As you take notes, categorize your research to avoid organizing your paper by source rather than topic. Many student researchers fall into the trap of organizing their research, and therefore their papers, by source rather than by point, demonstrating a lack of creativity as well as using an ineffective strategy. Using your research question, consider the categories of information your reader will need to understand and appreciate your educated response. Common categories include background information; reasons to support or not support a position, evidence for or against a position, pros and cons, examples, and/or the “who, what, where, when, and why” of a situation or event. Spending time categorizing your notes will help you write your paper faster and better.
Try out one of the strategies below:
Using note cards, write down one summarized, paraphrased, or quoted point per note card. No matter how many note cards you use, do not put more than one point on each note card because you’ll wreck the system. Create a bibliographic note card for each source, including all pertinent information. See Information for Accurate Citations. Clearly identify each information note card at the top with a short version of its category, source, and page number. You may also consider using a color code system to organize your note cards by topic/category.
If you prefer using colored highlighters and a photocopy of an article or chapter, assign one color to each of your categories, and then read your photocopy, categorizing information by color as you go. Some sources will have information that falls into multiple categories and may require more than one color for effective highlighting. Remember, you must also summarize, paraphrase, or quote (as well as cite) each highlighted section before you incorporate it into your paper.
If you prefer to store your notes electronically, create a Word folder for your paper and then create one Word document for each category, titling the document by its category. As you read your sources, type each summarized, paraphrased, or quoted point and its citation information into its appropriate Word document. Store all documents in the folder.
Next, create a working thesis statement.