computerProject Innovation


Preliminary Research & Reading | Patent Search
Methodology | Examples
Student Resources
| Collaboration | Glossary

Research Process

Preliminary Research and Reading


You have brainstormed your topic and thought about different questions associated with your topic.  Now it's time to see what is out there about your topic.  During this portion of your research you will be skimming, scanning, and reading sources about your topic.

  • Often times this portion of your research will involve an Internet search about your topic.  In conducting an Internet search, you may find it useful to use Boolean search terms in order to narrow your search results.
    • Complete the Boolean Search lesson with your instructor
    • Now look through the following information and sources about search techniques. Basic database searching techniques.
    • Use basic search skills and Boolean search techniques as you complete an Internet search.  To learn about basic search skills and Boolean search techniques click on the following link.
    • Additional Boolean search techniques:
      • Truncating- A symbol at the end of a word stem will return results for all variations on the word stem.  An asterisk is often used to return these results. Example:  manufact* will return results for manufacture, manufacturer, manufacturing, etc.
      • Wildcards - A symbol within a word will return all possible variations inside a word or stem.  An !, an *, or a ? may be used for internal truncation in different search engines Example: wom?n will return results for woman or women.
    • Different search engines may use some or all of the Boolean search strategies.  Click on the following link to view a chart comparing popular search engines.  Click on each search engine link within the page to view specific details about each search engine.
    • Check out this tutorial from the Oregon State Library System on the secondary research process.  Boolean Bash
    • Google Advanced Search
    • Baltimore County Public Schools has many databases that you may use to search for your topic.  Visit the  Library Information Services Database Portal in order to gain access to these databases. They are also available from home. Check with your Library Media Specialist for remote access information.
  • The Internet contains a wealth of information about a wide range of topics.  However, you must be aware of the potential pitfalls of the Internet.  Anyone can make and post a website.  This means that you must be critical of the information posted and be mindful of the sources that you choose to use.  Things to consider when viewing a website
    • look & layout - How is the site organized?
    • domain - What type of organization is associated with the site?
    • relevance - Does the information presented relate to my topic?
    • authority - Who is the author and are they an expert in the field?
    • accuracy - Who is the sponsor of the site?  What are the interests of the authors/sponsors?  Can I trust this site?
    • point of view - Does the author have bias about the subject?  What is the author's background?
    • currency - How up to date is the information?
  • As you continue to search for information about your topic of interest keep in mind that there are many types of sources out there.  You may use a variety of sources in your research and upcoming literature review.  These sources may include (but are not limited to):  online sources, scholarly journals, books, interviews, magazines, and more.
  • When researching your topic keep in mind the difference between primary and secondary sources. A primary source is a source that contains originally created work or data.  A secondary source is a source that analyzes or interprets a primary source.  Complete the lesson on Primary vs. Secondary sources with your instructor.  Visit Princeton University's reference desk to learn about the difference between primary and secondary sources.
  • Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites. Google Scholar helps you find relevant work across the world of scholarly research. Back to Top

Patent Search


If you are interested in developing a new technology/engineering design or invention, your literature review will involve a search for information about "prior art," or existing products/technologies similar to your own proposed invention. You will need to search the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent database for related patented inventions, as well as non-patent literature and information sources including research studies, articles, trade publications/databases, and the marketplace.

Background Information and Tutorials
Generating Keywords

Use this Invention Keyword Worksheet to generate keywords and phrases related to your invention, which you can then use to search the patent databases. Use keywords and phrases from your Working Description in #8 on the outline and from your Non-patent Literature Review chart. Then, Use Visual Thesaurus to generate synonyms and related terms.

Visual Thesaurus

Patent Search Engines

FreePatentsOnline: Claims to be “one of the most powerful, fastest and easiest patent search engines on the web. Our search allows advanced search techniques such as word stemming, proximity searching, relevancy ranking and search term weighting to help you find exactly what you are looking for. And, our account features let you organize, annotate and share documents, and Alerts let you instantly be notified when new documents of interest are published.” Account features require free registration with email address; or, use this search widget to perform a Quick Search.

Google Patent Search: Google and the USPTO have entered into an agreement to make bulk patent and trademark information available to the public at no charge.

Non-patent Literature and Information Sources

Do it Yourself Market Search
Google Product Search- Search for products in the marketplace
ThomasNet - An industrial search engine that provides one source for finding manufactured products, components, or parts which may be related to an invention.
Computer Technology Resources:
ACM Portal: The Guide to Computing Literature A database of references, many with abstracts, to over 700,000 publications in the field, including books, journals, conference proceedings, dissertations, and technical reports. The advanced search option is available only to ACM members, but the basic search and browse features are useful and free. Though many of the items include links, most require subscriptions to materials that may be in your library.
FOLDOC: Free Online Dictionary of Computing A searchable dictionary of computer terms, including acronyms, jargon, computer languages, operating systems, companies, and theory.
WWW Virtual Library: Computing and Computer Science An index page for a wide variety of computer-related Web directories in the WWW Virtual Library, including cryptography, logic programming, and software engineering.Back to Top

Use the resources on the Methodology page for these steps in the invention/innovation research process:


Check out some examples of inventions or engineering design projects by high school students like yourself, younger students, and college students. Examine several examples to answer as many of these questions as possible and record notes on this Examples of Student Inventors organizer. This activity will help to inspire you and jump-start your thinking as you begin your own invention process.

  1. What is the inventor's name, age, and invention?
  2. What inspired the inventor's idea and design?
  3. What steps were part of the inventor's process?
  4. What kinds of research did the inventor need to do?
  5. What problem is being addressed by the invention?
  6. How will this invention impact people or the world?
  7. What do you have in common with this inventor?
  8. How is this invention similar to or different from your own proposed invention?
Student Resources

Sci-tech and Inventors' Resources:

Associations, Organizations, and Blogs
Audio and Video Media
Competitions, Contests, and Conventions
Databases, Digital Libraries, and Directories
Digital Tools
Inventors/Engineers and their Inventions
Journals, Magazines, and News Sources
United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Resources
WebsitesBack to Top

Visit the Technology section of the "Think Tank" for even more invention and innovation resources.


"Ask an Expert":
Read the article Ask an Expert sites about how to select an expert. Use these resources to ask questions that arise during your invention/engineering design process.

Virtual Reference Services :

Glossary of Invention Terms
Principals of Engineering Glossary
Product Design and Development Knowledge Base - Glossary of design, engineering and manufacturing
USPTO Glossary - Terms used on the United States Patent and Trademark Office web site.
Understanding Patentese: A Patent Glossary
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