How to do research in Biology

Library resources for researchers working on biology, including microbiology, zoology, botany, ecology, paleontology, molecular biology, evolution, developmental biology, biodiversity, natural history, and other related topics.


Topic-specific keywords will help improve your results in a general multidisciplinary database like Google, Google Scholar, HOLLIS, or Academic Search Premier

Add keywords like these to your search:

  • Genetics, physiology, anatomy, behavior - animal behavior

  • Scientific names and common names - Lepidoptera OR butterfly

  • Phrases instead of single words - “cell metabolism”


The best tool for your project may be a specialized search engine, also known as a database. These databases are subject-specific or format-specific search tools:

Web of Science (via HarvardKey) – allows you to search across the top databases for scholarship in biology, dating back to at least 1900. Use the All Databases setting for a broad range of scientific literature. For more search options, select a specific database from the drop-down list (e.g. BIOSIS Citation Index, Zoological Record, or MEDLINE, the database behind PubMed). You can find more search tips in our Guide to Web of Science.

PubMed (via HarvardKey) – a top source of biomedical literature, with sources from about 1950-present. As a service from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, is free to search: use HarvardKey access to get more full-text articles. (Note that you can also search PubMed in Web of Science.)

Dig Deeper

Our Guide to the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) introduces researchers to the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. The BHL’s full-text volumes, images, and archives cover a wide variety of biological topics, with over 60 million pages of materials dating from the 15th-21st centuries. 


Mary Sears, the library liaison for biological sciences, is available to support researchers via email, zoom, or in-person consultation.

Featured Location 

Harvard’s Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology has one of the most comprehensive natural history collections in the world, including rare and unique materials, as well as contemporary works in the biological sciences, ecology, and related fields.

Service Alert:
  • Some Harvard Library locations will be closed or have special hours for Commencement, Thursday, May 26. Please check the Library Hours page for specifics. Ask a Librarian and chat hours will remain as usual.
  • Most Harvard Library locations will be closed Monday, May 30 and Tuesday, May 31, in observance of the Memorial Day holiday. Ask a Librarian and chat service will be closed on these dates.
  • If you're experiencing an ongoing technical issue when you attempt to access library materials with your HarvardKey during these times, please report it to Library Technology Services.



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Chat is intended for brief inquiries from the Harvard community.


Talk to a librarian for advice on defining your topic, developing your research strategy, and locating and using sources. Make an appointment now.

These services are intended primarily for Harvard University faculty, staff and students. If you are not affiliated with Harvard, please use these services only to request information about the Library and its collections.