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Robotics Engineering: Search & Evaluation Strategies

Resources for the Robotics Engineering Program at WPI

Research Strategies

Searching is an iterative process


Because every topic of discipline has its own jargon, coming up with lists of keywords will be an integral part of your search process. The more keywords you use to search, the more accurate and successful your search will be. There are a few different ways to find the right keywords to use in your search, but the first step is to consider your research topic and start there:

Think about what concepts you are looking for. For instance, a research topic of: the effect of Instagram on young people's mental health has three concepts: Instagram, young people, and mental health.

Next steps:

  • Try and come up with a list of synonyms or other related terms for each concept. For instance, young people may also be called youth, teenagers, or young adults. For broad concepts like mental health, think of more specific examples like anxiety or depression. For specific concepts like Instagram, think of broader concepts, like social media. 
  • Do not worry if you cannot come up with a lot of synonyms or related terms on your own. This is a good time to start doing general background research on your topic to help find these words. Start on Google, or try an online encyclopedia. See if you can find related terms there. 
  • Read news articles on your topic. These news articles may reference academic studies. You can use the information provided in the news article to search for the original scholarly article.
  • Once you gather some general information on your research topic, move on to more in-depth resources such as research articles, which you can find in places like the WPI Library Search, Google Scholar, and Library Subject-Specific databases. These articles will often contain (whether in the abstract or full-text) additional helpful keywords you can use to expand your search.

Top 5 Search Tips

  1. Keyword searching:
    1. Identify your topic’s key concepts. Do some background research in online encyclopedias. These are not sources that you will cite in your research but they can provide useful information to help you identify concepts and keywords related to your research topic.
    2. Brainstorm synonyms for your keywords: Search for synonyms for your keywords and concepts to increase the number of relevant search results.
    3. In database search results, look at the article titles and abstracts in your search results to find additional keywords to search for.
    4. Read! The more you read about your topic, the more you'll pick up on the jargon used in that field, which will help you to refine your searches and find relevant sources faster.
  2. Search filters: When searching in databases, use search filters on the search results page to narrow down your search. Some of the most common filters are:
    1. Publication Date
    2. Source Format/Resource Type (book, journal, video, etc.)
    3. Subject 
    4. Peer-reviewed/Academic Journal
  3. Get the full text of a source:
    1. Some of the library's databases only provide abstracts for sources. Look for the FullTextFinder icon on the search results page. If you only have the summary/abstract of an article, click on the FullTextFinder to search all 200+ library databases for the full-text.
    2. Use Interlibrary Loan (ILL). Submit an ILL request to get full-text journal articles, books and book chapters that are not available through the Gordon Library. ILL is a service that allows you to request these materials, and library staff will try to get these materials for you from another library. 
  4. Often finding one helpful source can lead you to more:
    1. Check bibliographies for additional relevant sources.
    2. Some databases provide “cited by” links for articles - these links help you find sources that have cited an article and built on the authors' research.
    3. Some databases provide “related articles” links to connect you to articles on similar topics. 
  5. Ask a librarian! 
    1. Librarians are here to help you with your research. Reach out to the library via chat, email, or by requesting a research consultation: 

Advanced Search Tips

Use these search terms to narrow or broaden your search. These search terms work in WPI Library Search and in most of the library's databases


robot AND ethics
Narrows the search to entries containing both terms.
AI OR "artificial intelligence"
Broadens the search to entries containing either term.
bat NOT baseball
Excludes entries containing the second term.
“ ”
“artificial intelligence”
Retrieves results containing the exact phrase in quotes.
Wildcard: Retrieves both globalization and globalisation.
Truncation: Retrieves robot, robots, robotics, etc. 

Keywords, Tutorials & Source Evaluation

Keywords & Subject Headings: When looking for resources in the Gordon Library catalog, a good initial strategy to guide your search is using subject headings as your keywords. Subject headings are preferred, standardized terms developed by subject area experts, whereas 'keywords' are generally based upon natural or subjective language. In this way, Subject Headings are a kind of controlled vocabulary, and they form the organizational backbone of searchable platforms, which facilitate automated, efficient searching. Many libraries (WPI included) use Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH)--which are generated by the Library of Congress--as their preferred terms. As it relates to searching, the key difference is that Keyword searches look at most (if not all) of the words in a catalog record, but subject searches only look for words in the subject heading fields (6XX). As a result, subject searches are more precise, so subject search results will be more specific. Consider some of the approaches recommended by librarians in the following video--

Developing keywords for research

Run Time: 2:44

Key Student Learning Competencies:

  • What are Keywords? (0:22)
  • Sample--Generating Keywords (0:38)
  • Effectively Using Keywords (0:53)
  • Using a Thesaurus (1:34)
  • Refining Search Results (1:48)
  • Evaluating a Library Record (2:10)

Try using some of the listed subject terms links/ keywords to find resources supported by--and accessible through--the Gordon Library.

Check out some of the following tutorials related to the research process.

Library Searching in 60 Seconds

Run Time: 1:03

Key Student Learning Competencies:

  • Gordon Library Homepage (0:15)
  • Search Overview (0:30)
  • Filters (0:45)

Locating relevant databases for research

Run Time: 2:27

Key Student Learning Competencies:

  • Understanding Relevance in Relation to Research Needs (0:21)
  • Understanding Databases (0:46)
  • Locating Databases (1:04)
  • Search Databases A-Z (1:04)
  • Search Databases by Subject (1:33)
  • Search Databases by Type of Resource (2:09)

Finding full-text videos

Run Time: 2:55

Key Student Learning Competencies:

  • Why Search for Full-Text Articles? (0:30)
  • Sample Full-Text Search via SCOPUS (0:52)
  • Sample Search w/ Strategies (1:18)
  • Search Tips (1:27- 2:06)
  • Filters (2:10)

Peer Review Overview 

Run Time: 2:52

Key Student Learning Competencies:

  • What is Peer-Review? (0:10)
  • The Impact of Peer-Review Processes (0:50)
  • The Peer-Review Process (1:39)
  • Locating Peer-Reviewed Articles via the Gordon Library (2:25)


The following tutorials will help students identify valid, legitimate, and scholarly rigorous information for your research.


Run Time: 3:17

Key Student Learning Competencies:

  • What is TRAAP? (0:05)
  • Timeliness (0:26)
  • Relevance (1:03)
  • Authority (1:46)
  • Accuracy (2:15)
  • Purpose (2:40)


Run Time: 1:52

Key Student Learning Competencies:

  • What is SIFT? (0:12)
  • Step 1: STOP (0:19)
  • Step 2: Investigate (0:41)
  • Step 3: Find (1:05)
  • Step 4: Trace (1:36)