Unlike a note book, Masterfile is searchable

Credit: Image by cedwardmoran on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Tool of the week: Masterfile

What is it? An Excel file that helps you to create your own research database in order to document and organise an in-depth investigation.

How is it of use to journalists? Masterfile, which has been created by an investigative journalist, allows you to organise your research.

If you have ever undertaken a complex research project, with numerous unanswered questions, sources and interviewees, how have you organised your work? In a series of notebooks or text documents?

Masterfile is an Excel template that is free to download and can be adapted to suit a specific project.


It has been created and shared by Luuk Sengers, a reporter and journalism lecturer. There are Mac and Windows versions of the master document, and a manual which takes you though how to use it.

Sengers is also co-creator of a methodology called 'Story-Based Inquiry', which helps journalists and researchers managing complex investigations. Masterfile is a "working tool" of the methodology.

How to use Masterfile

The basic idea is that you enter the hypothesis to be tested in a cell on the first page of the spreadsheet and then plan your project (see screenshot above).

The spreadsheet, which has six sheets, is designed for you to add details of dates, ideas, to-do tasks, interview notes and phone numbers. The cells are linked so that you can log and later find source documents.

The database is searchable and you can filter and sort columns. It is also customisable – you can add columns and rows to suit the research you are undertaking.

Sengers explains on his website that there are a number of benefits of Masterfile:
  • "Status: Quick overview of unanswered questions, sources to be contacted and documents to be read (or searched for).
  • "Team work: Makes working together in a team of researchers easy, since every one has the same information and stores his notes in the same database.
  • "Reference: All quotes and facts in the final story can easily be traced back to their sources."
You will need to rename the downloaded Masterfile to set it up for each project you want to create a database for.

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