Skip to main content

Ezra's Research Diary: Tried and True Strategies for Effective Undergraduate Research: Step 1: Develop a "snapshot"

This library guide is designed to help students understand the overall process of undergraduate research at Cornell.

Step 1. Develop a "snapshot"

Step 1. Develop a "snapshot" or general overview of the topic.
  • Use your presearch skills to develop a list of keywords, synonyms, and subject terms. 
  • Identify trends and subproblems. 
  • Consider talking to librarians and professors to learn about some general resources that you might consult.

Ready Resources

  • Library Guides subject guides and course guides created by Cornell librarians.
  • Subject-specific encyclopedias 

Keep Track of Your Searching!

TIP: Keep track of your searching! 

In the long run, you will save yourself significant time and frustration if you keep track of your searching, because searching is often a long and iterative process. That means that you may have to repeat and refine your search process many times before you start hitting pay dirt.

For example, if you start by researching a topic with which you are unfamiliar, you probably won't enter a search string that makes much sense in the databases. As you identify certain keywords, topics, and subject headings, however, your search will lead you in different directions. Some will be dead ends, but others might be so interesting that you end up changing your preliminary research question!

The point: By keeping track of your search process, you will be a more effective and efficient searcher.

Who knows? In the future you might want to revisit the same topic from a different angle. Take note of these possibilities in your research journal and return to them later.

Keep track of such elements as:

  • the date you searched (may be used later in your works cited page)
  • where you searched
  • keywords, synonyms, and subject terms you used
  • variations of terms you used (different spelling, abbreviations, etc.)
  • natural language phrases you used
  • popular tags (your own or those of other researchers)
  • number of returned results
  • bibliographic information of sources (used later in your works cited page)
  • ideas and citations to explore later


Topic: hydrofracking wastewater

Initial natural language search term (put simply, the term you use before you are familiar with the lingo or jargon specific to your topic): hydrofracking wastewater


  • hydraulic fracking
  • hydraulic fracturing
  • fracking


  • hydraulic fracturing
  • drinking water
  • water supply
  • flowback wastewater
  • TDS Total Dissolved Solids
  • wastewater impoundment
  • hydrofracking solution

Related Terms

  • Marcellus Shale
  • natural gas
  • treatment plants
  • groundwater
  • invisible transportation systems
  • salinity level
  • deep well injection

Subject Terms

  • fluid injection
  • hydraulic fracturing
  • waste disposal
  • waste water
  • water pollution
  • environmentalism
  • geology & geophysics
  • environement & natural resources
  • natural gas extraction
  • natural gas production

Ready Resources

As you search the library databases (or elsewhere), you can use this worksheet to keep track of your searching.

(Worksheet adapted from: Ridley, D. (2008). The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.)

Web Accessibility Assistance