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Background Information (Reference Sources)
Reference sources can help you find and develop a research topic by providing background articles, facts, statistics, dates and other general information on most topics.

Using Wikipedia for Academic Research - this is a very helpful 3 minute tutorial on using Wikipedia to locate background information.
Find Articles
Start here: www.lib.utexas.edu > Research Tools > Find Articles Using Databases

Multidisciplinary Databases:

  • Academic Search Complete: A comprehensive and scholarly database containing magazine, newspaper, and journal articles from across disciplines.  
  • LexisNexis Academic:  This is a powerful, full-text database that searches much more than just newspaper articles. 
  • Opposing Viewpoints in Context: this database gathers together viewpoints and information about controversial social issues including: offshore drilling, transportation infrastructure, urban agriculture, and much more. 
Subject-specific Databases:

  • Compendex: Contains more than 11 million citations with abstracts from more than 5,600 journals, reports and conference proceedings covering fields of engineering and technology
  • ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Digital Library: Provides online access to all available volumes of the technical journals of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and to ASME conference papers starting with 2002.
  • IEEE Xplore: All areas of Engineering, including Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • ASCE Civil, Construction, Environmental, Geotechnical, Structural, Transportation
  • AIAA Aerospace, Aeronautics, Astronautics
  • SAE Civil and Architectural Engineering, Transportation, Aerospace Engineering
  • SPE - via OnePetroOil and gas exploration and production industry

Specific Titles:

  • Nature: one of the premier scientific publications
  • Science: one of the premier scientific publications

Magazines: The following titles and many others are all indexed in Academic Search Complete:
  • Scientific American
  • MIT's Technology Review
  • Popular Science
  • Popular Mechanics

 No full-text?    Click the  button to see if it is available in another database or in print in the library.
Brainstorming Keywords
Choose keywords which represent the main concepts of your topic. Then for each concept, choose a number of keywords, including synonyms and related terms.

Renewable energy:
  • wind energy
  • wind power plants
  • wind turbines

  • noise pollution
  • noise regulations
  • noise levels
  • noise reduction
  • noise emission
  • aerodynamic noise

Refine your results by adding additional keywords:


Wind energy (10,000 results)
-> wind turbines (7,000 results)
--> wind turbines AND noise (400 results)
---> wind turbines AND noise AND rotors (52 results)

Find Books
Start here: www.lib.utexas.edu > Research Tools > Library Catalog

  • To find a book on your topic, start with a keyword search.
  • When you find a good title, follow the subject headings for more books on the topic.
  • When you find the book, browse other books in the same area for similar resources.
  • Take note of the location of the book, we have over 10 libraries.
  • The call number will help you locate the book on the shelf
  • Take note of the current status: If there is a date listed instead of "AVAILABLE" that means the book is checked out to another person.  But you can request the book back by clicking on the Pick it Up link.

Sample Search
1. Come up with keywords and synonyms or related terms.  You may need to do several searches to get the best articles for your needs.  

Some terms are more common in the scientific literature (i.e. hydraulic fracturing) while others are more often used by the general public (i.e. fracking.)

  • "hydraulic fracturing"
  • "natural gas extraction"
  • "injection wells"
  • "shale gas industry"

Often times when searching on popular topic your first search will bring back too many results.  I recommend adding additional terms to focus your results. 

A good place to look for alternative terms is under the subject terms: 

  • "water supply"                                                
  • "water pollution"                            
  • "industrial wastes"                   
  • "groundwater pollution"
  • "fracturing fluids"   

2. Look for background information
  • Wikipedia - free encyclopedia (authors are anonymous, sometimes vetted by the public)
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library - 100s of encyclopedias and specialized reference sources (written by experts, vetted by editors) 

3. Find articles using the library's amazing databases:
  • Academic Search Complete - multidisciplinary
  • Opposing ViewPoints - multidisciplinary
  • ASME Digital Library 
  • Compendex - engineering 
 4. Find books:
  • library catalog
5. Governmental and international websites provide lots of data, technical reports, and much more.
6. Read lots of articles and take note of new or related concepts and re-do steps 1 thru 5 as needed.
7.  Don't forget to ask for help if you are:
  • not finding enough material on your topic
  • having problems finding the full-text of an article
  • can't find a book or are having problems with an e-book

Subject Specialist
Picture: Larayne Dallas

Larayne Dallas
Engineering Librarian
Tel: (512) 495-4503

Picture: Robyn Rosenberg

Robyn Rosenberg
Engineering Library - Science Instruction Librarian
Tel: (512) 495-4646

Additional Resources
Engineering Library website:

Business Library Resources - the UT business librarian has many helpful research guides and links to over 50 business databases.
InterLibrary Services Borrowing: will obtain books, article photocopies, and other material not owned by the University of Texas libraries.

Citation guides:

Talk to a Librarian!
If you need help please contact an Engineering Librarian!

If we are offline, email or call the Engineering Librarians or try Ask a Librarian.