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ENGR 102: Engineering Freshman Academy: Home

Science & Engineering Library (SSL)

Science & Engineering Library Website

Research Help at the Reference Desk

Monday-Thursday: 1 to 4pm


Shahla Bahavar, Ph.D.
(213) 740-5040

Cari Lyle
(213) 740-1785

Develop, Build, Choose, Search, Evaluate, & Citate!

Keywords are the building blocks of any good search and should be based off your main topic. They tell the database what exactly you are searching for. When developing your keywords you should consider if there are synonyms for the keywords you've already developed. This includes if there is a technical term for your keyword (i.e.: heart attack might be called a myocardial infarction). Also, consider broadening or narrowing your initial keyword and whether there are alternative spellings (i.e. aluminium, aluminum).

Creating Alternative Keywords
Global Warming Climate Change Cereal Crops
greenhouse effect climate cereals
greenhouse gases rainfall rice
carbon dioxide temperature wheat
  weather grain

Once you have identified keywords to use for you search, you can then add in Boolean Operators to narrow or broaden your search. There are three Boolean Operators: AND, OR, & NOT. When using the operators they must be capitalized. Be careful when using the operators NOT. It can remove results you might want or need.


Additional Search Options

Phrase Searching:

Use quotation marks to make sure phrases stay together. I.E. "offshore windfarm" or "metal lethargy"


Parentheses tell the database which part of search to look at first. For instance, in the search birds AND ("offshore windfarms" OR "marine windfarms"), ("offshore windfarms" OR marine windfarms") will be looked at first.

One of the first places you might consider is searching is Google. While Google is a great resource, it can often lead to broad searches without sources you can use.

For example, when searching for metal fatigue (see above) Google returns 25,900,000 results, but the the USC Libraries returns a more manageable 291,743. Notice that the quality of results differs as well. Google appears to show results for a video game, a studio album, and links to Wikipedia.

The libraries search brings back books, articles, and newspapers. You'll also notice on the left-hand side that the USC libraries search allows you to filter the results to narrow them down to peer-reviewed journals, material type, and date ranges.

If you're not quite sure where to begin your search, take a look at our Knowing Where to Look tutorial.

You can start your search with the USC Libraries search found on the library homepage (pictured above) or with a more specific engineering database on the right.

Many of the databases will offer similar filters to ones you see in the USC Libraries search. Some of the most frequently used filters include limiting to peer-reviewed journals, full text online, and articles. Try your own search and see how the filters change the number and type of results. Keep in mind you may need to change the search phrase you created earlier if you're not getting the results you need.

You can use SCAAN to evaluate your sources. Check out our evaluating sources tutorial to practice.

  • Source type: Does this source answer your research question? Is it an appropriate type (scholarly or popular, for instance) for your question?
  • Currency: Is this source up-to-date?
  • Accuracy: Is this source accurate? Does its logic make sense to me? Are there any internal contradictions? Does it link or refer to its sources?
  • Authority: Who created or authored this source? Could the author or creator bring any biases to the information presented? Is the author or creator a reputable or well-respected agent in the subject area?
  • Neutrality: Is this source intended to educate, inform, or sell? What is the purpose of this source?

Check out our Citation Guide for help with various citation styles!

Citing is important to avoid plagiarism. If you're unsure of what is considered plagiarizing, take a look at our plagiarism tutorial.

The Viterbi Academic Resource Center also offers writing consultations.

Engineering Databases

Here are a few engineering databases to get you started. Check out the main engineering research guide for more resources.