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BIO 111, Introduction to Biology I: Scientific Method

Tips and strategies for locating scientific journal articles for the BIO 111 lab reports

A Little Context

In BIO 111, you will be learning about biology, but you will also be learning how to conduct scientific research - how to design and conduct experiments to help you find answers to a specific question, using something called scientific method.

Part of the scientific research process is knowing what others have already learned, and to do this, you need to look within the scientific literature - journal articles, books, and web sites that have been developed based on scientific method(s) and reviewed by other scientists (usually through peer review or reviews of the existing literature).

The library seminar and this guide are created to support you in finding scientific sources that are appropriate to use in your lab reports.

The Scientific Method


This video (at least the first 1:20 minutes of it) provide some good context for understanding the scientific method and its importance to scientific research.

Scientific Journal Articles and Papers

Scientific articles that report the results of scientific research generally follow the same outline:

  1. The Introduction includes the hypothesis and a review of the existing scientific literature. There may or may not be a heading for this section.
  2. The Methods section describes how the experiment or research was conducted and should provide enough detail for other scientists to be able to replicate the experiment. It might also be labeled "methodology" or "materials" or "procedures" and be divided into subsections.
  3. The Results section describes and analyzes the data collected in the experiment or research, as well as any statistical methods used. This section often includes charts, tables, photographs, or other visual representations of the data.
  4. The Discussion section provides insight into the scientists' thoughts on what the results add to our knowledge of the topic, as well as what the results mean in the context of the hypothesis (did they find an answer to their question?) and the existing literature (i.e., what others have already learned). It might also be labeled "interpretation" or "conclusions," although in scientific research a conclusion is rarely that - there's almost always something more to be learned.

Take a look to see how this corresponds to the cycle described above. Notice, also, that there are several ways in which the scientific literature is reflected in reports of scientific research. For example, you may find references to previous scientific research in the methods, results, and discussion sections of the paper, as well as in the introduction.

In this blog post, Jennifer Raff, an anthropology professor at University of Kansas, provides tips on how to read a scientific article. Even though this advice is targeted at non-scientists, it offers some good advice for those who are at the beginning of their journey of becoming a scientist. In her post, she describes how to do each of the following steps:

  1. Read the introduction (not the abstract).
  2. Identify the big question.
  3. Summarize the background (5 sentences or less).
  4. Identify the specific question(s).
  5. Identify the approach.
  6. Read the methods section. Draw a diagram for each experiment.
  7. Read the results. Write a one-paragraph summary of each experiment, figure and table.
  8. Ask the questions: do the results answer the specific question(s)? What do you think they mean?
  9. Read the discussion section.
  10. Read the abstract.
  11. Finally, what do other researchers say about this paper? (This is a good place to use Google.)

Activities and Assignments

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