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Research Guides

APS112T: Engineering Strategies & Practice

If you are new to a topic...

You probably are not an expert in accessibility or materials properties. Needing to do background research on a project is very common in engineering. If you are working on a project you are unfamiliar with first start by reading about the topic in encyclopedias, technical dictionaries and books. This will help you understand the topic better and learn what types of words you need to use in your searches. Once you have this background understanding it will be easier for you to find and understand the jargon and other technical words in journal articles, reports, standards, handbook, patents, etc.

But I can't find...!!!

Sometimes students get frustrated because they can't find a source that exactly supports their claim or answers their question.  Remember, you are designing something no one else has designed before; therefore, that one perfect source probably does not exist.

When this happens, you will need to use various types of sources to give evidence in support of your ideas from different perspectives. Sources can be combine or triangulated to strengthen a design claim.

For example, if you want to support a claim that one item is better than another you might need to consult a handbook to determine properties about the material the items are made from, a journal article that describes an experiment that compares the durability of the two items, a catagloue to determine the cost of the two items and a government publication or standard to show the object is accessible and safe to use.

Using triangulation is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced! For help finding information when doing triangulation ask the library staff. For help synthesizing that information into a well written sentence talk to your communications instructor (CI)!

Thinking about the words you use to search

People use different words to describe the same thing. An engineer might describe a 'stove' using technical terms; whereas, a member of the community, depending where they are from, would use different words. Here are some terms you might want to use in a search for "stove":

  • stove
  • oven
  • cooker
  • range
  • Aga
  • electric heating appliance

Similarly, depending on the type of source you are trying to find an item like a "food storage container", could be described by it's common name, brand name, material or function:

  • food storage container
  • Tupperware
  • Ziploc
  • food grade stainless steel canister
  • lunch box
  • sugar pot

When searching in a database you can use Boolean operators such as (brackets), AND, and OR to combine terms. Use (brackets) to group words, OR between synonyms of the same concept and AND between different concepts.

Here are some example searches:

(stove OR oven OR range OR Aga) AND ergonomics

(food storage bag OR Ziploc) AND (plastic OR low-density polyethylene)

If you need help determining words for your search finding sources, visit the Virtual Help Desk!

Search tips: Boolean language

Databases use boolean language to understand your search question. Unlike Google, database search for the exact terms you use. At first it can be tricky to figure out how to speak to databases, but once you do, it can be much faster and yield higher quality results than a Google search. Here are some tips on how to ask databases for what you want:

  • Using OR will search for EITHER term in the article. Or is used to group terms that mean the same thing: cat OR feline
  • Using AND will search for articles using BOTH terms. And is used to narrow searches: dog AND walk
  • (Brackets) 'nest' the operators OR and AND, similar to brackets in a math equation.
  • "Quotes" around a word will search for the exact phrase. For example, "ice cream" is better than ice cream.
  • Using * after the root of a word will search for all permutations of the word. For example, detect* will search for detection, detecting and detect
  • In some cases you may need to replace general words with technical words if possible. Instead of using pizza box, use the technical word packaging material. You may also need to find terms that are more broad or specific.
  • Think of possible synonyms for words. Some authors may use delivery others will use takeaway, takeout or take out
  • You can combine the tips above to create a search

E.g.     (coke OR "coca cola" OR pepsi OR pop OR soda) AND (danger* OR risk*) AND health

The example from the lecture: neutraliz* AND (smell* OR odor* OR odour*)

Help with writing

Engineering Communications Program can help with writing. Check out their online resources: