Information retrieval (IR) is a well-established research and development area. Document formats such as SGML (Standard Generalised Mark-up Language) and XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language) have become widely used in recent years. Traditional IR systems demonstrate limitations when dealing with such documents, which motivated the emergence of structured document retrieval (SDR) technology intending to overcome these limitations. This paper reviews the work carried out from the inception to the development and application of SDR in engineering document management. The key issues of SDR are discussed and the state of the art of SDR to improve information access performance has been surveyed. A comparison of selected papers is provided and possible future research directions identified. The paper concludes with the expectation that SDR will make a positive impact on the process of engineering document management from document construction to its delivery in the future, and undoubtedly provide better information retrieval performance in terms of both precision and functionality. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.