Civil and Environmental Engineering

Welcome to the Research Guide for Civil and Environmental Engineering (CVG and EVG)

This guide is designed to help you find great research for your report, term paper or thesis. It's easy to find basic info using Google, but to find specific and high-quality technical information you need to use dedicated research tools and databases!

Need help? I am available to help by email, in an online consult appointment, or an in-person appointment (on campus 2-3 days a week).  See my page on accessing research from home using university credentials.


Steps in researching your research paper, report or thesis

The process you follow when researching and writing a paper usually has at least the following steps:

  1. Choosing a topic - If you can choose a topic, choose one that you're interested in! If you aren't sure, do some preliminary reading and searching using general terms to figure out what you might pick. There's more advice here.
  2. Choosing where to search - This is key. You should always use several search tools and types of sources for a good paper. If you are starting out and want an overview of a topic, look for Books and other background info here. If you are looking for the newest research on a very specific question, or your professor has told you to use peer-reviewed articles, you can use a Research Article database. And we have Design Codes and Standards (CSA) available here.
  3. Searching at each place you've chosen - It's important to plan your search strategy, since it can be tricky to find scientific info, especially on a specific topic. See the Books or the Research Article tabs for specific advice, and this guide.
  4. Reviewing what you find - Are you finding relevant information or do you need to modify your strategy? You can always contact me for advice! It's also important to organize the documents you find to save time later. You can use a citation manager (Zotero or Mendeley) to track what you find in your browser. 
  5. Writing and citing - see the page for advice on doing a literature review (or term paper) and citing your sources properly to avoid plagiarism.

Research assignment life cycle. Step 1 - choosing a topic; Step 2 - choosing where to search; Step 3 - Searching; Step 4 - Reviewing what you find; Step 5 - writing and citing. The steps form a circle with arrows connecting the steps in multiple paths

Writing a research assignment or report is an iterative process  - you don't just proceed linearly from one step to the next. It is normal to go back and refine your topic while you are researching, or to search some more while you are writing!

How to find information quickly and efficiently

No matter how skilled you are at searching, you'll need to use multiple tools, and try various search keywords, to do a good job on a research assignment. But you can save time by thinking of a plan first. Here are a few suggestions:

a.  Define specific objectives:  what exactly are you looking for?  are you interested in the subject in general or in a specific aspect?  (e.g. are you interested in concrete durability in general, or specifically concrete durability in cold climates? Perhaps you are looking for something more specific - effect of fly ash on freeze-thaw durability of concrete).

b. Decide which time period should be covered by your search: the current year? the last five years? and how soon you need this information. If you are looking for the most recent research, you might want to look for conference papers or pre-prints, which are published more quickly than traditional journal papers.

c.  Figure out which types of sources are best to start with: If you are looking for general information on a topic, you might want to start your search using a source from the 'Background Info' tab such as an electronic book. If you are looking for research on a very specific question, or your professor has told you to use peer-reviewed articles, you can use a Research Article database. Or you may need to start with a professional document such as a standard or design code.