How to do Research on Environment

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Ecology & Environment Research Guide 1How to do research on environment? From the harmful effects of air and water pollution to the hazards of global warming, ecology and the environment are issues hotly debated by activists, politicians, policy makers, scientists, researchers, think tanks, and environmentalists. As a result, considerable supporting evidence and research has been published over the years on these and many other important ecological and environmental issues that are ripe for the taking to convincingly support your chosen research paper subject or topic.

Besides the interaction of human activities that contribute to these ecological and environmental concerns, many other key factors or disciplines play a direct role in the study and research of environmental science topics, including biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, and physics, as well as economics, politics, psychology, and sociology. Thus, your research paper on environmental science subjects most likely will entail not only investigating your primary sources, described in this article, but also crossing over into other disciplines.

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Selected Subject Headings

Listed below is a sample of a few broad Library of Congress subject headings—made up of one word or more representing concepts under which all library holdings are divided and subdivided by subject—which you can search under and use as subject terms when searching online library catalogs for preliminary and/or additional research, such as books, audio and video recordings, and other references, related to your research paper topic. When researching materials on your topic, subject heading searching may be more productive than searching using simple keywords. However, keyword searching when using the right search method (Boolean, etc.) and combination of words can be equally effective in finding materials more closely relevant to your topic.

Suggested Topics for Ecology and Environment Research

  • Air Pollution
  • Air Quality Management
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Deforestation
  • Environmental Health
  • Environmental Law
  • Environmental Law, International
  • Environmental Protection
  • Fishery Law and Legislation
  • Hazardous Waste Sites
  • Medical Wastes
  • Pesticides
  • Pollution
  • Refuse and Refuse Disposal
  • Renewable Natural Resources
  • Soil Pollution
  • Sustainable Development
  • Water Pollution

Selected Keyword Search Strategies and Guides

Most online library indexes and abstracts and full-text article databases offer basic and advanced “keyword” searching of virtually every subject. In this case, combine keyword terms that best define your thesis question or topic using the Boolean search method (employing “and” or “or”) to find research most suitable to your topic.

If your topic is “global warming and renewable natural resources,” for example, enter “global warming” and “renewable natural resources” with “and” on the same line to locate sources directly compatible with the primary focus of your research paper. To find research on more specific aspects of your topic, alternate one new keyword at a time with the primary keyword of your topic with “and” in between them (for example, “global warming and causes,” “global warming and health,” “global warming and pollution,” “global warming and solutions,” etc.).

For additional help with keyword searching, navigation or user guides for online indexes and databases by many leading providers—including Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, EBSCO, H.W. Wilson, OCLC, Ovid Technologies, ProQuest, and Thomson Gale—are posted with direct links on library Web sites to guides providing specific instruction to using whichever database you want to search. They provide additional guidance on how to customize and maximize your search, including advanced searching techniques and grouping of words and phrases using the Boolean search method—of your topic, of bibliographic records, and of full-text articles, and other documents related to your subject.

Selected Source and Subject Guides

Ecology & Environment Research Guide 2As part of your preliminary research to find appropriate resources for your research paper topic, information source and research guides are available at most public and academic libraries and are keyword searchable through your library’s online catalog (to search and locate guides, enter your “subject” followed by these keywords one search at a time: “information sources,” “reference sources,” and “research guide”). Printed guides available for this subject area include

Encyclopedia of Environmental Information Sources: A Subject Guide to about 34,000 Print and Other Sources of Information on All Aspects of the Environment, edited by Sarojini Balachandran, 1,813 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1993)

Environmental Education: A Guide to Information Sources, by William B. Stapp and Mary Dawn Liston, 225 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1975)

In addition to these sources of research, most college and university libraries offer online subject guides arranged by subject on the library’s Web page; others also list searchable course-related “LibGuides” by subject. Each guide lists more recommended published and Web sources—including books and references, journal, newspaper and magazines indexes, full-text article databases, Web sites, and even research tutorials—that you can access to expand your research on more specific issues and relevant to your subject.

Selected Books and References

Atlases and Almanacs

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment, by Paul Harrison and Fred Pearce; foreword by Peter H. Raven, 216 pages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001)

This atlas colorfully illustrates the relationship between the environment and the world population and is an excellent source of statistical data. Includes an index by topic.

Earth Almanac: An Annual Geophysical Review of the State of the Planet, 2nd ed., 576 pages (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 2001)

Arranged by subject area, entries offer a treasure trove of statistical environmental information. Appendixes provide additional worthwhile information, such as abbreviations, conversion formulas, Earth facts, a geologic time line, a glossary of terms, international and national scientific programs, and treaties and laws.


Environmental Engineering Dictionary, 4th ed., edited by C.C. Lee, 968 pages (Rockville, Md.: Government Institutes, 2005)

Seemingly every technical and regulatory engineering term used in environmental science—more than 14,000 in all—is defined and explained in this dictionary. Definitions conform to the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements for statutes, regulations, and environmental science terms. Reference sources used for most definitions are also listed. An appendix features an extensive list of environmental acronyms.


Encyclopedia of Environmental Science, edited by David E. Alexander and Rhodes W. Fairbridge, 786 pages (Dordrecht, Netherlands, and Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999)

More than 1,000 entries, arranged in alphabetical order, highlight this encyclopedic volume covering key environmental terms and topics. Most entries include a list of references, including useful print and Web resources. Also provided is a series of useful appendixes, including a directory of environmental organizations, listings of endangered species by state, a timeline of environmental history, and Web sites by subject.

Encyclopedia of Global Change: Environmental Change and Human Society, edited by Andrew S. Goudie and David J. Cuff, 2 vols., 1,424 pages (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003)

This authoritative guide features 320 essay-length articles, listed from A to Z, covering natural and artificial changes to the Earth’s biological, chemical, and physical systems. Highlighting the text are graphs, maps, and photos. Also included is a bibliography of sources.

Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Change, edited by Ted Munn, 5 vols. (New York: Wiley, 2002)

Five-volume set featuring 500 in-depth articles, 100 biographies, and 150 definitions. Articles are arranged by subject and contain abstracts, bibliographies, photos, and diagrams. Each volume includes an alphabetical list of articles in the back. This well-researched and well-written reference series is divided as follows: volume 1, The Earth System: Physical and Chemical Dimensions of Global Environmental Change; volume 2, The Earth System: Biological and Ecological Dimensions of Global Environmental Change; volume 3, Causes and Consequences of Global Environmental Change; volume 4, Responding to Global Environmental Change; and volume 5, Social and Economic Dimensions of Global Environmental Change.

Environmental Encyclopedia, 3rd ed., edited by Marci Bortman et al., 1,641 pages (Detroit, Mich.: Thomson-Gale, 2002)

Available in print and online via Gale Virtual Reference Library, this fully revised and updated edition includes many well-written, nontechnical articles offering critical analysis, current status, and possible solutions to the gamut of environmental issues facing the world today.

International Encyclopedia of Environmental Politics, edited by John Barry and E. Gene Frankland, 544 pages (London and New York: Routledge, 2001)

This A–Z encyclopedia covers environmental political issues around the world through more than 500 insightful entries that include a list of sources for further reading. Also provided is an index of entries arranged by major themes.

Macmillan Encyclopedia of Energy, edited by John Zumerchik, 3 vols. (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2000)

Covers the broad spectrum of energy topics with more than 250 illustrated articles written by academic scholars and experts. Detailed biographies of key figures in the science and energy fields are also included. An electronic version of the entire contents of this three-volume set is available online via Gale Virtual Reference Library.

Macmillan Encyclopedia of the Environment, edited by Stephen R. Kellert, 6 vols. (New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA; London: Simon & Schuster and Prentice Hall International, 1997)

This full-color, beautifully illustrated six-volume reference series provides coverage of virtually everything about the environment, from basic information to recent developments. Detailed entries focus on such topics as biology, chemistry, climate and weather, ecology, endangered species, disasters, evolution, genetics, land use, natural resources, pollution, population growth, waste management, and more.

Pollution A to Z, edited by Richard Stapleton, 2 vols., 757 pages (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003)

Approximately 264 in-depth articles, written by leading scientists, educators, professionals, and other experts, covering all areas of pollution—air, land, space, and water—make up this important volume. Entries are wide ranging in scope, discussing current issues, key concepts, research, and legislation. Many topical issues are likewise critically examined, including asbestos and carbon monoxide and CFC pollution, among others. Also reviewed are social movements and organizations leading the fight against pollution, such as Earth First and the Green Party. This volume is also available by subscription online via Gale Virtual Reference Library.

The Wiley Encyclopedia of Energy and the Environment, edited by Attilio Bisio and Sharon Boots, 1,592 pages (New York: Wiley, 1997)

This acclaimed encyclopedia covers a wide range of energy and environmental topics, arranged alphabetically with lengthy entries illustrated by diagrams and photos. Bibliographies are listed at the end of each entry for further research in the respective subject area.


Global Environment Outlook, 4th ed., 576 pages (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Region-by-region coverage of current environmental conditions around the globe is contained in this important reference source. Policy responses, future recommendations, and perspectives on many key environmental issues are discussed. Statistical data as it applies to the global environmental conditions are included, along with an index by topic.

The Wellbeing of Nations: A Country-by-Country Index of Quality of Life and the Environment, by Robert Prescott-Allen, in cooperation with International Development Research Centre et al., 342 pages (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2001)

Highlighting this 342-page volume is recent data on the quality of life and the environment in 180 countries worldwide. Indicators examined include air quality, energy use, global atmosphere, land health, protected areas, water quality, and resource pressures, among others, of each country. Included in the first section of the book are maps and charts and, in the second half, detailed data tables and methodologies used in the assessment of each country.

World Resources 2000–2001: People and Ecosystems, the Fraying Web of Life, 400 pages (Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2001)

Published by the World Resources Institute, this printed edition, also available online, reviews global environmental trends as they relate to the world’s population, food and water supply, consumption and waste, energy use, climate changes, and well-being of humans. Entries are arranged by ecosystem and include key environmental and social indicators for more than 150 countries. An index offers easy access to specific topics.

Selected Full-Text Article Databases

Academic Search Elite (Ipswich, Mass.: EBSCO Publishing, EBSCOHost, indexing/abstracting: 1984– , full text: 1990– )

Indexing a wide range of subjects, this premier academic database also includes general environment and environment-related journals, including Audubon, Ecology, Environmental Ethics, Environmental Science and Technology, Environment, Journal of Environmental Health, Oceanus, and Sierra.

Annual Reviews (Palo Alto, Calif.: Annual Reviews, 1932– )

Current collection of critical reviews written by leading scientists, published yearly. Subjects explored include energy and the environment, ecology and systematics, genetics, and many more.

Biological and Agricultural Index Plus (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Co., indexing: 1983– , full text: 1997– )

More than 225 peer-reviewed journals in agriculture and the life sciences are abstracted and indexed, including full-text articles, from such disciplines as ecology, environmental science, and forestry via WilsonWeb.

Environmental Issues on File CD-ROM (New York: Facts On File, Inc.)

Offers current environmental facts, figures, and information in full text with maps, charts, numerical data, and detailed diagrams on a wide range of environmental and ecological issues and subjects, including atmospheric pollution, catastrophic weather events, environmental disasters, land and sea pollution, and more.

Expanded Academic ASAP (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale InfoTrac, 1980– )

Like Academic Source Elite, this popular InfoTrac library database also indexes articles published in many leading general environment and environment-related journals, including some of the same titles, such as Audubon, Ecology, Environmental Ethics, Environmental Science and Technology, Environment, Journal of Environmental Health, Oceanus, and Sierra.

JSTOR (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Journal Storage Project, 1996– )

Full-text journal collection that offers direct access to numerous ecology reference sources, including the Journal of Ecology, the Journal of Animal Ecology, and Ecology.

LexisNexis Environmental (Dayton, Ohio: LexisNexis, 1970– )

Contains abstracts and full-text news from a large variety of sources, including scholarly and professional journals, conference papers and proceedings, federal and state government reports, major daily newspapers, consumer and trade magazines, newsletters, law reviews, administrative codes, case law, regulatory agency decisions, waste sites, and hazardous material data.

Wilson Select Plus (Bronx, N.Y.: H.W. Wilson Co., 1994– )

Web accessible through OCLC FirstSearch, this searchable collection includes abstracts and full-text articles from more than 1,300 publications. Includes selected full-text articles from H.W. Wilson’s Business Abstracts, General Sciences Abstracts, Humanities Abstracts, Readers’ Guide, and Social Sciences Abstracts online databases.

Selected Periodicals

Audubon Magazine (New York: National Audubon Society, 1899– , bimonthly)

Published by the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest and largest conservation societies in the United States, this bimonthly magazine covers a broad spectrum of conservation and environmental topics in each issue. The magazine is beautifully photographed and illustrated, and the primary focus of articles is on birds and wildlife and their habitats. Available electronically in full text from Expanded Academic ASAP (1997– ).

The Ecologist (Wadebridge, U.K.: Ecosystems Ltd., 1970– , monthly)

Possibly the most widely read environment magazine, The Ecologist, read by some 200,000 subscribers in 150 countries, features authoritative articles on issues related to the environment. It examines such major environmental challenges as rain forest destruction, climatic changes, and environmental and political agendas around the world.

Ecology (Washington, D.C.: Ecological Society of America, etc., 1920– , annually)

Published annually since 1920 by the Ecological Society of America, a Washington, D.C.–based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists, Ecology magazine pays particular attention to all aspects of ecology in its wide-ranging articles. Included are statistical reports, features, articles, notes, comments, and data papers covering new concepts, and analytical, experimental, historical, and theoretical approaches applicable to species, populations, communities, or ecosystems. Offered in print and electronic form, full-text articles from past issues are accessible through JSTOR from the first volume through 1998.

Electronic Green Journal (Moscow, Idaho: Electronic Green Journal, 1994– , biannual)

Web-based ( peer-reviewed professional journal devoted to international environmental topics. Subjects covered include assessment, conservation, development, disposal, education, hazards, pollution, resources, technology, and treatment in the fields of ecology and environmental sciences.

Environmental Science and Technology (Easton, Pa.: American Chemical Society, 1967– , annual)

Published by one of the oldest scientific associations in the world, Environmental Science and Technology delivers authoritative and comprehensive articles about the latest technological advances, regulations, policies, and scientific research in the environmental arena. Topics in past issues have included everything from air quality modeling, to risk from fine particles, to dioxin risk assessment, to recycled wastewater.

EPA Journal (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Protection Agency, 1975–95, bimonthly)

First published in 1975, this bimonthly journal, published by the Environmental Protection agency (EPA), offered a national and global perspective on key environmental issues. Articles focused on work within the EPA and federal government and private sector to solve environmental problems. Publication was discontinued with the winter 1995 issue. Full-text articles are available of past journals through WilsonWeb beginning with the September/October 1982 issue.

National Wildlife (Washington, D.C.: National Wildlife Federation, 1962– , monthly)

Since publication of its first issue in December 1962, this monthly magazine has covered such topics as nature and the environment for conservation-minded readers. Issues feature natural history and outdoor adventure articles, ecological news items, and full-color photo galleries. Content for back issues from the June–July 2005 issue to the present can be viewed at

Sierra (San Francisco, Calif.: Sierra Club, 1893– , bimonthly)

One of the oldest environmental journals in the United States, this award-winning, general-interest environmental magazine, published by the Sierra Club, a San Francisco–based nonprofit group, celebrates the wonders of nature through expertly written and strikingly photographed adventure and travel features. Showcased in each issue are travel destinations in natural settings, products, services, lists of Sierra-sponsored trips, and much more.

Worldwatch (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, 1988– , bimonthly)

Published by the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit environmental advocacy group, this bimonthly magazine focuses on current developments in many related areas. Issues contain articles discussing current environmental trends worldwide, such as climate change, deforestation, population growth, species extinction, and economic and environmental policies.

Selected Web Sites

EnviroLink Network (

This site, developed by the nonprofit organization EnviroLink, is one of the most comprehensive resources on the Web on the subject of the environment. Access is provided to literally thousands of online environmental resources.

Environmental Defense (

Founded to “protect human health, restore our oceans and ecosystems, and curb global warming,” this New York–based nonprofit environmental group offers current information on environmental topics.

Environmental News Network (

Online newspaper featuring environmental news stories, in-depth accounts, press releases, and other information.

Environmental Quality Statistics (

Features statistical tables created by the U.S. Department of Energy and published in its annual report of the Council on Environmental Quality.

Global Warming: Early Warning Signs (

This online map illustrates the consequences of global warming and climate changes. Maps are available by region, and the site includes various indicators, references, and teaching resources on the subject.

Know Your Environment (

Published by the Environmental Associates in association with the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, this published series offers direct access to articles about natural resources, human influence, public policy, and technology and environment. (

The home page of the Clary Meuser Research Network, this site provides tools and resources devoted to improving social and environmental conditions.

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions formerly Pew Center on Global Climate Change (

Established in 1998 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent organization to address global climate change, the Pew Center offers news, basic information, and in-depth reports about global warming and related environmental issues.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (

This official home page of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers an abundance of resources, including an excellent data source called EnviroFacts (

Water Quality Information Center (

The National Library of Agriculture Water Quality Information Center page provides electronic access to information about water and agriculture. The site includes links to bibliographies, databases, discussion lists, environmental news, and much more.

World Resource Institute (

This Web page provides links to topical environmental research facts and figures, special reports, and comprehensive data on a broad array of environmental, economic and social issues.

The World’s Water (

Developed and maintained by the Pacific Institute for Studies in Environment, Development and Security, this Web page presents current information and data on the world’s freshwater resources. Includes links to many organizations, institutions, and individuals working on a wide range of global freshwater problems and solutions.

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