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M E 324: Manufacturing Engineering

Learn about tools for finding research materials for student projects in ME 324. This guide also includes tips, strategies, and techniques engineering students need to know for finding, evaluating, and using sources.

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.

Cite sources

Citing sources is an important part of the research process. Whether you're writing a paper for class, an article or report for publication, or a grant proposal, citations let others know where you got your information. Any information, including data and equations, that you quote or paraphrase in your paper should be cited.

How to cite

1. Identify

Identify what you need to cite. Where did you get your information? From a handbook, an article in a journal? From a website you found using Google?

Tip: Online resources often provide help creating citations. Some of them will even generate a citation for you.

2. Find

Find the information you'll need to clearly identify the source of your information. This will vary depending on the type of information and its source, as well as the citation style you use. But typically you'll want to look for:

  • Author (or editor)
  • Title of book, journal, article, patent, standard, or other document
  • Publication information such as publisher and place of publication (for books)
  • Copyright year
  • Journal issue and volume numbers (if applicable)
  • Page numbers (if applicable - when referencing an entire document page numbers are not needed)
  • URL
  • Date accessed

3. Cite

Choose a citation style recommended by your professor or one commonly used in your field. Use the corresponding citation style guide to find the formula for citing the type of source you used (such as books, articles, web sites, etc.) and plug the information you gathered in the previous step into the formula to create your citation. You'll have to do this for each citation in your paper, and the exact formatting of the citation will vary based on whether you're citing a book, article, web site, data set, or something else.

If this sounds very complicated and like a lot of work, it is! Fortunately we now have a variety of citation management software options that can take some of the frustration and tedium out of citing your sources.

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Erin Thomas
150 Parks Library
Iowa State University
515 294-9886