[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile researching your paper, it is critical that you keep your sources and notes organized. Disorganization during the research process may cause you to unintentionally plagiarize a source or to waste valuable time in redoing research in order to correctly document your sources. There are a variety of methods you can use to keep your research organized, and you can use the tools that will suit you best.
Whatever method you choose to use in order to keep your work organized, you will want to keep track of the same information. You will need to keep bibliographic information for each source that you use. Bibliographic information will vary somewhat depending on the citation style you are using but generally includes the title of the document (article and journal names, book title, etc.), the author’s name, the publication year, the publisher (company name and city), and page numbers for any direct quotes. You should familiarize yourself with the citation style that you will be using prior to beginning your research so that you can be certain that you are recording the necessary information. You will also need to track any direct quotes that you may use in your paper as well as any indirect quotes or summaries that you may use. You should use quotation marks to indicate any direct quotes, and be sure to copy them word for word. Be sure to include page numbers with every direct quote if you need this information for your citation. If you are quoting a secondary source, you must include the name of the original author as well. If you have hard copies of your sources, you can use sticky notes to mark the pages that have quotes you may wish to use in your paper.
There are some simple “low tech” methods that you can use to track your research. One method is to have a notebook in which you gather all of your data. Each source will have a separate page or pages in the notebook in which you keep your notes. At the top of the page, write a full bibliographic citation for the source. Write all of your notes for this source on the page. If you need more than one page, label each page of the notebook with the author’s name and the document’s title. You may choose to indicated how many pages of notes you have for that source as well. Each new source should have a new page in the notebook to avoid confusion.
Another low tech method that many people find useful is index cards. Using index cards to write notes will help you to organize your writing as well. Begin by writing out the full bibliographic information on one note card. As you take notes, write down the quotes, paraphrases, and any other information you wish to keep on separate note cards. Designate a spot such as the top right-hand corner on each index card to track the author and publication date. You do not need to put the full bibliographic information on each card, but you do need to put down the author’s name and publication date. The publication date is necessary so that in the event that you have multiple sources by the same author, the publication year will help you distinguish between them. Each direct quote, note, or summary should be written on a separate card. When you begin to write, you can organize your note cards to follow your outline. In this way, you can easily flip through the index cards as you write. Since each index card has the information you need, your sources can be easily tracked.
If you prefer to track your sources electronically, you have a number of options as well.
1- Academic databases:
Most electronic databases available through university libraries or membership subscriptions have built-in research tools to quickly cite, save, export and bookmark sources.
2- Citation generators:
Citation generators are websites that allow you to automatically create citations in all major styles. Citations are generated by either manually inputting the source details (author’s last name, author’s first name, title, date publication…etc) or through a search function that finds your book or article and automatically creates your citation in format/style of your choice. The most popular citation generators are easybib.com (see screenshot below) and citationmachine.net
3- Citation software
These small computer applications that integrate nicely with your text editor and allow you to seamlessly cite and manage your sources. These tools were once very popular among college students, researchers and librarians, but their popularity has been gradually shrinking as more users are opting for web-based applications.
Whether you choose to organize your research with low or high tech methods, the small amount of extra time you take during the research to organize yourself will save you a great deal of time and unnecessary stress in the end. Keeping track of your sources, exact wording of direct quotes, and all of the necessary bibliographic information from the start will prevent the need to backtrack and get the information later on. Even if you do not use some of your research, it is in your best interest to track all of the necessary information from the start.
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