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Engineering: The Literature Review Process

How to do a thorough literature review for a dissertation, thesis, applied project or grant application.

How to Use This Guide

This guide is for graduate students and faculty who must do a thorough literature review for a thesis, dissertation, grant application or publication.   Emphasis is on the literature review process and what is involved in each step.  Before using this guide, the reader must:

  • Be familiar with how to use the Internet and ASU Library resources/services, and
  • Have a specific research topic.  

Previous/Next links are provided on the left and right bottom corners of each chapter/page to move from beginning to end.   The user may also use the TABs across the top of each page to navigate through the guide.  The guide is divided into chapters (outlined below) and each chapter has a corresponding gray TAB above that will turn to maroon when that page is displayed.  Each page within the guide is composed of a header with two columns underneath; the left column will contain the chapter or section text while the right column will have the engineering librarians' contact information.   

If you need assistance with any thing mentioned in this guide, please contact your engineering librarian. 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: What is a Literature Review?
What is a literature review and why is it important? The different types of literature reviews are described and examples are given.

Chapter 2: Precision vs. Retrieval 
A thorough literature review is different from the personal types of information searches one does and even different from the writing assignments required in undergraduate classes.   This section explains why they are different and when to use the different search types.  

Chapter 3: Equip Your Tool Box
As with any project, make sure you have all the necessary tools on hand before the real work begins.  These are the library and software tools you'll need for a literature review. 

Chapter 4:  What to Look For
Your project or assignment may be vaguely defined but this section will show you a technique for focusing on the essentials of your information need. Once you have defined what you're looking for, you'll be able to follow the strategies outlined in Chapter 6: How to Look for It.

Chapter 5:   Where to Look For It
Information can be found in many places, in many formats and in varying quantities.  This section outlines the different types of information sources, what type/quantity of information is likely to be found there, and how to find the best places to look for this information. 

Chapter 6:   How to Look For It
The overall literature search process, delineated step-by-step.

Chapter 7:  Keeping Current
Finished your literature review?  Don't miss anything that is published afterwards.  Let the databases, journals and publishers alert you when new material in your area comes out. This section tells about the different features that make "keeping current" just a click away.

Chapter 8: Reading Tips
Now that you've found all these references, how do you manage to read them all?  What do you look for when you read them? How do you keep the information in them organized?  

Chapter 9:  Writing Tips 
The outline and format of the review plus writing examples.  Includes an excellent recorded session from Texas A&M on writing the review section of your dissertation/thesis. 

Chapter 10: The Checklist 
A handy checklist you can use for the steps in the process. 

Online Research Assistance

Email Eric Prosser to set up an in-person or Zoom appointment.

And, remember, you can always use our Ask-a-Librarian service as well.

The ASU Library acknowledges the twenty-three Native Nations that have inhabited this land for centuries. Arizona State University's four campuses are located in the Salt River Valley on ancestral territories of Indigenous peoples, including the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and Pee Posh (Maricopa) Indian Communities, whose care and keeping of these lands allows us to be here today. ASU Library acknowledges the sovereignty of these nations and seeks to foster an environment of success and possibility for Native American students and patrons. We are advocates for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies within contemporary library practice. ASU Library welcomes members of the Akimel O’odham and Pee Posh, and all Native nations to the Library.