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1. A guide to Biological information and resources

2. Basic Skills: Writing for science

3. Basic Skills: Internet and Library catalog use

4. How are things organized in the library ?

5. Where is Biological literature kept in Hamilton Library?

6. It's a jungle out there, where do I start? Two paths: Time and Function

7. How does Biological literature evolve over time?

8. Function: Different strokes for different folks

9. Some Functional types of Biological literature

10. It's a brave new world: Electronic resources for Biological literature

11. Other Suggested Information Sources For Biology

D.Coleman 2004

How does Biological literature evolve over time?

Evolutionary time line of a scientific idea
Just as biologists can gain an understanding of an animals life history by tracing it’s origins from fossil records to living specimens, understanding the information time line will make it easier to track down the specific information that you are seeking. A scientific idea evolves from hypothesis, to thesis, to synthesis into the accepted body of scientific knowledge. As it moves through time it may be tracked by different information sources even before it reaches the traditional print media.

It is possible that an idea or concept may be discussed for some time before an actual formal experiment is performed. The Internet has become a sounding board and a good source for ideas in their early stages of development. Ideas may be discussed in special interests list servers, electronic newsletters and the web pages of professional scientific organizations. A growing number of newspapers are found on-line and many include science sections. Of course you have to carefully evaluate the validity of nonprofessional sources of information. In some fields of science articles are made available on-line before they become available as an official publication. This information is provided by preprint services.

The following are sources of preprint materials.


Electronic newsletters

Professional organization web pages

Electronic newspapers


The Sequence of Publication
The dissemination of science literature has changed dramatically over the past decade. Information is often published in electronic format long before it is available in print. We are seeing the development of electronic only publications and so some information may never appear in print. Many questions remain about how this information will be preserved and accessed over an extended period of time. Newly available information is found in what is called
Primary literature. This is often the most current information available to the field. The idea is that this is new information appearing in electronic or paper for the first time. Some examples would be personal papers, conference proceedings, journals, theses, dissertations, etc.

Once information has been presented and judged worthy it continues to evolve into what is considered Secondary literature. This is basically warmed over data that has been sifted out of the primary literature and condensed into some useful form. Typical material might be textbooks, review journals, bibliographies, etc. You can search for this material by using the WebVoyager catalog from the library or even from home if you have a computer and modem.

This is not the end of the "evolutionary trail" for information. Concepts that stand the test of time form the basis of our understanding of science. This information evolves into what can be called Tertiary literature, tools that help us to understand our world and seek out new information. This can be really old stuff. This is material that has withstood the test of time and has been condensed down to its final form. Good examples are encyclopedias and zoological dictionaries. Other useful forms of tertiary literature are taxonomic keys, handbooks, manuals, style manuals, etc. This type of material is typically found in the reference section of the Science and Technology collection.

Primary Literature
Secondary Literature
Tertiary Literature

Conference proceedings

Review papers





Government reports

Text books


Journal articles


Review papers

This table illustrates the flow of information over time and provides some on-line sources.

An information timeline

 Report of Event
(Documentation and Dissemination)

 Time Frame

Access to Information (How to Find)

Radio/TV/Internet News Services


TV News Indexes

List serves

Day / Days+

National Academy of Sciences


Week / Weeks

Nature , Science , Discover

Journals (print & electronic)

6 months +

Periodical Indexes, E-journals


2+ years

WebVoyager Catalog

Reference Sources -- e.g. Encyclopedia; Handbook (print & electronic)

about 10 years

WebVoyager Catalog


  • Save time by looking first for research materials on your topic at the point where it begins to fit into the flow of information.

    Adapted from UCLA College Libraries Help Guides