This page focuses on how to do an in-depth literature review for a dissertation, thesis, grant application or lengthy term paper in electrical engineering.
Gather Your Tools
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Determine the Project's Scope.
Do you know what you are looking for? Can you describe your project using one simple sentence or can you phrase the project as a question? Without a clear idea of the project, you may not be able to determine which are the best resources to search, what terminology should be used in those resources, and if the results are appropriate and sufficient.
If you're having difficulty getting your project described succinctly, try using a PICO chart to identify the concepts involved:
Your client, the owner of a nuclear power generating facility, has had several less than optimal safety inspections recently. The inspectors have singled out operator error as a major concern and have required changes in employee training. But is more training the solution? The employees complain that the plant's poorly designed control room hampers their ability to respond to non-standard situations. Could a redesign improve performance and decrease the occurance of unsafe events? Your client wants more than just your opinion, he wants to see the data to back it up. So, what can you find in the literature?
Here's one way that the PICO chart could be filled out:
And here are examples of possible search statements:
Your research will always start with a "P AND I" search; those are the most important pieces of the puzzle. However, once you have the results from that search, you'll need to know where you want to go with those results; that's when the C and O concepts need to be considered.
Also, don't forget --- determine if your project has limits. For example:
Create the Search Strategy
Take the simple sentence or question that describes what you are looking for. What are the concepts in the sentence? Are there synonyms that describe the same concept? If you filled out a PICO chart, concentrate on the P (problem) and the I (intervention) for the concept chart.
Concept 1: _______ OR _______ OR _______
Concept 2: _______ OR _______ OR _______
Concept 3: _______ OR _______ OR _______
I am looking for ways that human factors engineering can improve safety in the nuclear power industry.
Concept 1: nuclear power OR _nuclear industry_____
Concept 2: _safety___ OR _accident prevention____
Concept 3: _human factors engineering___
What resources you'll use for your literature review depends on what types of materials you want to find.
Search, Read, Refine and Repeat
Now it's time to apply your search strategy in the resources you've decided to use.
Saved Searches, Alerts and Feeds
If there will be several months in between when you search the literature and when you turn in the paper, consider setting up alerts and feeds so that you are notified should new items about your topic appear. How you set up an alert or feed will vary. In most cases you'll be required to set up a personal account or profile with the journal or database --- there is no charge for this but you will have to identify yourself and provide an email address.
For instructions on setting up alerts and feeds, see the "Keep Current" page.
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