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MECH 497: Research Skills

Develop your Search Strategy

Keyword selection


  • Subject headings (Many databases include a system of subject headings that may also be called a controlled vocabulary. These terms are added to articles by human indexers to make it easier to search for all the articles on a particular concept.)
  • Synonyms
  • Abbreviations
  • Acronyms
  • Variant spellings
  • Scientific names vs. colloquial names
  • etc.


  • Database thesauri to find preferred terms and subject headings
  • Author assigned terms provided on relevant literature
  • Google for help to identify synonyms that are commonly used
  • Related previously published literature reviews that might identify common terms.

Using Limiters

Applying common limiters

  • Date range - e.g. past 10 years
    • Note - since we are in 2023 you may want to go 13 years or pick a firm start year
  • Peer-review
  • Original research only OR reviews/secondary research as well
  • Language

Complex search tips:

  1. Boolean logic
    • AND | OR | NOT
  2. Truncation
    • ‚ÄčUsing the root of the word – add an * at the end to bring back all endings (e.g. comput* searches for compute, computers, computer, computing, computational... anything that begins with "comput")
  3. Phrase searching
    • Use quotations around more than one word (e.g. "energy efficiency"). Most databases support searching exact phrases.

Choose Your Databases

Select Databases + Search

Searching for books and items not found in article databases

Use Summon, the general library search tool, to look for print and e-books available through the library

  • Summon can also be used to find related materials in databases that may have been outside of your original plan. 
Article Databases

Search for journal articles, theses/dissertations, conference proceedings, reports, etc.:

If you're searching for articles on a topic, you'll probably want to search a database which is more focused on engineering than Summon. Here are some starting points for finding engineering journal articles or conference proceedings. Consult specific Subject Guides for more options.

In each database, look for the UBC eLink icons to check for full text articles.