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Research Guides@Tufts

Engineering Sources: An Overview: Engineering Literature Overview

Top general resources for engineering.

The Engineering Literature: An Overview

The engineering literature is diverse and extensive.  The follow is an overview of the major categories of literature as well as examples of each category which are available at Tufts or through the web.

Description Especially Useful for… Comments / Tips Examples

Literature Databases

Indexes Consists of citations of journal articles and other literature. Often organized by a subject taxonomy or indexing scheme. Obtaining an overview of the literature available on a specific topic and identifying key sources.

Some indexing databases enable hyperlinking among citations based on their references ("citation chaining").

Most indexes contain abstracts, especially for recent decades.

Abstracts Includes abstracts or summaries of a source. Determining whether the full-text of an article is worth reading; getting ideas on sources and issues. Many relevant databases contain the term "Abstracts" in their title.
Full-text Databases Contains direct links to full text in HTML or Acrobat PDF format. Reading the text of a document; looking for data not highlighted in titles, abstracts, or subject keywords.  
Electronic Journal Collections Searchable collections of journals and related literature from a single or a few publishers. Easily accessing full text of works from a common source.

Highly specialized content.  May or may not include conference proceedings, newsletters, and other society publications.

Providers include major STM publishers as well as professional associations.

Note: Some databases are hybrids of the above types, combining indexing, abstracting, and partial full text. Some may have embargoes on the most recently published content.

Scholarly & Research Oriented Sources

Journal Articles In scholarly publications, descriptions of new research. Obtaining current developments in your field. Peer-reviewed (aka refereed, research, scientific, or scholarly) journals require that manuscripts undergo a rigorous review process by peer experts in order to be accepted for publication.
Journal Editorials Commentary by a journal’s editors or a guest editor on an issue’s contents or on a hot topic. Getting a summary of issues or synthesis of different viewpoints.  
Preprints Previews of an article before it is published in its final version. Viewing fresh research on a timely basis. Often available from an author’s own web site or in specialty repositories.
Conference Proceedings Summaries or actual text of papers presented at a conference. Learning about new developments and ideas. Historically, as a form of gray literature, not well cataloged, indexed, or easily located online.
Posters Large format presentations which use graphics and text to present research. Learning about new developments and ideas. Usually presented at conferences, providing an opportunity for discussion with the authors.  Rarely available in online databases.  
Theses & Dissertations Lengthy research papers usually written for fulfillment of an academic degree requirement. Accessing fresh research and extensive bibliographies. Increasingly available online although many authors and institutions vary in releasing full text.
Technical Standards An established requirement or norm for manufacturing, performance, or other criteria. Guidance on the design and management of technological processes; embedded research. Related document types include codes, specifications, definitions, and regulations.
Technical Reports Reports on research or studies.  Often issued by government agencies and educational institutes. Information on current research unavailable in journal or conference proceedings. Often lengthier and more detailed than journal articles and proceedings.
Research Protocols Documents detailing the design, methodology, plans, criteria for analysis, and budget for a research study. Provides models for studies and information on successful study methods. Related resources include clinical trials.

Reference Books

Handbooks Concise reference books providing  information about a subject, often for practical applications. Locating facts and standards pertaining to an application; viewing statistics and measurements in a broader context than a journal article offers.  
Encyclopedias Compendium of lengthy articles on a topic.  Usually includes a bibliography. Obtaining an introductory or broader perspective on a subject and references to more in-depth sources. Specialty encyclopedias are highly represented in engineering.
Dictionaries & Thesauruses Definitions of terms. Thesauruses group synonyms and show relationships among terms. Clarifying the meaning(s) of a term; distinguishing among words with similar or multiple meanings. A subset of dictionaries focuses on acronyms.

Business / Manufacturing Related

Directories Concise listings of people, places, organizations. Often supplemented by cross referencing indices. Obtaining basic information on sources, such as fabricators and suppliers; developing short lists of contacts.  
Patents Legal documents which grant exclusive rights for an invention for a limited timeframe. Obtaining background information on inventions. Learning about the activities of  competitors. Often confused with trademarks, which provide legal protection for distinctive marks or symbols.
White Papers Authoritative paper or guide on a topic, often used to make a case for a viewpoint. Getting a summary of a current hot topic in business, technology, or related industry. Often used as a marketing tool by businesses and may not reflect objective research.


Product Literature / Data Sheets (PDS) Information from a manufacturer about a product or service; may include technical specifications, usage instructions, and images. Getting information on existing products; ideas for prototypes. Usually available from a manufacturer’s web site. Also can include product manuals.

Sample sources:

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) Information on the properties of a particular substance, usually with a view to highlighting risks for users. Often issued by manufacturers of a product. Getting information on chemical or other properties of substances, tracking toxicity. Often available from a manufacturer’s web site.
Construction Cost Information Historical data, often focused on construction, which tracks costs of products and assemblies. May include cost indexes for different geographical regions. Preliminary budgeting and comparative pricing for different construction options. Must be adjusted for recent trends in inflation, supply factors, and geographic locations.
Trade Journals News and articles directed to members of a particular profession or industry.  Includes current developments, meetings, product information. Learning about the major players, developments, and processes that shape an industry. Many are published by professional associations for subscribing members only. Sample Sources:
Consumer Reviews and Usability Studies Reviews and analysis of products and services, with a focus on safety, efficacy, and compliance. Obtaining information on how products work, reasons for success or failure.  
News & Magazine Articles Stories, usually published by journalists, on current events. New developments in an industry or product line; current events that may effect research & inventions. Along with patents, a way to track research being done by businesses.
Corporate Documents Publications authored by businesses, sometime to comply with federal regulations. Includes annual reports, 10-Ks, and press releases. Tracking activities of a company and its industry. Getting ideas for products and management techniques. Due to federal requirements, information on publically-traded companies is more extensive than for private companies.

Other Sources

Government Documents Includes many of the literature types listed above. Much is freely available. Obtaining results of government-funded research, grant and funding opportunities, legislation and regulatory standards. Despite efforts to centralize online resources, information is spread among many different agencies.
Data Sets Collections of data, usually in tabular form, that can be analyzed in databases, spreadsheets, and statistical software. Understanding and testing the conclusions presented in articles and reports. Generating new data sets based on existing data.  
Maps, Graphs, & Diagrams Visual tools which show spatial relations among different variables. Obtaining concise visual summaries of extensive data; exploring new relationships among entities and concepts.  


Web Portals or Gateways A web-enabled collection of resources with a particular focus Exploration of a particular topic, drawing on many literature types and sources. Quality and authority may vary; publishers' credentials should be reviewed.
Gray Literature Blanket term for conference proceedings, technical reports, and other literature types as described above which are not produced via conventional publishing channels. All nature of engineering applications Traditionally has not been systematically cataloged, archived, or digitalized by publishers and requires diligence to locate, particularly for documents published prior to the late 1990s.Includes some of the most detailed and valuable sources for engineers.