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Engineering Library: Literature searching and reviewing

Information about the Department of Engineering Library, including information for researchers

Photo of telescope with a sepia backbroundLiterature Searching and Reviewing

A 'Literature Search' is the act of searching databases and the internet effectively to find key literature on your research topic. A 'Literature Review' is the reading and reviewing of a subject in the form of a written piece of work.

This page will help you work through the process of literature searching and reviewing.


Literature Searching: Online Training

The Engineering Library team offer support and training on academic writing skills, so feel free to contact us if you have any questions. If you want to book a one-to-one session for personalised support, please use our Booking Form.

In most research projects (e.g. the Engineering Tripos 4th year report, a master thesis, a PhD) you are likely to have to do some kind of background reading on the subject of your research, and this may take the form of a Literature Review. At the very least you will have to perform some kind of literature search and then relate it to the work you are doing. Please discuss this with your supervisors to see what is expected of you.

Slides and a recording from a session delivered on Monday 14 October 2019 to 4th year undergraduates about doing a literature review for this IIB project  can be downloaded by clicking on the links below:

Title slide from teaching session

Activity: Creating a Search Profile

Break down your research question into search terms using our template Search Profile form below:

Activity: Use a variety of Search Techniques

Look at the Search Techniques below for a range of techniques and methods you can use when searching databases and online resources. Try using these techniques with your keywords in either a database or a Google Scholar search. How did they affect your search?

Keywords are the backbone of your search, so plan them before you start searching.

  • Use synonyms to broaden your search.​
  • Consider international spellings (e.g. UK/US differences) and differences in terminology.​
  • Think about acronyms and abbreviations.
  • Use both technical and “common” terms (e.g. species names or anatomical terms).​

You will discover more keywords as you search. Keeping a list of them will help you plan future searches.​


AND: I would like to find resources about two or more topics.​

OR: I would like to find resources which cover one of several topics, or any combination of them.​

NOT: I would like to exclude a particular topic or keyword from my search.​

​(Note: when searching on Scopus, ​NOT must be written as AND NOT)

Truncation searching allows you to search for multiple terms with the same “root”.​

​It works by using a wildcard character, usually an asterisk *​

​Searching for Sustain* will bring you results for Sustain, Sustainability , Sustainable, etc.

Most databases automatically search for each word in a phrase as an individual keyword.​

​So a search for magnetic spectroscopy would search for all articles with the word magnetic and all articles with the word spectroscopy. ​

​To search for only articles with the exact phrase, put it in quotes ​“Magnetic spectroscopy”

Engaging with your Reading: Online Training

You can watch a short video introducing strategies for reading critically and developing good academic practice when using information by clicking on the link below (opens in YouTube).

engaging with the literature title slide

Finding Business Information: Resources

This section of the site includes a selection of resources you can use to find business information. This is by no means a definitive list but it is a good starting place. The Cambridge Judge Business School Library and Information Service manage many of these databases for their students and they are not automatically available to all University members. Visit the CJBS Database Guide for more information on the business and financial resources available  The CJBS Library and Information Service can be contacted at

Factiva is best for searching a wide range of international news outlets, by both subject and outlet. But reading the papers generally can be equally important.

The Cambridge Judge Business School Library and Information Service manage all of these databases for their students and they are not automatically available to all University members. If you are not taking the MET Tripos you may not be entitled to access. The CJBS Library and Information Service can be contacted at

Databases search multiple sources to bring back references and abstracts of articles, books, chapters and so on. You can search the literature using keywords and filters, or look for specific resources using known information such as title and author.

You can see if we have online access to articles by clicking "find full text" on a record. If we don't have it, check the online catalogue for a physical copy in the Cambridge Library system. If you still come up blank you might recommend the item for purchase or request it via Inter Library Loan.

Literature Searching Resources

A quite concise description of what a is Literature Review from the Royal Literary Fund.

Wolfson College and the CU Language Centre have individually put together comprehensive's guides on to how to do a  Literature Search and on writing a Literature Review.

The Language Centre guide has a lot of interactive elements, printables and an added focus on the best use of language in the writing of your review.

The Research Skills LibGuide covers literature searching among other skills.

For more interactive information the University of Manchester has put together a module on the A-Z of Literature Reviews

The University of London has put together some Advanced Searching techniques to make you a fast and effective searcher.

When you find something that looks like it could be useful for your research you need to assess it, The Ultimate Cheatsheet for Critical Thinking has lots of questions to consider when you are reading it. The Open University has a workbook that focuses on Critical Reading Techniques whilst Brunel University has some short videos on Being Critical, both of these are much more in-depth.

For help with Note Making CamGuides has some tips.

Where to look

The Library team have a curated list of useful e-resources for students and researchers in Engineering. 

You can also find Engineering resources on the dedicated Engineering Sciences website.

For a complete list of e-resources, please visit the index compiled by the University's e-resources team.

Additional eresources are being made freely available by publishers for a temporary period. Please use the feedback form on the Cambridge Libraries website to provide feedback on these resources or email


The easiest way to track down a specific item is by searching iDiscover.

For guidance on how to use iDiscover most effectively, see the iDiscover LibGuide.

Register Your Completion

To register your completion of this online training, please go to the booking page below and click "book a place" (Raven login required):