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Best Library and Internet Resources for finding bioengineering information. Also includes information about library services, basic library skills and tools that help with citation management, poster design and writing.


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What to look for: PICO

Can you describe your information need  using a simple sentence or question? 

Without a clear idea of the project, you may not be able to determine which are the best sources to search, what terminology should be used in those sources, and if the results are appropriate and sufficient.    You could be wasting time by duplicating searches, or missing appropriate information.

You can use the "PICO" technique below to formulate your research question and to help with database search strategies. 

The PICO formula was developed in the medical field and is now used in most healthcare areas as part of  "Evidenced Based Practice" (also called EBP).   EBP requires that treatment and solutions be based on information obtained from scientifically sound, clinical trials. Healthcare professionals must be effective at performing extensive literature reviews in order to ensure that all important information pertinent to the case at hand has been found.  By defining each part of the research question, the PICO forumula helps the evidenced based practioner break the information problem down to its essential parts.  From these essential parts will come the initial keywords and search statements that will guide the practioner in their literature review.

Although designed for healthcare professionals, PICO is just as applicable for other professionals and subject areas, including engineering.  The four components of PICO for engineers are described as follows: 

  • P is the product, process, or population being studied, or the problem that needs to be solved 

  • I is the intervention or improvement you'll be applying to the product, process, population or, in the case of solving a problem, it could be the suspected issue that caused the problem, 

  • C is what you'll compare your intervention, improvement, or issue to;   C could be a different intervention or improvement, or it could be the current condition

  • O is the outcome, or measurable results of the comparison of I and C


  • For the elderly with adult-onset diabetes, does the use of a salvia measurement method increase patient compliance for the monitoring of their glucose levels? 

    P = elderly with adult-onset diabetes
    I = salvia monitoring
    C = blood monitoring (the current method) 
    O = patients tested their glucose levels more often each day 

  • Will a knee brace made from material X provide more support than one made with material Y?

    P = Knee brace
    I = material X
    C = material Y
    O = Greater support (how to measure?)

Where to look: Library and Internet Resources

Where to look for bioengineering information depends on what type of information you are trying to find.   Listed below are the different types of publications in which information usually appears.  Read the description for each publication type to decide if you need to search for these materials.  Suggested resources are given for each publication type. 

  • Articles (scholarly journals and trade magazines)
    Articles must be covered in any type of engineering literature search as they are the most likely place where scholarly research will be published; additionally, some researchers select journal articles to be the first place where they publish their latest research.  Articles generally cover current research of a very specific topic and are usually 5-20 pages in length. 
    To find articles, see the page "Where to find ... Articles" for the list of library and internet resources to use.  

  • Books  
    Books cover a specific topic in depth or are used to provide an introduction to a broad area of interest; they are usually 200-500 pages.  The broad introductory book is useful when you need background information.   Books that are an in-depth treatment frequently have chapters written by different authors, essentially making them the equivalent of long journal articles; sometimes these book chapters are  treated as journal articles and indexed in many of the same databases as journal articles are.   
    To find books, see the page "Where to find ... Books" for the list of library and internet resources to use.

  • Conference Proceedings
    Some researchers prefer to introduce their research at a conference rather than in a journal article.  If the proceedings of a conference have been published commercially or by a society, they are frequently covered in the same databases that cover journal articles.

    To find conference proceedings and papers, see the page "Where to find ... Conference Proceedings & Papers" for the list of library and internet resources to use. 

  • Dissertations and theses
    Dissertations and theses are useful if you are trying to find information from an individual who may be new to a field and therefore not yet published in journal articles or presenting at conferences.   Much of the material found in dissertations and theses will eventually turn up in journal articles IF the author goes on to academic research.  Dissertations and theses also may be important to those trying to establish the first public instance of a technology.

    To find disertations and theses use:
  • Patents
    Patents are a grant from an agency (usually governmental) providing the inventor with certain rights which vary from country to country.  The rights usually include the right to exclude others from manufacturing the invention.  Searching for patents is essential if you are working on a new  technology, process, or object; you need to determine if someone else has already patented the technology, process or object.  Searching the patent literature could save time and money by identifying what has already been patented (your whole invention or just a part of it).  Patent searching requires special search strategies that involves patent classification systems. 

    For how to do a patent search see:
  • Standards
    Many processes and products are subject to standards (sometimes codes and regulations); you'll need to investigate this area if you are manufacturing and/or creating new technology.

    To find standards see:
  • Technical Reports
    hose who received U.S. government funds for research are required to provide a report on the research, however, not all of these reports are available to the general public.  If your project is in an area for which the U.S. government funds research, you should determine if reports are available.  These technical reports can be difficult to find - see me if you are having difficulties finding any reports you've identified.  Please note that reports generated from private sources are seldom available to the public. 

    To find publically available technical reports use:
  • U.S. government agency publications
    If a U.S. agency is involved in your area, look for their publications as well.

    To find U.S. Government Publications use:

How to Look: Search Strategy

Although presented here as a step by step process, the overall sequence of a literature search is not linear.  It is more of a circular path in which you find some material, read it, then using the information you found, refine your search terms and go back and search again.  That circle may need to be repeated more than once for each database and don't forget that the process must be used in every resource that you try.  

The process will take time and you'll find that you can't do it all at once.  You don't want to waste time repeating work you've already done, so as you go thru the process, keep track of what databases you've searched and what search strategies you've used in each database.  

Three different searching strategies are outlined below: Subject, Author and Citation.  Although there will be overlap in the results you get, each method will find  unique items that the other two searches couldn't.   

  1. Subject Search
    Subject searching involves looking for not only how you describe the concepts of the topic but also how the authors and thedatabases describe the concepts.

    1. Start with a P AND I search  
      • Referring back to your PICO statement, enter the keyword(s) you used to describe your concepts of P and I
      • If you retrieve too many items, narrow the search by restricting the words to the title field (not every database allows this)
      • Examine the titles and abstracts (summaries) in the results list - you're looking for other terminology the authors may have use tod describe the P and I concepts
      • Also examine the results list  for the controlled vocabulary (subjects) that the database assigned to them

    2. Expand the P AND I search to include synonyms
      • Redo your search, this time including the synonyms/different terminology you know about and the author terminology you discovered in Step 1 above.
      • Again, examine your results list looking not only for applicable articles but also synonyms or different terminology you haven't already found - if you find other synonyms/terminology, go back and redo the search with these new terms 

    3. Search using the database's controlled vocabulary for P AND I 
      • In some databases, the controlled vocabulary may be called the Subjects, Indexing Terms, Thesaurus,  or Descriptors.
      • Some databases, such as Google Scholar, Library One Search, and Scopus, do not use controlled vocabulary, so you wouldn't be able to use this strategy in them.  However you can use controlled vocabulary terminology from the other databases in your keyword/synonym searches (Step #2) in the uncontrolled databases. 

    4. Review the items you retrieved from your keyword/controlled vocabulary searches.
      • Use the abstract, introductory section, and conclusion to determine if you need to fully read (and keep) this item
      • Also keep in mind your C (comparison) and O (outcome) concepts - these will also help you decide if the document is worthwhile to pursue in more detail.
      • Keep looking for the different terminology that authors and databases might use.  If you find new terminology, go back and search the databases again using those words.
  2. Author Search
    Is there an author or organization that repeatedly shows up in your list of "keeper" articles?   Find out what other documents that author or organization produced.  Did you find new terminology for your concepts? If yes, go back and search the databases again using those words.   Are you finding other prominent authors?   Search them as well. 
  3. Citation Search
    For the most important documents you found, use citation searching to find even more related items:
    1. Go backwards in time by finding the references cited in the document (may be called the bibliography)
      You'll discover what this author thought was important. 
    2. Go forwards in time by finding the articles (using Scopus and Google Scholar) that cite this document 
      You'll discover how this item affected future research, including in areas not covered by your subject search.  
    3.  Did you find new terminology for your concepts? If yes, go back and search the databases again using those words. Are you finding new prominent authors? Search those as well.

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