The Engineering Literature Review – Five Quick Steps to Starting Research

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Engineering researchers who take these steps can save time and improve outcomes

Engineering research typically starts with a literature review to get a clear picture of the current state of the technology or topic in question. Engineers spend 35% more time on research than any other field. It is critical that their research be effective but also efficient. With millions of documents relevant to engineering and related fields, these steps ensure the review is comprehensive but still completed in a reasonable timeframe.

Step #1: Identify the types of primary sources for the literature review

A thorough review of engineering literature will encompass journals, books, patents, dissertations, conference proceedings, reports and videos. There is a daunting amount of literature produced constantly in the engineering domain, so using a quality research database with an expert index can save a significant amount of time spent in discovering relevant content.

Step #2: Identify the topic area for your research

Begin by focusing on one (or more) of the broader segments in the engineering domain. This initial segment filtering will facilitate a more efficient discovery process, by better aligning search concepts with the source you are searching. The following is a list of Engineering segments from which to begin narrowing your literature review:

  • Physics

  • Electrical engineering

  • Electronics, computing

  • Information technology

  • Manufacturing

  • Communications

  • Control engineering

  • Production

  • Manufacturing

  • Mechanical engineering

Step #3: Conduct a subject search to narrow your research topic

If you are using an indexed engineering database such as Inspec, searching the subject terms is a good place to start. Employing the expert indexing of a database like Inspec promotes a more effective discovery process. You can uncover a range of different content types that share the same topic, since all items in the database are classified by the experts using the same subject index. You might search, ‘molecular reorientation,’ for example. A search of the entire database for records with that subject term yields thousands of results across several content types.

Step #4: Narrow your search to a manageable, relevant topic

From there, you want to refine your search. To continue with our ‘molecular reorientation’ example, if you’re focusing on elasticity, you can add a Classification Code, such as ‘Elasticity, elastic constants.’

Step #5: Run related searches

Now that you’ve narrowed your topic, you can review the results by a number of facets, such as source type, date, publication, language, and subject. You can also run related searches, such as an author search. The indexing in Inspec enables you to link to other information in databases your library subscribes to.

Research tools such as Inspec, when accessed through EBSCO, enable you to link to the full text to which your library subscribes. This linking is facilitated by mapping EBSCO subject terms to Inspec subject terms. In this way, the full text from EBSCO shares the same classification scheme as the citation from Inspec.

Launching a research project could take months or years and literally millions of dollars. Inspec brings all the engineering information together in one place. Not only is there indexing by engineering experts about the substance of the article, but they’ve also connected it to other resources engineers use.” Joe Tragert, Sr. Director of Product Management, EBSCO.

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