Engr'g lit reviews
Questions or comments?
©1998 W James
All papers, theses and reports start off with an appropriate lit review just after the introduction. You have an ethical responsibility to cite earlier original sources as well as other studies that are similar to your own present work. Compiling a lit review should be exciting, if you have chosen an interesting subject. These days it is also easy, and these pages provide some ideas for exploiting new web-based tools. They are aimed at:
- undergrad students compiling a lit review as part of an assignment or report,
- grad students who need to write or add to their dissertation lit review, and
- contributors to my monographs, who need to amplify their bibliography.
- Ask the librarian where the latest computer-based indexes are located, and for the best URLs for web-based indexes.
- Select indexes that provide at least abstracts of the articles.
- Use an excellent web searching engine, such as WebCompass.
- Read over the help menu to ensure that you can compile a correct Boolean search string.
- Include alternate spellings (e.g. stormwater and storm water) and synonyms (e.g. pervious, permeable and porous).
- Try to exclude unrelated disciplines that use the same words (e.g. if you search for SWMM and a program called SWMM is used in design of furnaces, exclude references that have the word furnace).
- Decide on the precise few keywords that define your subject within narrow limits, and isolate an adequate number of hits (say 200). This may need several search strings.
- You will no doubt hit other similar, recent lit reviews; check them out. Also check the classic comprehensive handbooks and monographs. These will ensure that you find the original classic works in your subject area.
- It is essential that your lit review includes sufficient references for your readers to fill in the background information, and to connect them to sources of further details, as well as all the classic papers.
- The more details that you provide about your references, the more useful and scholarly will be your review. Include the ISBN and ISSN numbers, for instance.
- unavailable references
- too few references
- too many references (because some of them are bound to be poor)
How to review engineering lit
- Check out the links to the World's best libraries, Engineering indexes, and bibliographies, esp. Biblio'97, on my webpages.
- From your 200 hits select a reasonable number of the most promising (e.g. 40). Download their abstracts.
- Grad students:
- Build a HTML file of hits (references) and link them to their abstracts.
- Post this bibliography file on your website.
- Post relevant short notices about your bibliography on relevant lists, and invite comment.
- For your lit review paste all abstracts into one large .DOC file called ALLABSTRACTS.
- Create an outline for your lit review in point form, listing keywords and phrases for each subheading.
- Run a FIND through the whole ALLABSTRACTS file for each keyword or phrase.
- Write your lit review around those hits.
- Speed-read the abstracts to ensure that you have not missed important topics, or misrepresented others.
- Rank all your references in terms of relevance to your study.
- Obtain copies of the full articles for a sufficient number of the best publications (say 10).
- Study those articles carefully and summarise them in detail.
- Draw general conclusions about achievements, trends and omissions.
Criteria to be used
- Is the subject of your lit review and of the hits (200 titles of references) and of the 40 abstracts, and of the 10 full articles, of interest to your readers?
- Is your summary in your lit review worthwhile, novel, unique?
- Has the work reported in each reference cited progressed sufficiently to justify inclusion in your lit review?
- Would publication of your review be timely?
- Is your reader properly oriented in the introductory section of your lit review?
- Are the basic concepts of the subject being reviewed referenced clearly?
- Is the required background knowledge of the subject of your lit review adequately referenced?
- Are there adequate references in your lit review for readers to find further details?
- Is the length of each section of your lit review proportional to its importance?
- Is proper space devoted in your lit review to interpretation and discussion?
- Are the significant results that you have now found emphasized in your review?
- Have you shown the limitations of the results that you are citing?
- Previous Work
- Is appropriate credit given in your review to others who have made similar reviews in this specific field?
For more details, see: Michaelson, H.B.: "How to write and publish engineering papers and reports". 3rd Ed., Oryx Press. 1990. ISBN 0-89744-650-3. Chap. 15.