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M E 270: Introduction to Mechanical Engineering Design

Guide for students enrolled in ME270: Introduction to Mechanical Engineering Design.

Manage Information

During the course of your project, it's likely that you're going to accumulate a lot of information. Have you thought yet about how you're going to keep track of it all?

Basic Tips

Managing information goes smoothest when you decide, as a group, how you're going to manage and organize your files before you actually start looking for information.

First, think about how you plan to share files and references with each other. Are you going to email the files to everyone in the group every time a change is made (maybe not the best idea), or create shared documents / folders in Google Drive or CyBox?

Once you know how you're going to keep all group members in the loop, decide on a system of naming and arranging your files and folders that makes sense for your project. Then, actually use the system you came up with! Write it down if you have to. Ideally, your file and folder names will mean something to you (helping you locate the correct file or folder) and be arranged in a logical system. Investing a little time early on can save you a lot of time over the course of your project.

Lastly, plan to have a backup. If your computer crashes, are you going to lose all of the group's files? Consider uploading backups of your files to cloud-based services like CyBox on a regular basis, and using a cloud-based citation manager to store your group's references.

Questions to Ask

Before you save a file or share a reference with your group, it's a good idea to make sure it might actually be useful. That way, you won't end up with folders full of identical-seeming PDFs that you have to analyze and evaluate later, when time is at even more of a premium. In the book Integrating Information into the Engineering Design Process, Jim Clarke suggests answering the following questions for each source of information you use:

  • What did you read?
  • Who created the information?
  • Why do you think it is credible?
  • Why is it valuable for the project?
  • How can you use the information in the design process?
  • Should your fellow team members read it?
  • Does it raise important questions to ask your advisor?
  • Does it identify a need for more reading materials?

You might even want to think about including this information in the form of comments on files uploaded to a shared group folder, or notes attached to citations in a group library in a citation manager.

Manage Citations

You probably know that it's extremely important to cite the original sources of the information you used in your project. But if you're like most people, you aren't thrilled by the idea of having to collect, type, and properly format all those citations. The good news is, there are some good, free software options now that will take care of at least part of that process for you.

The ISU Library supports three citation management programs:

All three of these programs offer the same basic features -- reference collection and organization, and citation generation; group sharing of references; notes and attachments -- and they all also have pros and cons. You'll have to investigate for yourself and decide which one would be best for you (and your group). If you aren't sure which to choose, contact your librarian.

Erin Thomas's picture
Erin Thomas
Contact:
150 Parks Library
Iowa State University
515 294-9886

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