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How to Write a Research Paper

Tips on Taking Notes by Hand

  • Use index cards to keep notes and track sources used in your paper.
  • Create Work Cited cards for each source.
    • Include the citation (i.e., author, title, publisher, date, page numbers, etc.) in MLA format. It will be easier to organize the sources alphabetically when creating the Work Cited page.
    • Number the source cards.
  • On each note card:
    • Use only one side to record a single idea, fact or quote from one source. It will be easier to rearrange them later when it comes time to organize your paper.
    • Include a heading or key words at the top of the card. 
    • Include the Work Cited source card number.
    • Include the page number where you found the information.
  • Taking notes:
    • Use abbreviations, acronyms, or incomplete sentences to record information to speed up the notetaking process.
    • Write down only the information that answers your research questions.
    • Use symbols, diagrams, charts or drawings to simplify and visualize ideas.

Tips for Taking Notes Electronically

  • Keep a separate Work Cited file of the sources you use.
    • As you add sources, put them in MLA format.
    • Group sources by publication type (i.e., book, article, website).
    • Number source within the publication type group.
    • For Web sites, include the URL information.
  • Next to each idea, include the source number from the Work Cited file and the page number from the source. See the examples below. Note #A5 and #B2 refer to article source 5 and book source 2 from the Work Cited file.

#A5 p.35: 76.69% of the hyperlinks selected from home page are for articles and the catalog
#B2 p.76: online library guides evolved from the paper pathfinders of the 1960's

  • When done taking notes, assign keywords or sub-topic headings to each idea, quote or summary.
  • Use the copy and paste feature to group keywords or sub-topic ideas together.
  • Back up your master list and note files frequently!

Organize your Notes

  1. After you take notes, re-read them. 
  2. Then re-organize them by putting similar information together. Working with your notes involves re-grouping them by topic instead of by source. Re-group your notes by re-shuffling your index cards or by color-coding or using symbols to code notes in a notebook. 
  3. Review the topics of your newly-grouped notes. If the topics do not answer your research question or support your working thesis directly, you may need to do additional research or re-think your original research. 
  4. During this process you may find that you have taken notes that do not answer your research question or support your working thesis directly. Don't be afraid to throw them away. 

It may have struck you that you just read a lot of "re" words: re-read, re-organize, re-group, re-shuffle, re-think. That's right; working with your notes essentially means going back and reviewing how this "new" information fits with your own thoughts about the topic or issue of the research.

Grouping your notes will enable you to outline the major sections and then the paragraphs of your research paper.