Engineers regularly consult several different types of information sources, as these sources have different qualities and uses. The best sources to consult will depend on your information need. Employers value employees who know which sources to consult for a particular information need, and how to find those sources efficiently.
Engineers share their research findings primarily through journal articles and conference papers, but also through technical reports, patents, standards, websites, trade publications, and dissertations and theses.
Journal articles and conference papers are especially important because:
These publications contain research results that establish new facts and move the discipline forward.
These are original research.
These publications contain the most current research.
Information in most journals has undergone a peer-review process to help ensure accuracy and reliability. Some conference papers are also peer-reviewed.
What is a Library Database?
Library databases are online collections of resources and can include a variety of formats as well as levels of quality. There are general databases such as the Quick Search and discipline specific databases such as IEEE Xplore.
General databases cover most subjects and index a variety of publications including scholarly (or peer-reviewed) journals, newspapers, and magazines. Subject specific databases specialize in a subject area and tend to include scholarly journals and books.
You may need to find specific types of sources, such as patents, standards, or conference proceedings. Certain databases focus on the type of resource, as well as they discipline.
Selecting Key Words
Identify major concepts of your topic.
Pick out the key concepts (usually nouns) that make up your topic, and omit common words like: what, the, is, of, have, etc. For example, if your topic is: What is the survival rate of prairie dogs that have been relocated? You should only search for the words survival, prairie dogs, and relocate.
Brainstorm synonyms for your main concepts.
Synonyms are terms that mean the same or similar things. Let’s say you are investigating the relationship between income and gender. Just because your research topic uses the word income does not mean that every author uses that same word. Some authors might use synonyms of income, such as wages, pay, salary, or earnings. In order to collect all the relevant articles on your topic, you might want to include these synonyms in your search.
Combine concepts and synonyms with AND, OR, or NOT.
AND narrows or restricts a search. Entering survival AND prairie dogs AND relocation tells the database that it must find sources with all of those terms. The more concepts you enter, the more you are restricting your search.
OR broadens a search. Entering survival OR mortality will retrieve sources with either term. Use OR to search for multiple synonyms in a single search.
NOT narrows your search by excluding items. In the gender and income example, we might want to say gender NOT race.
Find additional keywords to try in your searches.
Conduct Google or Wikipedia searches on your topic, then scan for keywords and synonyms. You can also find additional keywords by doing some preliminary searches in a library databases.