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Future Cities: Research toolkit

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About this page


This page provides a brief overview of the research process and tips that:

  • help with writing
  • help with references, citing your work
  • bibliometric tools
  • plain language summaries (PLS)
  • more than technical skills, soft skills
  • time management tips
  • the research process
  • saving your search strategy
  • setting up alerts
  • publishing your work?
    • consider Octapus
  • need funding?

Tips, tools, techniques

Help with writing


Online resources for a range of different writing considerations:


The Writing Centre provides instruction on various writing criteria,  such as formatting, sentence structure, word use, and individual consultations which you can book in advance or during their drop-in hours for your specific need. 


Help with references, citing your work


APA style is the standard citation style for all students in the Faculty of Environment.


There are a few points to make about citing:

  • cite EVERY idea, concept, map, chart, table, illustration, etc., that did not originate with you
  • cite properly, correctly, and accurately, in accordance to the citation style
  • if or when you have a question on whether or not to cite, then cite
  • if or when you have a question regarding the style or format of the citation, then refer to the citation style manual

For APA style the title of the manual is Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edition. This item is only available in print, however, there are a few reliable online sources that students have found helpful:


Bibliometric tools


Bibliometric tools are automated programs that perform multiple tasks for students and scholars, and they can save you quite a bit of time. Keep in mind to proofread your references (as well as your paper), to make sure the italics, brackets, doi, etc. are all in the right place.

These tools can:

  • organize your references in folders
  • allow for references to be in more than one folder
  • sort by a variety of elements
  • export references from databases directly into the program
  • allow you to edit the reference manually
  • import other elements such as the entire article, Word documents, images, Excel sheets
  • creates a bibliography, the reference list instantly, based on a custom set of references
  • can create reference lists in a multitude of different citation styles

There are many bibliometric tools to choose from, some you pay for, others are free. Talk to your colleagues and faculty to find out what they use to organize their references. Although they all perform the same basic functions you will develop a preference. Always ensure that you can export your references into another program if you decide to change. It is hard to lose all the work that amassing thousands of references would take.

Some programs to consider are:

RefWorks (you can sign up for an account through the library website, and there is librarian support should you have any difficulties)

Information on EndNote and Zotero can also be found on the RefWorks webpage.


Plain language summaries (PLS)

PLS are a growing trend in research. These summaries simplify scientific and jargon-based peer-reviewed literature into a form of writing that everyone can understand.

Articles of interest:

Rosenberg, A. (2021, November 16). Guest post -- Towards standardizing plain summaries: The Open Pharma recommendations [blog post]. The Scholarly Kitchen.


More than technical skills, soft skills


Soft skills are identified as professional skills, professional in your career, in academia, and how you live your life in-between. Essentially, they are communication skills. These are the expressions that form your reputation:

  • write (clear and genuine)
  • cite (respect and integrity)
  • speak (with intelligence, your own voice, your own ideas)
  • present (to an individual, a group, at a conference)
  • reflect (what matters to you and why)

There are several units on campus that aim to help you succeed. Most notably is the

Throughout your academic career qualities to build on involve ethics, leadership, teamwork, career development, and more,


Time management tips


Time management is the bane of most people's existence regardless of your station or location in life. It is not something to be mastered, but it can be managed if you are serious about it and work hard. Help is available through the resources already mentioned. The last 'time management' workshop I attended, one piece of advice stood out. Get yourself a timer, a kitchen timer will do, but not your phone. The timer needed for this exercise can be a low-tech timer as long as it functions only as a timer (and does not provide other functions. A kitchen timer is a good example for what is required for this exercise. Experiment by conducting your own research on how long it takes you to perform a task, for example, to read 20 pages of light reading, 20 pages of tasked reading, and 20 pages of challenged reading.

Perform a writing experiment by setting aside part of your day to write for a 25-minute period. It does not matter what you write; it is the act of writing that's important. The idea, through these exercises, is not only to gain a realistic sense of time spent, but to train yourself to manage time more methodically, and hopefully with less stress. Developing these habits of reading and writing for a set period of time will help you master your academic objectives and goals. Aristotle, the famed philosoper and scientist, is attributed with saying "we are the sum of our habits".

Resources include:


In addition, the library has an Assignment Planner based on due dates. Another tool to add to your research toolkit.

Research process

Step 1.

Select and define your topic:

  • Discuss subject ideas with your instructor, faculty member, colleagues, family and friends. The more you discuss your ideas, the more they will solidify and clarify
  • Review terms and concepts in specialized encyclopedias or handbooks that cover your topic
  • State your topic as a question 
  • Identify keywords or related subjects, identify concepts that you are NOT interested in pursuing (at this time, do not get distracted)


Step 2. 

Find background information:

  • Once you have narrowed your topic, even by a little bit, begin your research by reading short summaries or a synopsis on your topic 
  • Subject encyclopedias and handbooks provide excellent information, even if they may be dated, you will find additional terms to add to your search, and learn about the concepts more broadly but with concrete examples
  • The dates of the readings you find will be an essential criteria, but keep them in perspective. Yes, you want the most current and authoritative knowledge available, but ideas can start appearing in the literature decades before they come into their own
  • Note the references at the end of the entry or section. These are written by experts within the field and therefore the recommendations are more meaningful than you may otherwise think. These are often core readings to gain insight into the topic that every serious scholar should know about. Remember, knowing about a resource and reading it are two very different things. More on that in the section on reviews.


Step 3.

Search the library catalogue

Omni, the library catalogue, links to the physical book records, e-books, e-journal titles, reference material, individual articles, conferences, technical reports, working papers, government information, databases and more.

There is always more.

When it comes to research, the library catalogue is your new best friend.

Sign in with your WatIAM credentials to:

  • place a book on hold (reserve it and select your pick-up location)
  • recall a book (the book is signed out, no problem, recall it and you will have it in a week)
  • save references to your personal online library (keep track of items for future reference)
  • search individual or multiple collections at a time (limit or expand your search preferences)
  • keep track of your signed out items (accurate record of your current activity)
  • renew your books online (convenient)


Step 4.

Search research databases

For current, up-to-date, reliable, and trustworthy information on your topic search databases.

Research databases provide:

  • customized search strategies
  • filters to specify criteria or parameters
  • links to full text articles

Create an account in the database with your @uwaterloo email and a unique password (please DO NOT USE your WatIAM password) to access more options:

  • for example, you can set up alerts:
    • for new articles that meet your search criteria
    • when an article has been cited
    • when an author publishes new content



Step 5.

Keep track of your references

Over the course of your academic career you may have saved thousands of references. As previously mentioned, bibliometric tools can help save and organize this information. Another tip that some scholars have found useful is to use a naming convention when labelling their documents, for example: last name of first author (all in lowercase), then date of publication:


If there are two authors, list both, then date:


If there are more than two authors use etal, then date:


How you create your naming convention is a personal choice. Consistency is key.



Step 6.

Know your database and what it can do --- for you!

Throughout your academic career at the University of Waterloo you will be exposed to a wide variety of databases. This is a good thing. There will be a time when you will want to search for dissertations only, for grey literature, for health information, government policies, etc. But over time, once you have stored up many skills and insights on how things work, you might settle in to using only a few preferred databases. These are your go-to databases, and for now we are not talking about Google, or Google Scholar. We are talking about sophisticated technologies that are transparent in detailing how it is you got to that information in the first place. By their definition, databases are sophisticated, but with publicly available databases we do not know how we get the results that show up, nor can we find out. We do not know how the system works. Once you learn how a system works you can instruct it to work for you in very specific ways. This is exciting, and a very powerful type of knowledge. The library subscribed databases offer the learning and training opportunities to understand how 'search' works.


Connect with your librarian

If you can spend one to two hours with your librarian to learn more about a database of interest, you will save yourself many hours in the long run. Consider the following:

  • fields that you can search in (to name only a few):
    • document title (article title level)
    • publication title (journal title level, also known as the source)
    • author
    • keyword
    • abstract
    • subject
    • ISSN
    • reference
  • operators that you can use to narrow or expand your search (need to be capitalized to function)
    • AND (join different ideas together, for example, "climate change" AND "corporate ethics"
    • OR (join like-minded ideas together, for example, water OR river OR lake OR stream
    • NOT / AND NOT (two versions of the same command, Scopus uses the AND NOT phrase, useful to eliminate an unwanted term that continues to show up, for example, animals OR dogs NOT cats
  • follow the research backwards (with the references, which are hyperlinked within the text or within the reference list), or follow forward by linking out to newer articles that have cited that article in their own research
  • a full range of keywords (to consider for building on your search strategy)
  • learn about journal titles and authors to build on your expertise
  • learn about funding and grants that sponsor research


What type of information are you reading?

When you research consider the type of information and its purpose. Different types include:

  • Annotated bibliographies
  • Book chapters
  • Books
  • Case studies
  • Conference papers
  • Data
  • Editorials
  • Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks
  • Journals
  • Magazines
  • Manuals
  • News
  • Peer-reviewed articles (essential)
  • Series (by organization or by topic)
  • Government information
  • Legal information
  • Patents
  • Personal communication
  • Professional associations
  • Reviews
    • Book
    • Literature
    • Scoping
    • Systematic
  • Statistics
  • Technical reports
  • Theses (Master's) / dissertations (Doctoral)
  • Trade publications
  • Unpublished manuscripts
  • Working papers




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