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ENSC 430: Honours Projects in Environmental Sustainability

Honours Projects in Environmental Sustainability


An ENSC 430 student asked about how to complete worksheet 1.  The topic was coral reefs, and sub-topics were nutrient cycling and mating systems.  I've reproduced most of my reply to the student, with their permission.


Purpose of the Worksheets
Worksheet 1 is really to help students clarify their topic.  One goal is to get everyone to brainstorm all the concepts that are associated with their topics, and to write out all the keywords that can describe these concepts.  Why?  Terminology changes.  "Climate change" is a good example, as the older term is "gobal warming".  To make sure you were getting all the relevant material, you would need to search both terms.
A purpose of both worksheets is to help people get in the habit of documenting their searches.  For long term projects, you may need to redo your searches every few weeks or months in order to get the latest materials.  Having a record saves you work.   This record is also an important part of systematic review methodology (see the Systematic Review Example).
The last purpose of worksheet 1 is to help students recognize that there are specific ways to get the most out of database searching - some of this can be specialized search language.  For example, all databases (and Google) recognize quotation marks around two or more words.  Searching for "global warming" find results that have the two words together in that order.  This helps to weed out irrelevant search results.
The main topic is coral reefs, and other concepts related to the reefs like nutrient cycling and mating systems.
Here's a sample of how the topic could be analyzed...
Concept 1: Coral Reefs
Brainstorm language to describe your concept: coral reef, coral reefs, atolls, biofacies, Cnidaria, coral terrace, corral island
(Please note that you don't need to use all of these, I'm just trying to list all the terminology that could be related to the concept "coral reef".)
Now translate this into database search language.  For one thing, writing "coral reef" in quotation marks will bring back results with these two words together, not scattered separately in a citation record.  You can also write "coral reef*" to get both "coral reef" or "coral reefs" in the results.
You can also use OR as an operator to search for synonyms for this concept.  For example:
"coral reef*" OR atoll* OR "coral island"
Concept 2: nutrient cycling
Brainstorm other keywords for this concept:
nutrient cycling, biogenic process, nutrient recycling
And put it in database language:
"nutrient cycl*" OR "biogenic process*" OR "nutrient recycl*"
Concept 3: mating systems
Brainstorm keywords: mating systems, reproduction, sexual system
And database language:
"mating system*" OR reproduction OR "sexual system"
The final search string is what you get when you put all your concepts together.  Here are the first two concepts:
("coral reef*" OR atoll* OR "coral island")  AND ("nutrient cycl*" OR "biogenic process*" OR "nutrient recycl*")
Note that a single concept or idea is within parentheses.  AND is the operator word that ties both concepts together.
Here's an image of what this search would look like in Geobase.  You can see that the search boxes each act as a place for a single concept, with no parentheses.  The database provided the "AND" between the two search boxes.
database search
You can always go back and amend your list of concepts and keywords - this is a living document, and as you search you may find new terminology, or decide to discard terms that aren't helpful.