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Agriculture and Bioresources 492/494: Tutorials for Finding and Evaluating Information Sources

This guide contains two modules designed to assist 492/494 AgBio students in contributing to the scholarly conversation in their fields, and finding and retrieving relevant and credible information.

Keeping Track of Things

You have deconstructed your thesis topic and found some terms to search for. You linked them up with Boolean operators and took advantage of other database search tips like quotation marks. You searched in some databases and online with Google and/or Google Scholar. You have found many journal articles and many pieces of grey literature. Ahead of working with all the material you have found, you're going to need some strategies for keeping track of everything. That's what this final section is all about: documenting your search process and managing your sources.

Documenting your Search Strategies

The reason that you want to document your search strategies is so that you know where you have been and what you have searched for. Searching is an iterative process. As you gain more knowledge from each search, you will probably find that there are even more things to search for! You will come back to your chosen search tools a few times while you write your thesis and if you document your searches from the start, you will not redo the searches you have already done. There is no right or wrong way to document your search strategies. Develop something that works for you. You could use a Word document, a table, an Excel spreadsheet, etc. Keep track of which search tools you have used and what you have searched for when you were there. Plus, this documentation is something you could show to your supervisor to illustrate the depth and breadth of your research.

Here's a sample documentation style:

Example search documentation style
Date Search Tool Search Strategy
Sept. 30 Google
  1. fusarium head blight in wheat
  2. field management fusarium head blight control
  3. crop rotation and FHB
Oct. 5 Web of Science Core Collection

"fusarium head blight" OR FHB

              AND

"field management" OR "management techniques"

Oct. 6 Google field management techniques and crop diseases
Oct. 8 Google Scholar field management techniques and crop diseases

Web of Science Core Collection Tip: If you create a personal account in Web of Science, any search that you do when you are logged in will be saved! Then you can come back to it later, see what you've done, and re-run any of the searches. The account is something you must make yourself, and it doesn't use your NSID and password.

Managing Your Sources

Once you start to find some good articles and other information sources that you will be using in your thesis, you need to have a way to manage them. Reference (or citation) management software allows you to import references/citations from online databases, organize them into folders, insert them into the body of your research paper in a variety of citation style formats (e.g. APA and MLA), and generate formatted reference lists (USask Library, Managing References). Three popular examples of reference managers are Mendeley, Zotero, and EndNote. The USask Library has a great page that compares the three using a variety of criteria.

Watch this brief video that looks at Zotero and Mendeley for an idea of what a reference manager can do.

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