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Civil & Environmental Engineering Research Guide

Jerry Adams, Subject Librarian, 2420 HBLL

Why Use A Research Guide?
This step by step guide has been developed by BYU Librarians to save you time and help you produce a better research paper. It will guide you through the library research process and will inform you of the best resources for your topic. If you need assistance at any point, please ask for help at a Reference Desk.

  1. Getting Started:
    1. Select topic
    2. Identify terminology
    3. Locate Background Information
    4. Focus the topic and Form an Issue Question
    5. Organize topic into Concepts


  1. Finding Research Materials
    1. Journal and Newspaper Articles
    2. Books
    3. Internet Resources
    4. Additional Resources
    5. Evaluate/Select/Cite Resources
    6. Prepare your final paper

[If you are not affiliated with the University, you may not have access to the resources included here.]

  1. Getting Started:
    1. Select Topic
      Select a broad topic of interest to you, possibly in your major. You will refine and narrow your topic as you go. The following lists will assist you in deciding on a beginning broad topic.
      1. Research Guides (RG) - Broad subject categories, each with a step by step guide created for that subject.
      2. Step-by-Step Research Guides (SSRG) - Each guide includes a tailored four-page worksheet using the library research strategy.


    1. Identify Terminology
      It is essential to use the proper and specific terms for your subject, especially as you search electronic resources. Begin a list of terminology which is used in the literature for your topic, adding to it as you go along. There are several good sources to look up terminology.

1.       Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) (Located on all References Desks, and also through the Browse-Subject catalog search--please ask at Reference for assistance.)

2.       Thesaurus of Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Terms (Science Reference Z 695.1 .S3 T52 1988)

3.       SHE, Subject Headings for Engineering  (Science Reference Z 695.1 .E5 E49 1983)


    1. Locate Background Information
      Do a brief background search using encyclopedias, general and specialized, and other reference sources to gain a basic understanding of your topic. Look for relevant terminology, how a subject is subdivided, and any useful bibliographies--names of important works/scholars in the field. Names that repeatedly appear in your articles are most likely authorities. Paying attention to their ideas will be very helpful. Be sure to use the index volume to locate the various volumes and pages where articles on the different aspects of your topic can be found. As you read, be alert to questions and issues being discussed and how you might begin to narrow your topic.

The following are some sources for background information in engineering. Be sure to browse the shelves near each of these volumes for other helpful information.

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Engineering
(Science Reference TA 9 .M36 1993)
Encyclopedia of Environmental Science and Engineering (Science Reference TD 9 .E5 1998)
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology (Science Reference Q 121 .M3 2002)
International Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (Science Reference Q 121 .I48 1999)
Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology
(Science Reference Q 123 .E497 2002 Index Table 2)

    1. Focus the Topic and Form an Issue Question

With background gleaned from the above sources, you should have an awareness of the various sub-divisions of your topic, and the issues of your topic that are being discussed and researched. You are now prepared to narrow the scope of your research and then to form and write out an "issue question" which you can research.

For example: "What roles do compression and tension play in the building of bridges?"

    1. Organize Topic into Concepts
      Since many research resources are computerized, prepare to do an electronic search by, first, underlining the main or key words in your issue question.

Example: "What roles do compression and tension play in the building of bridges?"

Using the following chart, place the keywords in separate concept boxes. Add additional synonymous terms from your terminology list within each concept box.


Concept 1


Concept 2


Concept 3








How to phrase a "keyword" search

      • Use the Boolean operator  or  between similar concepts.
      • Use the Boolean operator   and  to link different concepts, (see above).
      • Some root words can be truncated with a symbol ($ in the BYU Catalog, or * in most periodical databases) so that all endings of a root word can be searched at once. For example, computer could be truncated: comput* which would result in finding computer, computers, computerize, and computerization.
      • For more specific search directions, watch for the "tips" or "helps" buttons in each electronic database.
      • When entering a search phrase which uses both Or and And, it is necessary to "nest" the Or'd words:
        Example: (
        highways or railways) and (suspension bridges or cable stayed bridges)


  1. Finding Research Materials
    1. Journal and Newspaper Articles

The researcher uses articles published in current periodicals (magazines/journals) to get the most current research. A variety of periodical indexes (databases) are available on the Library Home Page by selecting Resources by Subject. Select the specific discipline desired, such as Geology. Recommended databases are listed first.

If you have any questions, please check with the subject librarian for assistance. The following periodical indexes are recommended:

1.       Compendex – Online from 1884-present.

2.       Cambridge Scientific/Environmental Science – Online from 1967-present.

3.       Web of Science – Online from 1984-present

There are also two indexes which may be helpful. These two, Research Library (ProQuest) and Academic Search Elite (EBSCO), have the advantage of having many articles available in full text. As you find references to journal articles, be sure to list, print out, or down load the full bibliographic information (author, title, name of Journal, vol #, month, year, page, etc.)

    1. Books

From the Library Home Page, select the Alphabetic Search to find authors and titles related to your topic you found listed in bibliographies. For your combined key word search, select the Advanced Search which provides boxes for you to enter your key word search. The Alphabetic Search also allows you to search valid subject headings as located in the LCSH listing. If you are unfamiliar with how to search the Library Catalog, click on "HELP" or you may consult the instruction booklet Library Research Skills available at General Referene and for purchase at the BYU Bookstore. Remember to copy down or print out complete call numbers and citations as you gather information.

    1. Internet Resources

If Internet resources are needed/allowed, first use those recommended by the subject librarian under your subject after selecting "Resources by Subject" from the Library Home Page.

For example, Civil Engineering Directory, includes organizations, portals, and reference links.

You may also wish to go directly to the home page of Google, Alta Vista or Vivisimo.

Remember to watch the screens for search "tips" or "helps" or "Advanced Search" buttons which will use many of the Boolean concepts discussed. Sometimes thousands of hits will be found, but remember to use caution, as most will not be reliable or scholarly. As you evaluate Internet resources, you may find clues in the URL (address) which can alert you to the type of agency responsible for that site thus helping you assess its credibility. .edu or .gov (educational or government) are usually more facutal, while .org or .com (organization or commercial) usually express more of an opinion or try to persuade the reader.

    1. Additional Resources: There may be additional resources which could be used in your research.


1.   Bibliographies:  When you find good material, pay attention to the bibliographic references listed in that item.

2.   Interlibrary Loan:  If our library does not have the title, you can order it on Interlibrary Loan on Level 3. It will average 10 days but could take 2 weeks. The cost to receive articles is $.10/page and books are sent free of charge.

3.   Citation Indexes:  Additional material can be found by looking for who has cited the articles and books you consider of value. Find citations in the Science Citation Index.

    1. Evaluate/Select/Cite Resources

Use the following criteria as you attempt to evaluate your resources:


Is the information scholarly and accurate? What clues are present to help you judge accuracy--footnotes, bibliography, credits, quotations?


What are the author's qualifications? Is she affiliated with a university or other scholarly institute? Was content peer-reviewed (Scholarly journal)?


Is this a primary source (author's own research) or secondary? Is she objective, biased, or trying to sway the reader?


How recently was the information published or updated?

    1. Prepare your final paper
      Cite resources using the writing style manual recommended by your instructor. The main style manuals can be found at the General Reference Desk, Level 3, or use the online Style Manuals.

You are now ready to write your paper.