Senior Design

Engineering Literature



Especially Useful for…



Literature Database




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 articles based on their citations and references. (FINDTEXT@ND)


Includes abstracts or summaries of the contents of an article or report.

Determining whether the full-text of an article is worth reading; getting ideas on source and issues.

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 publisher.

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.


Note: Many literature databases are hybrids of the three above types, providing combinations of indexing, abstracting, and full text.

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.


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.

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.



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 online.

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


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.


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


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.


Legal documents which grant exclusive rights for an invention for a limited timeframe.

Obtaining background information on inventions. Learning about the activities of competitors.

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.

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 affect research & inventions.

Along with patents, one of the few was 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.



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.

Last Update: 02 Feb 11:26