research is an active process

Often the hardest part of the research process is getting started. Below are some quick tips to help you out.

An image visulizing the research process as a cycle that starts with 1) what you know, 2) what do you want to learn, 3) where you find resources, 4) refine your search, 5) evaluate, and 6) cite your sources.

image from:

Choose a topic, develop your inquiry

  • Consider what you already know, what parts you find interesting and what areas you want to explore further.

Search the literature

Find out what other people have discovered and how they did it.

  • Make a list of search terms that describe your topic
  • Use databases and search tools that fit your topic.
  • Ask a Librarian if you need help.

Refine your Search

Narrow down your choices.

  • Add and subtract terms from your searches as you learn  which words best "match" the literature and your topic.
  • Start with the general and work your way toward the specific (example: cooking -> baking -> pastries).