Through the process of doing your research, no matter if it is for a 5 minute power point, a 5-10 page paper, or a doctoral dissertation, you will want to keep track of the resources that might be of use to you such as books, e-books, articles, data files, websites, professional associations, organizations, institutions and films. Perhaps you will not use every one you come across, but you don’t want to lose track of a gem that, weeks later, you discover you could use. This list will turn into your references cited or bibliography page.
Yes, weeks later. Research takes time. Start as soon as you get a project so that you can really delve into a topic of interest to you.
It is not necessary to put your resource list in any particular format such as APA or MLA, but you do want the list to contain enough information about each source so you can find it again and, ideally, so that you will able to write your bibliography or references cited from the list.
There are several ways to organize your research notes from your sources as you progress through your paper/project. That slides us a bit more into the realm of how to write your paper or creating your final project which this book does not cover. But let’s just stick our toes into that for a paragraph or two to give you one concrete example of how you might transition from a resource list to paper/project.
When you discover a source you may use (e.g. book, article), enter all the information for its citation into your resource list. Then as you read that source, enter your notes right there under the source. Be sure and use quotation marks or block quotation for direct quotations and note the page numbers. You may also have a thought about how you might use a particular source in your project, so feel free to write a few sentences or a paragraph for your paper/project right there in your resource list under the appropriate citation.
Now, let’s say you have gathered what you believe is enough information for your paper/project. You now have this huge document with all your sources and their associated notes. You can now use the magical Ctrl F in Microsoft Word to locate all the materials on the part of the paper on which you are working. Ctrl F (Find in Page) will find any word you type in anywhere in your document. (On a Mac, use Command F.) If you are writing, for example, on the effects of human behavior on monarch butterfly migration you can type Ctrl F and type in logging to pull together all the information from your different sources about how logging has effected migration. If this is the way you want to organize your work, be very aware of this from the start so that you can tag sections within your note to take advantage of the Ctrl F. For example, be sure and use the word logging when you take your notes so you can find the information on logging when you Ctrl F logging.
This collection of resources you are creating for your paper/project should also include how you found them. You want to keep track of the different searches you do and in which databases you do them so that, when you need to find more or new information, you already know what you have done and where you have been. This avoids you duplicating previous efforts and saves you time.
In Sections 5 and 6, we will walk through 1) picking a topic 2) developing your topic and creating questions about it 3) creating a grid with your key concepts/terms/words related to your topic and 4) developing a search strategy. All of this should be included in your research notes. You may do a little preliminary web searching to get your juices going, but all this can be done before you touch a computer. Research and writing (or project making) is not a linear process even though it seems so in a text like this. You think before you ever get to a computer. Ask yourself, “What am I interested in enough to keep my attention through the assignment?” You do some searching and may find more terms you want to use in future searches. Or perhaps far along in the project, you come across another term you would like to go back and search in a database you already used. Keeping track of your terms in a grid illustrated in Section 6A can be very useful. What often happens is half way through your research you come across an additional term you want to use in your searches. Add it to your grid (section 6) and go back and use the new word(s) you found to do new searches in databases you have already used. Because you have kept track of searches and databases you’ve used, you will not duplicate searches and will use your time wisely.
So you think and then write and then read and then question and then think and then read and then write… Creating a paper or project, like life-long learning, is not linear. Keep on track, though, so you meet your due dates. Remember that you have professors, writing centers, tutorial centers and, of course, librarians to help you.