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Aerospace Engineering: Literature Review

Literature Review

Literature review is a "systematic, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars, and practitioners." (Arlene Fink, Conducting Research Literature Reviews, 2009)

What does that mean? The literature review establishes the fact that you have familiarized yourself with the particular area(s) or discipline(s) in which you are conducting research. A literature review will summarize the existing scholarly literature on your chosen topic, establishes relationships between different research projects of the past, shows where there are gaps in past research, and shows how the past published work relates to your own work.

Databases for Aerospace Engineering

The GT Library has 260+ databases.  All databases are accessible through the "Find Articles (Databases)" Page.

Here's a quick non-comprehensive list of some commonly used databases to start an aerospace literature search.


ARC (AIAA) - Includes journals, conferences, and e-books of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

IEEE - Transaction, journals, and conference papers of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

ASME - Journals and conference papers of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

OSA - Journals and conference papers of the Optical Society of America

SPIE - Journals and conference papers of this professional society for optics and photonics technology.



Aerospace Database (ProQuest) - searches a wide swath of literature from most professional academic literature relevant to Aerospace Engineering.

Compendex - Comprehensive engineering database, covers academic literature in all engineering sub-disciplines, including AE.

Web of Science - Robust, interdisiciplinary, and authoritiative database of all scientific and engineering research fields.


Literature Review Video Tutorials

Helpful literature review video tutorial from NC State University (, CC-BY-SA, by Smith, E, et al.)

Searching the Aerospace Literature

What do you search?

To write a good literature review, first you have to search for and identify the relevant scholarly literature. Remember that you have access to many curated scholarly databases provided by the Georgia Tech library (see

See the menu on the left for common resources for starting your AE literature search.

How do you search?

Most databases have the now-familiar single search bar interface. The content contained therein can be searched in different ways.

  • Search the metadata: Every database will allow some sort of metadata search, allowing you to search by author name, title, or words in the abstract, and more.
  • Search the full text: Some databases include and can search the full text of an article. Especially useful for when you
  • Citations: When you find an article that’s relevant to your topic, check the references at the end for citations to articles that may also be useful.
  • If you need assistance in getting started with AE databases, contact the aerospace engineering librarian.


How do you keep track of all the stuff you find?

Use a bibliographic management tool such as EndNote, Zotero, Jabref, Mendeley, etc. These help you keep track of articles you want to read, and you can also use these tools to help you make notes about the things you have already read (plus they help you link to the full pdf for later reference).

Evaluation and Synthesis

Literature reviews build a story. YOU are telling the story about what you are researching – a literature review is a handy way to show that you know what you are talking about. To do this, here are a few important skills you will need.


Skill #1: Analysis:

Analysis means that you have carefully read a wide range of the literature on your topic and have understood the main themes, and identified how the literature relates to your own topic. Carefully read and analyze the articles you find in your search, and take notes. Notice the main point of the article, the methodologies used, what conclusions are reached, and what the main themes are. Most bibliographic management tools have capability to keep notes on each article you find, tag them with keywords, and organize into groups.


Skill #2: Synthesis:

After you’ve read the literature, you will start to see some themes and categories emerge, some research trends to emerge, to see where scholars agree or disagree, and how works in your chosen field or discipline are related. One way to keep track of this is by using a Synthesis Matrix (see example:


Skill #3: Critique:

As you are writing your literature review, you will want to apply a critical eye to the literature you have evaluated and synthesized. Consider the strong arguments you will make contrasted with the potential gaps in previous research. The words that you choose to report your critiques of the literature will be non-neutral. For instance, using a word like “attempted” suggests that a researcher tried something but was not successful. Example:  “There were some attempts by Smith (2012) and Jones (2013) to integrate a new methodology in this process”. On the other hand, using a word like “proved” or a phrase like “produced results” evokes a more positive argument. Example: “The new methodologies employed by Blake (2014) produced results that provided further evidence of X”.  In your critique, you can point out where you believe there is room for more coverage in a topic, or further exploration in in a sub-topic.


If you are looking for more detailed guidance about writing your dissertation, please contact the folks in the Georgia Tech Communication Center



Literature Review Video tutorials

There are many helpful Literature Review video tutorials online.

For an excellent, succinct (10 min) introduction to how to succeed at a literature review, see:

For a longer, high quality in-depth look at how literature reviews come together, see: