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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.


Use the special features within databases, journals and news-sites to keep up to date on your topic. 

There's no need for you to continually rerun searches in databases nor do daily checks in your favorite journals.  You can have databases, journals and news sites automatically alert you to new material that is available on your topic/area of research.  These are the methods used: 

​But wait, there's more! 

How you set up these features will vary.  In most cases you'll be required to set up a personal account or profile within the journal or database --- there is no charge for this but you will have to identify yourself and provide an email address (in some cases your email may be required).

Save a Search

The Saved Search feature is most likely to be found in indexing databases.  Every time the database is updated with new material, your aved search will be run against the new material.  You'll be sent an email with the citations for all the new material that matches your search. 

The links on these emails will only be usable from on-campus - sometimes there will be just one link that takes you to the whole list of your results within the database or each item in your email will have a link back to the item's record within the database.  Once in the database, use the "full text", "PDF", or "Get It @ ASU" links to get to the full text of the item.

To set up a saved search, you usually create and perform the search you'd like to save.  Then look for a link or button for "Saved Searches"; if one is not available, look under headings such as "My Profile", "My Account" or "My Settings".   In some databases, saved searches are called "Alerts".  To receive an email alert you will have to register for a personal account with the database - registration is free.

Instructions for setting up saved searches in specific library databases appear in the engineeirng library guides listed in the right-hand column. Look under the "Keeping Current" tab.   

Create an Alert

Alerts are used mostly by journals to send you an email notification when a new issue has been released.  The email may replicate the table of contents with a link to each item within in the issue but it could be just a simple link to the issue as a whole.  Results from email alerts should be used while on-campus as the full-text links in the email will not work from off-campus; to access the full text of articles/journal alerts from off-campus, use the Libraries' Library One Search and/or Journal Title Lookup. 

For each journal from which you want an alert, go to the journal's website using the Libraries' Journal Title Lookup.   On the site, look for a link or button for "Alerts"; if one is not available, look under headings such as "My Profile", "My Account" or "My Settings".  Many journals have some form of alerting service, but it varies from publisher to publisher and sometimes even titles from the same publisher may have different features available. 

Set up a RSS Feed

RSS Feeds were originally used to send news items which are short and occur frequently. Some journals and databases are now offering RSS Feeds as an alternative to sending email alerts.

Feeds are more flexible than emails but require feed reader; software on your end. Some web browsers have a feed reader; for example, Internet Explorer handles feeds within Favorites, and a feed can be embedded within a web page. You can add a feed to the My Announcements box within your My ASU site</p>

The feed symbol looks like this: RSS feed icon

  • If you would like to add the feed into your browser, when you are viewing a webpage click on the feed icon to display the feed and then click on the "subscribe to this feed" link. The browser will then ask where you want the feed placed.
  • To add a feed to your reader, you'll need to have the feed's URL. Instead of clicking on the "subscribe to this feed link", right-click on it instead; then choose "properties" - the feed's URL will be displayed in the pop-up window. Copy and paste this URL into your feed reader.

Mobile Apps and Device Pairing

Academic publishers are starting to cater to mobile device users, however, what each is offering varies greatly.   Even if not specifically designed as a "current awareness service", many of these apps can help you keep up with newly added literature in your area. 



If you use a tablet or smartphone, check your Apps Store for a favorite journal, publisher, and/or database.  Some apps provide database searching while others focus on current awareness services.   Keep checking your Apps Store periodically as new apps are continually being released.  Please note: some journal apps are designed to be used by individual subscribers and cannot be used with the institution-based subscriptions that the ASU Library provides. 

An app that is specifically designed to be used with academic library journal subscription is Browzine.   Browzine brings the print browsing experience to online access; the app is available for iOS and Android devices.  After initial setup, Browzine can used off-campus to view full text and export citations into citation management software; most commercially published and professional society sci/tech titles are available.   


Device Pairing

Couldn't find an app for your favorite journal/publisher?   Go to the journal's/publisher's website and look for terminology such as "mobile device pairing", "device pairing" or maybe even just "mobile".   Device paring involves the publisher identifying your specific device as belonging to an authorized ASU user. Once identified, the device can be used from off-campus to access the full text of ASU-subscribed titles from that publisher without having to go via the Libraries' website. So far we've only identified a few publishers that are offering this service:


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The BrowZine app brings a newsstand's print browsing experience to electronic journals. Easily find, read, and monitor thousands of scholarly journals directly from your tablet or smartphone.  

Download the App! for iPads, iPhones, Android tablets and phones, and Kindle Fire HD tablets. 

Please note: the ASU Library do not subscribe to the Web version of Browzine. 

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BrowZine brings a newsstand's print browsing experience to electronic journals. Easily find, read, and monitor thousands of scholarly journals directly from your iPad; smartphone and Android support coming soon.

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