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Penn State University Libraries

Beginning Your Research

Before you begin your research you should consider the following points

  • What is the purpose of my research?
  • How much do I know about the topic?
  • What is the end result of my research
When you consider these three points it will help you determine where and how to start
  • The CAT and general article databases are good for preliminary research.
  • Article databases are good for more detailed information.
  • Technical reports are important in engineering. NTIS, TRID, and SciTech Connect are available through the Database link on the Libraries' homepage. Give them a look.
Research Tips Based on Level of Subject Knowledge
Preliminary research/novice to the subject
Class assignment/knowledgeable about the subject
Graduate research/journal article/expert in the field
• Check out Try These First for basic information in lots of subjects, including some engineering • Try Proquest for basic information in engineering, esp. business aspects • Use Research Guides in Engineering for more databases to search
• Use the Research Guides in Engineering for more options • Use Compendex • When you find some good articles, use Web of Science citation option to find articles that reference those you have already found
  • Check Research Guides in Engineering for your specific area for more suggestions  

The Web can provide some valuable resources but you must know how to evaluate the results to see if they are reliable. See Evaluating Resources for more information. Rather than search Google or other general search engines, try using the Research Guides in Engineering for links to more specific web sites. Or, search Google Scholar for an academic subset of Google!

Some tricks that can help make your search better

  • Read the description of the database you are in. The CAT is books, journal titles, maps, etc. It DOES NOT index journal articles. So, be sure you are in the right database. The research guides in the correct subject area can really help.
  • Begin with search terms you know but be prepared to be flexible. The terminology that you use might not be what is used in the database. When you find a good article or book, check the descriptors (also called keywords, subjects, terms) and use the ones recommended to find more on the topic.
  • Remember terminology changes from database to database so be flexible and take notes.
  • If you want to search everything in the CAT plus articles, digital collections, etc, use LionSearch. Keep in mind that some of Engineering resources are not indexed in LionSearch. So if you do not find what you are looking for it may be best to go to an engineering database such as Compendex directly.  

Points to Consider

  • Start your research at the right level -both for the result and for your level of knowledge
  • Expand your search if you are not finding enough. You may need to be a little more general, especially in the CAT.
  • Be flexible in your search terms until you know your subject and databases
  • All thorough searches in engineering should include Compendex, NTIS, and
    whatever subject specific databases are available for your subject. These can be
    located in the research guides.
  • For additional help contact the Engineering Library