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EESC 550: Research in Earth and Environmental Sciences

Literature Review to Thesis/Dissertation - Research and Writing

Keeping Track of Your Research

Step 7. Keeping Track

Documenting your research from beginning to end is an important part of the process. The steps you took to conduct your research need to be able to be replicated. 

For example, you may be asked to present the keywords or search strategies you used to find your resources to:

  • a professor
  • as part of the journal publication process
  • or even to a grant funding agency.

Other times, you may be looking for a specific way of organizing your citations in one place when you are doing research in many databases. 

Regardless of the reason, keeping track of your research and the steps you took to complete it is always important. 

Search Logs

When keeping track of your searches, you want to ensure you are writing down the following pieces of information:

  1. Database Searched
  2. Search term(s) used (if applicable - how they were combined - AND/OR/NOT)
  3. Limiters used - i.e. dates, language, peer-reviewed
  4. Number of results found
  5. Date of your search
  6. Comments on the results (if applicable)

An example search history may look like the following:

Database Searched Search Terms + Limits Number of Results Comments on Results Date of Search Next Search Date
Web of Science ("water crisis" OR "water scarcity") AND Asia AND pollution 3,649 A lot of results, add date limiters? Jan 16, 2016 Feb 2, 2016

Often, databases will now have options for printing and/or saving search histories when you make an account. Take advantage of these to avoid a lot of manual tracking.

Search Tracking Templates

Don't reinvent the wheel! Check out a template I share with other graduate students on the Okanagan campus. 


Other institutions around the world offer templates you can use when tracking your research manually.

These are only some:

  1. University of Leeds
  2. University of Vermont

Search Alerts and RSS Feeds

Curious if you re-ran a search today if you would get the same results? 

Search alerts and RSS feeds let you track past searches that you found most useful and alert you to any new publications that would have shown up in that search today.

For example, when logged into your Web of Science personal account you have the option of selecting Search History in the top right hand corner of a results page if you think you found a good set results. From here, you can select the specific search you thought was useful by clicking on the small box under Combined Sets. And finally, hit Save History/Create Alert and you will be prompted to include how you would like to receive your alerts. Once created, you will have the option of also creating an RSS Feed of your alert. 

Citation Management

To track the resources you are finding in your searches and are relevant to your research, consider using a citation management tool. A citation management tool will help:

  • organize your research all in one place
  • avoid plagiarism by tracking your research path
  • create in-text citations with the click of a button(s)
  • easily format or re-format bibliographies

UBC Library supports the use of RefWorks, a web-based citation management tool.

Other tools include: EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley

For additional support using RefWorks, they're website provides in-depth video tutorials under their Help menu. For more in depth help please contact your subject librarian.