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Information Literacy Skills for Research (Engineering): Information Sources


Scholarly journal articles may seem to be the most popular information source.

So why are different types of information sources such as books, trade magazines, market research reports important to a researcher?

Information Sources for Academic Research

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Information Sources

What is a scholarly journal or a peer-reviewed journal?

Scholarly journals (or academic journals or peer-reviewed journals) give new, ground-breaking and original research.  They show research methods, processes and applications.

Source: ScienceDirect

Scholarly journals are ranked by some indicators, and scholarly journal articles go through a peer review process.

Before a journal article is accepted for publication, it has to go through a peer review process.  This is when submitted articles are reviewed by your peers before publication.  The purpose is to determine whether your research is of quality or good enough to be published.

Different publishers have different peer review processes (eg. Elsevier, Nature, Wiley).

There are different types of peer review process:

  • Single Blind Review: The names of the reviewers are hidden from the author, which is the traditional method of reviewing and is the most common
  • Double Blind Review: Both the reviewer and the author remain anonymous
  • Open Review: Reviewer and author are known to each other

NUS Libraries occasionally organise talks by publishers about their reviewing process.  Watch out for NUS Libraries' newsletter.

Books give the big picture, an overview or background of a topic.  If you are uncertain of a particular topic, it is best to start with books.  Books give definitions and introduces a topic or technology.  The screenshot of a below shows a definition of membranes.

Handbooks are compilation of essential information such as facts, figures, graphs, equations, illustrations and charts, etc.  The example below shows an e-book titled the Membranes Handbook.  It includes definition of membrane and the membrane process, etc.

Source: Springer Book Archives

Other examples of handbooks are:

To search for books in NUS Libraries, use FindMore.

New ideas or preliminary research or work-in-progress.  Researchers eager to seek resources from interested parties would present their ideas at conferences to foster collaborations with their peers.

Full-text of conference papers are sometimes available in major databases, e.g. Scopus and Engineering Village.

Papers presented at conferences are published as proceedings.

Source: Scopus

Some examples are:

The purpose of a patent is to protect a technical concept, process or product for a number of years.

If people want to use your invention and your patent is protected, they have to pay you royalties or wait for your patent to end or buy over your patent.

In supporting research, patents:

  • Show what has already been invented to reduce duplication in research and to avoid infringement of existing patents
  • Show new direction in research
  • Give detailed technical specifications which are not published anywhere else
  • Help to avoid submitting an application with claims already described – especially when you are seeking funding

Patents filing is a long process. ILO (Industry Liaison Office) helps in patents filing in NUS.

Source: USPTO

NUS Libraries conduct tutorial on patents searching. Watch out for NUS Libraries' newsletter.

To locate patents in NUS Libraries, refer to Patents Subject Guide.

Theses and Dissertations allow you to find out what research work has been done by other Masters and PhD students.

In NUS Libraries, there are 2 databases to search for theses:

To find out how to search for theses, refer to How do I find theses?

How to browse for NUS Engineering theses in ScholarBank?

1. Go to ScholarBank@NUS

2. At this screen, click on Collections

3. Click on ETD to access Electronic Theses & Dissertations

4. Click on Department

5. Click on the Engineering department, e.g. Civil & Environment Engineering.  A list of theses appears, then sort by Issue Date in Descending Order if you want the latest theses to be listed first. 

Source: ScholarBank@NUS

Annual reviews give an expert’s overview of recent developments and highlights significant work.  Trends and developments of a particular technology or invention are generally published as a review article.

Compare these 2 journal articles. The review article gives an overall understanding of forward osmosis.

Review article:

Source: Scopus

Journal article:

Source: Scopus

Some examples are:

Use annual reviews along with books to start building your knowledge on a particular topic.

Trade magazines give news analysis, product reviews, market analysis, market information, and industry happenings that will guide the application of your invention or research.  It shows application of technologies in industries.

Trade magazines tell you what is happening in the business world.  They guide you in thinking of your invention not just as a great idea but what companies or consumers may use or buy.

Source: MIT Technology Review

Some examples are:

Market research reports or industry research reports analyze information about the market, the product or service or consumers.  As an engineer you would want to invent something that companies or consumers would buy.  To secure funding, investors and stakeholders may want to know which market is best for your invention.

These screenshots below show data of the Future of Connected Living taken from Frost & Sullivan.

Source: Frost & Sullivan

Source: Frost & Sullivan

Some examples of market research databases are:

To browse a list of market research databases subscribed by NUS Libraries, refer to the Marketing Subject Guide.

Standards are sets of specifications on how certain materials or products should be manufactured, defined, measured or tested.

Examples of national, region or international standards bodies are:

  • Enterprise Singapore (Singapore Standards)
  • British Standards Institution (British Standards)
  • European Committee for Standardization (European Standards)
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO Standards)
  • International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC Standards)
  • American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM Standards)

Standards issued by one standard body may be adopted by other standard bodies. For example:

  • ISO 9001 - is the original ISO standard
  • EN ISO 9001 - is identical to the original ISO 9001 but adopted by the Europeans
  • BS EN ISO 9001 - is identifical to EN ISO 9001 and ISO 9001 but adopted by the British

NUS Libraries does not subscribe to ISO or EN but has BSOL (British Standards Online). You can still find ISO 9001 through BSOL. Confirm that the contents of the adopted standard is the same as that of the original standard by checking the bibliographic record of the standard in BSOL or the standard document.

Source: British Standards Online

For more information on standards in NUS Libraries, refer to Standards Subject Guide.