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ENGL 2820: Scientific Writing

This is a guide intended to help all students, virtual and face-to-face, with research concepts for English 2820, Scientific Writing.

Beginning Research for Scientific Writing

Getting Help

The single most important thing to know about research is that you can always get help from the Library!

Research Consultations

Need help with research for a paper, project, or other research-related task? Schedule an appointment with a Research Librarian and meet via Zoom conferencing software. See below for  science research librarian contact information.


Chapel Cowden is the UTC librarian that works with Scientific Writing. Chapel is the Health & Science Librarian at UTC and works closely with all science and health science programs on campus. Contact her via email at While email is a great way to get in touch and get the research ball rolling, you likely be asked to meet online using Zoom, which offers a richer learning experience.

Online Chat Service

Need an answer quickly and it's after 5pm? Use the Library's chat service! Our Ask A Librarian chat service allows to you live chat with a real librarian who can answer your research questions. Check the Library's website for chat operating hours. 

Where Do I Search

Scientific Writing topics and research questions are diverse, which can make it difficult to pick an appropriate database for your research. Here are some steps to help you determine where to search:

  1. The first thing to ask yourself is "What campus discipline would be interested in my question?" Writing about concussions? Nursing & Medical or Health & Human Performance. Plastic Pollution? Try Environmental Science.
  2. Next, locate the Subject Guide for that discipline. The Research Guide will have a big list of databases that work best for research in that discipline or area. Each database has a short description, telling you what's in it. Usually, the ones that will be best for your research are close to the top of the list.

There are some databases that cover a broad range of science and health science research that should also be part of your searching toolkit. Descriptions for the databases are below and the databases can be found on the Databases webpage.

Web of Science

This database is an expansive multidisciplinary index to the sciences, social sciences, arts, & humanities. This is a challenging database to use, but if you carefully construct your searches, it can yield very precise results. Be sure to refer to the Web of Science Tip Sheet for help using the database.


This database provides comprehensive coverage of medical and biomedical research. This database is also somewhat challenging to use. While we do have a Database Tip Sheet for PubMed, we don't have one for the brand new interface that PubMed has--stay tuned!

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is the academic side of Google. It is a familiar interface and can provide really great results on the first page or two. Results can be altered by date, which is usually helpful for Scientific Writing assignments. While Google Scholar won't be the only database you use, you should give it a try.


Choose the best Keywords

Why are keywords important?

By this point in your college career, you have probably had a chance to search library databases. You understand that you need keywords (not sentences) when you search a database. However, using science terminology might be new territory.

Natural Language vs. Database Language

Natural language refers to the common way that we speak in everyday life. Database language refers to how a database classifies a concept and is usually very technical. Though most databases are great at matching natural language entered with database terminology, it’s important for you to begin recognizing scientific terminology. Some examples include:

Natural Language Database Language
Heart attack Myocardial infarction
Hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis (genus & species)
Concussion Traumatic Brain Injury
Fracking Hydraulic fracturing
Shingles Herpes zoster

Where to Find Synonyms

  1. The Internet: Is your search term or concept called anything else? Look it up in an online encyclopedia to find out. 
  2. Other background sources: You can also easily find synonyms in other background sources, including your lecture notes, textbooks, and print encyclopedias (yes, they still exist!).
  3. Use database subject headings: If you run a search and find a good article in a database, look at the subject terms for the item that are listed by the database. Use those terms in future searches. 


  1. Start with your research question:
    Can pre-screenings help decrease the risk of cardiac arrest deaths in young athletes?
  1. Sort out the major terms. In this case:  
    pre-screenings AND cardiac arrest death AND young athletes
  1. Make a list of synonyms and related terms for each of your major terms.

    Synonyms and related terms for the word cardiac arrest death include:

    • sudden cardiac death (SCD)
    • sudden cardiac arrest
    • heart arrest

    Synonyms and related terms for young athletes might include:

    • student athletes
    • high school athletes
    • adolescent athlete
    • youth sports
    • high school sports
    • youth football (or basketball, soccer, etc.)

Build a Search Strategy

Once you've decided what to research, where you plan to search, and the keywords you want to try, it's time to create a search strategy. Each of the following sections will help you build and properly conduct your search.

Search Commands (AND, OR, & NOT)

These words can be used in Library databases, but also work really well in Google! They are important for creating efficient, effective searches.

Command Purpose Example Search Visualization

Expands the search.

Used to string synonyms together.

Results include all articles with any of the terms used.

Hand washing


Hand Hygiene

(all results including the words "hand washing" as well as all results including the words "hand hygiene")

venn diagram - union of two sets with search terms 'hand washing' and 'hand hygiene'

Narrows the search.

All retrieved results must include all terms connected with AND.

AND usually combines different concepts together in one search.

AND is assumed between words in Google.

Hospital infection



(only results that include both the terms "hospital infection" and "antibiotic")

venn diagram - intersection of two sets with search terms 'hospital infection' and 'antibiotic'

Excludes results with a specific term.

Really handy to eliminate unwanted search results.




(all results with the term "antibiotic", but excluding those with the term "penicillin")

venn diagram - relative compliment of terms 'antibiotic' not 'penicillin'

Example Search

So how do we put these terms into use along with what we learned about synonyms in the keyword section? Let's take an example research question and break it down into a good search strategy.

Does hand washing amongst healthcare workers reduce healthcare facility acquired infections? 

Synonyms for Concept #1  Hand washing OR Handwashing OR Hand hygiene OR Hand disinfection
Synonyms for Concept #2  Healthcare facility acquired infection OR Hospital acquired infections OR Nosocomial infections OR Healthcare associated infections
Synonyms for Concept #3  Healthcare workers OR Health personnel OR Healthcare provider OR Health professional

The idea here is to combine synonyms and concepts in different ways for multiple searches. Combining your terms should reduce the overall number of searches needed. Example search strategies:

  • (Hand washing OR Handwashing OR hand hygiene) AND (nosocomial infections OR cross infection) AND (Health personnel OR Healthcare workers)
  • (Hand washing OR Handwashing) AND (nosocomial infections OR cross infection)
  • Pretty much any way you can think of to combine your terms is a good idea!

This tutorial is for Professor Bell's Scientific Writing sections. The tutorial should take 45 minutes to complete. Click the blue button above to begin.

Much of the information covered in the tutorial is above, in the Beginning Research for Scientific Writing section, so feel free to reference back when needed.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Concerned about plagiarism in your writing? Take the Avoiding Plagiarism in STEM Writing tutorial to learn helpful strategies to avoid this problem in your writing.