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BNS 210 Research Methods: Organize your sources

What information must you keep organized?

Organize sources

You will read numerous sources while exploring your topic, developing a research question and thesis, and creating a literature review. As you read sources and identify useful ideas within them, it is important to carefully organize what you learn. Doing so can:

  • make creating your works cited page much easier
  • prevent unintentional plagiarism (by recording immediately where you first ran across an idea)
  • prevent unintentional misrepresentation of sources (by helping you to remember their full context)

A strategy to help you organize sources

There is no "one-size-fits-all" guaranteed method to organize your sources as you research. Everyone's method varies slightly. But here are some key elements you should incorporate into the method that works best for you:

What should you record?

Step 1: When you find an article you might use, before you do anything else, record the full citation in your research log.

Step 2: When you encounter a useful passage in your article, before you do anything else, write down the page number(s) where you found the passage with the useful information. If the article has no page numbers, write down the section number or heading.

Step 3: Then, summarize or paraphrase the passage. Write a big S(ummary) or P(araphrase) to indicate summary or paraphrase. If you write down a phrase verbatim, put quotation marks around it so you know these are the authors words. (Do NOT use direct quotations in BNS 210 research papers!)

Step 4: (Optional, but very useful) Record thoughts about how you searched to find the information or why the information is important. Clearly mark them as your own thoughts in some way.

Where should you record this information?

You should record the information listed in Steps 1-4 using a tool that is:

  • convenient and easy for you to access and use (so you will be motivated to use it)
  • makes it possible for you to categorize the sources to help you think about how they support emerging themes and subtopics
  • makes it possible for you to reorder the sources as the organizational structure of your paper becomes clearer

Reference / Citation Management Tools

What strategies can you use for organization?

The four most common tools to record your research log are:
Tool Note cards Word document or Google Doc Excel spreadsheet or Google sheet Citation Manager

Commonly available

Easy to use

Easiest to categorize and reorder by simply shuffling cards

Commonly available

Easy to use

Easy to copy/paste

Commonly available

Easy to copy/paste

Easy to organize info by reordering/inserting rows

Helps you visualize where you need more research

Free tool

Easy to collaborate

Links your notes to their associate saved document

Possible disadvantages

Requires you to record information by hand

May misplace one or all cards by accident

Beware of copy/paste leading to unintentional plagiarism - carefully note direct quotes Beware of copy/paste leading to unintentional plagiarism - carefully note direct quotes Need to reference each article for notes / difficulty of organizing arguments

The library recommends: Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] - a tool that helps you to collect and store sources, manage collaboration with other scholars, and cite your references. Using Zotero, you can:

  • store the PDFs or links of online articles that you download online
  • enter notes about what you found useful and attach them to the PDFs
  • organize sources into collections (folders) for different projects
  • create a shared folder to collaborate with other scholars
  • create citations based on the style you choose.

Zotero automatically updates itself when new citation style updates are released, so you will always be up-to-date.