Conducting Research: Building Credibility and Knowledge

Why Do Research?

Engineering research skills are essential to your work. The work that engineers perform – including the primary research that engineers may carry out – is almost never completely novel; it is usually based, in some way or another, on someone else’s past work, even if it takes a completely different approach.

Familiarizing yourself with the past work of other engineers has a number of critical advantages. It

  • reduces the risk of retreading old ground and wasting time
  • familiarizes you with the best practices in your profession
  • expands your own knowledge of critical concepts
  • makes your own claims and work as an engineer credible, because it situates you in a community of other professionals.

This last point about credibility is particularly important. As a profession, engineering involves a lot of responsibility. You are responsible to your employers, to the public you develop technology for, and also to the reputation of other members of your profession. In order for the profession to maintain public trust, it is critical that individual engineers can demonstrate that they are building off of work and ideas that have been thoroughly and rigorously researched, reviewed and tested by other competent professionals. Fortunately, much of this work is available to you.

Research as a Skill

While engineering resources are certainly available, they are also voluminous. If you can think of an engineering-related topic, chances are that many other engineers have studied it and written about it. The sheer volume of engineering research can be daunting. How do you find the right source among all that information?!

Like math, writing, or most any other thing, finding good engineering resources involves some skill, and it might take a little bit of practice to get proficient at it. The first trick is knowing where to look.

Resources to Support You

Fortunately there are a number of resources available to you to help you skill up with your research. You might contact one of the librarians at the U of T Engineering and Computer Science Library. Their librarians are very helpful and know your research tools inside and out. You also might have a look at the Engineering Communication Program’s guide to Conducting and Understanding Research in Engineering. Here you will find a brief list of some of the tools and databases that can help you organize your search.