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Writing Center: After the Research

How to Take Source Notes

Trying to keep track of all your research and notes can get very difficult, especially when juggling a lot of different sources.  Below is a list of ways to keep your notes and research accessible and organized.

    Print/Copy articles whenever you can. Having a hard copy of the article or resource in hand that you can write on will save you a lot of headaches.  Write your thoughts and reactions on the article in the margin, or on a separate piece of paper that you can then staple to the resource. 

   Highlight and underline information. Underline any statistics or facts that you want to refer to in your paper and highlight areas that you want to quote.  This way you can tell at a glance what is important in the resource.

   Pick out main points. On your resource copies, find a place near the top where you can list or paraphrase the author's main points.  What is the article about?  Does it support your thesis?

   Keep similar information together. When doing a lot of research, it is important to keep similar ideas together. For example, if you are doing a paper about gay marriage, try organizing your resources into piles: for gay marriage, against gay marriage, religious views, legal rights, etc.

   Write out the citation on the resource. This will really help when printing online articles or copying pages from a book.  Write down all the information you will need for the citation on the actual copy. 

Picking Quotes

A lot of professors will ask that you use some quotes in your paper.  This may seem simple enough, but you must make sure that the quotes you are using will be beneficial to your paper and not distract from your main point.  Here are some questions to consider:

  •    Why do I want to use this quote?
  •    Does it support my thesis?
  •    Do I need the whole quote, or just part of it?
  •    Does it make sense with the rest of my paper?

In their book Writing Research Papers: A Guide to the Process, authors Stephen Weidenborner and Domenick Caruso explain that there are only four reasons why someone should use a quote in their paper.

   Conciseness: Use a quote if you cannot paraphrase the author's meaning without using more words than the quote itself.

   Accuracy: Use a quote if you are changing the author's meaning when you try paraphrasing it.

   Memorable Language: Use a quote if you think the author's words are very powerful or illustrate the main point perfectly.

   Authority: Use a quote by someone who is an expert on the topic you are writing about to give your thesis credibility.

Your Opinion, Your Voice

It is important to remember when you are writing your research paper that YOU are the expert.  The facts and quotes that you put in your paper are only there as evidence to support your thesis. A good research paper starts off with an original thesis, an interesting idea.  Remember to keep that original thesis as the main focus of your paper.