Skip to Main Content

Natural Sciences: Using Information Sources

Guides for Biology, Chemistry, Conservation, Environmental Sciences, Horticulture, Marine & Freshwater, and Sustainability Sciences

Information Sources

When researching or using any information you will need to know what to look for. See below for an introduction to the range of resources that you will encounter while looking for information to use in your assignment or research, how to find these resources, and how to use them effectively.

For academic sources: 

For grey literature and industry sources:

For internet searching and websites:

Academic Sources

Academic sources are great sources of expert research. These sources are found through academic publishers so to find them you will need to use resources that tap into the publisher's catalogues. 

Here are some guides on tools to find academic resources:

  • ECU Library - The ECU library catalogue. Used to explore the curated collection of academic libraries.  
  • Google Scholar - Online academic resource search engine. 
  • Scholarly Databases - Curated collections of academic resources. 
  • Journals - A publication of research articles. 

ECU Library Search is the library catalogue at Edith Cowan University. Using ECU Library Search you can search ECU Library's entire collection. You can also search for holdings in libraries worldwide to see what other libraries have.

Using ECU Library Search

You can use ECU Library Search by searching for titles or authors that you want to find, or by applying keywords into the search box to look for items that contain those words. 

You can also put in a search string or use search strategies to get results. 

ECU Library Search is designed to search the worlds library catalogues. Connecting to WorldCat, a global database that connects with and searches through library content held at all connected libraries worldwide (WorldCat, n.d.), the results that you will see initially on the library are from all holdings on all connected catalogues. 

Use the filters on the left side to narrow your results down. 

For an introduction to using Worldsearch see Information Essentials Module 2: Finding Sources of Information - Basic search

Accessing Resources

If we hold an item electronically you will see an option to  or .

Clicking on this will take you to the main database or journal that holds the item. Here you may have the option to download the article or a set of pages from the book, or read online. 

See the eBooks guide for how to download and read chapters from a book that you have downloaded from our catalogue: eBooks: eReader Software/Downloading 

Items not in our collection

If you see something that we have and it is not available you may have the option for Document Delivery. This is only available for Postgraduate and PhD students, Academic staff, and Researchers. 

Further resources

For more information on how to use Worldsearch see the ECU Library how to guide

Google Scholar is Googles search engine for scholarly published works. Common sources that you can find through Google Scholar are journal articles, conference papers, technical reports and more (Google Scholar, n.d.).  

Google Scholar uses an automated system (search robots) to identify and index information that fulfils its criteria to be scholarly works. This means it can pick up information that is identifiable as a scholarly work on the internet. However, it may not pick up everything (or might lose things) in its results if they don’t fulfil the search robot’s criteria.

Using Google Scholar

Google scholar works the same as a normal Google search.

When searching Google Scholar your results will appear based on relevance first. You can change this to be sorted by publication date using the filters.

Google Scholar doesn't come with a list of filters as you would find on a database or catalogue but rather relies on search filter commands that you can put into your search string. A list of search operators and filter commands can be found on their Refine Web Searches page.

Here are some useful filters that you can use: 

Function Usage Examples
allintitle: Only searches the title for keywords

allintitle:Marine biochemistry

  • Will only return articles with Marine AND Biochemistry in its title
site: Searches for a particular website or type of URL.

  • Only returns results from .gov websites

  • Only returns results from
author: Searches for a particular author. You will need to add "author:" to every word. Or use the Advanced Search function.

author:SE author:Lam 

  • Looks for author S.E. Lam
filetype: Searches for results of a certain filetype


  • Only returns PDF files. 
  • Will also result in inaccessible files from publishers. 
Source: Searches the source information. You can use this to search for results from certain Journals or Publishers

source:"Taylor & Francis"

  • Returns results that are from the publisher Taylor & Francis

source:"Journal of Applied Ecology"

  • Returns results that are from the Journal of Applied Ecology

You can also apply all of these filters through Google Scholar Advanced Search. This is available through the menu on the left side. 

See also: Search Engines and Library Databases: Google Scholar

Accessing Resources

As Google Scholar looks through the internet to find scholarly works it will bring up results that you won't necessarily have access to. Scholarly works are mostly produced through publications that require payment or subscriptions to access. As you do have some access through institution memberships such as ECU via the library you can add Library Links to show you what articles are found in our catalogue.

Set your Preferences in Google Scholar to set up the  Findit@ECU link to full text available via ECU Library. This link will let you navigate to an accessible copy of articles found on Google Scholar. 

You can do this by:

  • Click on the Preferences link above OR look for Library Links in left hand side bar
  • Type in Edith Cowan University
  • Click on Find Library > then Save Preferences

What is a scholarly database?

Scholarly Databases are a searchable collection of works and resources focused on a specific academic criteria.

Databases contain a range of resources such as:

  • Scholarly journals and journal articles
  • Academic books and book chapters
  • Trade publications and magazines
  • Newspaper articles,
  • TV clips

Types of Scholarly Databases

Subject Databases

These focus on a narrow range of subjects, usually closely related. These databases are useful to help focus your search as the resources there are focused on a specific subject and the related concepts. These databases will also allow you to use more subject specific keywords as subject terms. 

Use Subject Databases to find articles that are focused on research or discussion around your subject of interest. 

Citation Indexes

These databases focus on the relationships and links between journals, articles, and other indexed resources. Commonly known as abstract and citation databases, they provide the abstracts to all articles in a broad subject area. A lot of the texts that you can find on these will not provide full access to the article but show you the relationship between what an article has cited, and what it has been cited in. 

Use Citation Indexes to find other related articles to what you are reading, follow the research around an article, or find all articles indexed by them on a particular search criteria.

Use the FindIt@ECU link to search ECU Library Search for access to these articles. 

What is a Journal?

Journals are serial works that have a consistent cover title, and are published at regular intervals. Individual articles may be written by different authors, and are generally related to the topic of the journal. Journal articles generally contain specific and more up-to- date information than is found in books.

  • Scholarly or peer-reviewed or refereed journals are academic quality journals, which are published to disseminate research findings and are written to target the scholarly or research community. 
  • Trade publications are published to keep professionals up-to-date providing information focused on current industry issues.
  • Magazines are published for the general public. Their content is more general and aims to inform and entertain their intended audience.

How do I find Journals and Journal Articles?

There are a range of journals available through different sources. The common one that you'll be encountering are the scholarly journals. These journals are written for an academic audience such as researchers, teachers, and students. 

To find these you can:

  • Use scholarly databases which are a collection of scholarly journals and other material around your subject. 
  • Access services that purchase subscriptions to these journals such as academic libraries
  • Visit the Academic Resources page to find a selection of Journals relevant to your subject. 
  • Explore online using Google Scholar. 

Be aware that a lot of journals will require you to pay to access. Check if the article is available through ECU Library by searching the title using ECU Library Search.

Some journals may publish using an Open Access model. This means you can freely access these articles without a subscription or logging in.

You can find a list of the Journals available through ECU in our Journal Collection lists.

To find relevant journals for your subject look up your subject area in SCImago Journal & Country Rank.

Evaluating Journals

There are a large range of journals and similar works out there and they may vary in terms of peer-review and quality. 

To check whether a journal is peer reviewed you can choose one of the following options:

  1. Use the limit option "peer reviewed" in ECU Library Search
  2. Check the journal website. This information is normally included in "about the journal".
  3. Check the journal title in Ulrichsweb: global serials directory database.

We have a video on how to use UlrichsWeb available here.

Grey Literature

Grey literature refers to research, reports and other works not controlled by commercial or academic publishing. 

Grey literature includes:

  • Reports (by government or commercial entities) 
  • Theses
  • Conference Proceedings
  • Technical Standards
  • Government Statistics
  • Datasets
  • Technical documentation and manuals
To find grey literature you can have a look at the associated organisation or industry websites or repositories. 
You can also search Google for reports or web-documents by filtering for PDF documents on organisation websites. To do this add the following search restrictions to your search string:
For file type restrictions: Filetype:__ (e.g. Filetype:PDF )
For site restrictions: site: site:___ (e.g. or
See the Google Scholar section for more search functions

There are also online search engines for Deep Web searching for science and technology literature that you can use such as:

For more information on grey literature see our Grey Literature guide or visit: 

Online Sources

For some information you may just need to look to websites and information found on the internet. Online sources are a great source of information on events, businesses, services, and general things. 

However because of how diverse the information is there is very little control over what goes on the internet. 

Here we'll look at: 

If you need to look for anything online you can use your search engine of choice. 

Most search engines will provide you with a basic search box for you to enter your keywords, search term, topic of choice or question. 

Be aware when using search engines that they do tailor your search based around your history, user account, location, and preferences. 

See our guide on Search Engines and Library Databases to find out more about how online search engines return results. 


Wikipedia is a useful tool for surface level information. However when it comes to the search for reliable and credible information it falls short. Here are the key things that you need to know when considering Wikipedia and the information that is found on it. 

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is an online free encyclopedia. The key aim of Wikipedia is to create a collaborative collection of knowledge in which anyone in the world can contribute to and expand (Wikipedia, 2020d). The information presented in the articles of Wikipedia are recommended to be written from a neutral point-of-view with no original research (Wikipedia, 2020b). Edits in Wikipedia are generally requested to have a verifiable sources cited for each one of the points presented (Wikipedia, 2020b, 2020c). 

Why is it not a reliable source?

A reliable source is one where you can verify where and who the information is coming from. We use the CRAAP test to test for reliable sources. Here is Wikipedia if we apply the CRAAP test:

  • Currency: When was the article published?
    • ✅ A lot of the articles are frequently updated and kept current.
  • Relevancy: Does it relate to your topic?
    • ✅ Each page can be narrowly focused on its main topic it allows for the relevancy of the article to be easily matched to your assignment topic. 
  • Authority: Is the author or publisher qualified to talk about the topic? 
    • ❌ Who was the author of the article and who were the editors of that particular entry are unknown. Editors can remain anonymous when editing entries into Wikipedia (Wikipedia, 2020b). As a reader you cannot verify who the authors are. 
    • ❌The only restrictions of control that the publisher (Wikipedia) claims to have is a restriction on pages to the administrators only for the sake of preventing vandalism (Wikipedia, 2020e)
  • Accuracy: Does the information have supporting evidence? Where have they gotten their evidence from?
    • ❌There is a lack of scholarly evidence provided for some Wikipedia entries. It is recommended to find information which the supporting evidence are also from a reliable sources.  
  • Purpose: Why is the information published?
    • ❌In academic assignments and works it is recommended to cite primary sources of research, observations, or studies. Wikipedia articles are all written as sources of no original research (Wikipedia, 2020a). This means that all of the statements of ideas presented in these articles have been taken from somewhere else, making the entire article a secondary source.

Okay but can I use Wikipedia?

The use of encyclopedias to provide context, definitions, and related topics is not one that is academically discouraged. The purpose of encyclopedias and other reference works such as dictionaries, handbooks, or manuals are useful tools to create understanding of a word, phrase, subject, or concept.

This is where Wikipedia comes in. 

Use Wikipedia for:

  • Related concepts - If you are doing an assignment to explore a topic (literature reviews, essays, reports) you need to be able to look at related topics. Use Wikipedia as an encyclopedia to explore the related topics around your assignment. 
  • Key words - When forming your search strategy to find academic works you need to know the language and key words that are commonly used. Use the language and related terms from encyclopedias to expand on your search string. 
  • Understanding - You can also use Wikipedia for getting a basic overview of your topic. Keep in mind that the article may not be written by an expert. Consider using your textbooks to verify any claims that are found on Wikipedia. 

Never use Wikipedia as a reference (unless you're talking about the website Wikipedia)! 


Wikipedia. (2020a, July 29). Wikipedia:No original research.

Wikipedia. (2020b, August 3). Help:Editing

Wikipedia. (2020c, September 20). Wikipedia:Core content policies.

Wikipedia. (2020d, September 21). Wikipedia:About.

Wikipedia. (2020e, September 22). Wikipedia:Protection policy.