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Keeping track of your research

Your research folder is a place – physical or digital – where you’ll store any scanned/photocopied essays, articles, notes and any other material that might be relevant to your course. If using a digital research folder remember to back it up – e.g. a USB stick (don’t rely on this) or external hard drive, email, cloud drive etc.

Your research folder can take the form that is most effective for you, and you’re free to organise it however you see fit, provided that you label everything clearly so that you can find what you want when you start writing later on.  Use referencing managing software to store all your saved research in the UCA Harvard method of referencing.  

Tips to keep track of your research

In the beginning…

  1. Do some preliminary reading.  Get a sense of your overall topic before really getting into the “heavy” research.
  2. Research with your final product in mind.  As you research, think about what “subheadings” you may want to write about.  Tip: If you need help with identifying your topic subheadings, you could try creating a concept map.  A Concept Mapping pdf tutorial, developed by Ellen Petraits at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Library. 
  3. Keep a Research Journal.  Keep a record of everything that you are thinking about your research
  • Make sure each entry in your research folder includes: Where you searched…  knowing where you searched will help you remember where you found a book or article.
  • What keywords did you use, and how well did they work?   Effective keywords can make all the difference…by tracking them, you can pinpoint the good ones (and stop wasting time with the rest).
  • What sources did you find?  Make sure you record the reference for each source that you think you want to use in your review.  Saving each source’s full text as you go is a good idea, too.
  • How do you plan to use each source?  Make a note to remind yourself of any new ideas that arose as you read it, or sections you want to quote or paraphrase.
Once you start finding research…
  1. Organise by “subheading”;  It’s important to note that these techniques can be done by hand or on a computer.  There are several approaches on how to do this:
  • Write a working outline: what will each subheading or part of your essay include? What will your arguments be? What sources support that point?
  • Ignore the interesting-but-not-useful stuff:  what are your essay’s subheadings? What is your argument?  Read for that information, make notes on that information, and then throw everything else out.
  • Colour code:  assign a different colour to each subheading.  Then use highlighters, post-its, tabs, or font colour to organize your notes and articles
  • Create different folders using your computer or different files for each subheading, or different sections within a file.   

Tip: I like using one file in Microsoft Word with different sections. It is easier to use the search function to search a single document for an author or phrase.  Or if you like to print everything, have a different folder or binder tab on each subheading. The bottom line is to keep related things together!

  1. Write notes; in your own words, on why your sources are helpful. 
  • Use cue cards or the comments field in Microsoft Word: with the reference at the top (including page numbers!), write down the general ideas or concepts you want to use from that source.  You may have more than one cue card for each source if you’re organizing your notes by subheadings.
  • Create annotations: again, with the citation at the top (and, of course, with the page numbers!), create a summary for each article/book you want to use.  Include the key parts/arguments/quotes that you liked from that source.
  • Write your notes in your own words: why is this source helpful?  How does it support your writing?  Write it in your own words in your research notes, rather than writing out word-for-word what the book says.
  1. Save your research; or you won’t find it again.
  • ​​​​​​Email your search results to yourself, print them, write them down by hand, use referencing management software … anything but having to replicate your searches!
  • Create a working bibliography: add resources that you want to use to this bibliography as you read. Include the page numbers!
  • Remember to reference images and material from the internet as well as information from books and research papers.
When you’re ready to write…
  1. You can write out of order.  You don’t need to write your introduction first and your conclusion last.  You can fix transition sentences and weird phrases later
  2. Write down ideas as they come to you. ​As you finish up your research, full-sentence paragraphs may come to you.  Write these down – even in your notes/working outline/cue cards, etc.
  3. If you’re working on the same project for a few days/weeks, you may get ideas while away from your desk.  Keep a notebook or your phone handy to write these down as they come to you (and then go back to sleep!).

If you need additional help organising your research, feel free to contact your tutor or myself directly (email: library@oca.ac.uk)

This guidance was contributed to by OCA tutors and Programme Leaders, with guidance from the following sources:

Bell, J. and Waters, S. (2014) Doing your research project : a guide for first-time researchers. (Sixth edition.) Maidenhead, Berkshire, England: McGraw-Hill Education.

Cryer, P. (2006) Research Student’s Guide To Success. Buckingham, UNITED STATES: McGraw-Hill Education.

Denscombe, M. (2007) Good Research Guide. Buckingham, United Kingdom: McGraw-Hill Education.

Holmes, K., 2018. What’s the best way to organize my research? The Clever Researcher. Available at: https://beryliveylibrary.wordpress.com/2018/02/13/organize-research/ [Accessed July 14, 2019]. 

Study Guides (2019) At: https://www.uca.ac.uk/library/academic-support/study-guides/ (Accessed on 19 July 2019)

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Posted by author: Helen Barrett
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