How to take notes for your research paper

If you take notes efficiently, you can read with more understanding and also save time and frustration when you come to write your paper. These are three main principles

1. Know what kind of ideas you need to record

Focus your approach to the topic before you start detailed research. Then you will read with a purpose in mind, and you will be able to sort out relevant ideas.

  • First, review the commonly known facts about your topic, and also become aware of the range of thinking and opinions on it. Review your class notes and textbook and browse in an encyclopaedia or other reference work.
  • Try making a preliminary list of the subtopics you would expect to find in your reading. These will guide your attention and may come in handy as labels for notes.
  • Choose a component or angle that interests you, perhaps one on which there is already some controversy. Now formulate your research question. It should allow for reasoning as well as gathering of information—not just what the proto-Iroquoians ate, for instance, but how valid the evidence is for early introduction of corn. You may even want to jot down a tentative thesis statement as a preliminary answer to your question. (See Using Thesis Statements.)
  • Then you will know what to look for in your research reading: facts and theories that help answer your question, and other people’s opinions about whether specific answers are good ones.

2. Don’t write down too much

Your essay must be an expression of your own thinking, not a patchwork of borrowed ideas. Plan therefore to invest your research time in understanding your sources and integrating them into your own thinking. Your note cards or note sheets will record only ideas that are relevant to your focus on the topic; and they will mostly summarize rather than quote.

  • Copy out exact words only when the ideas are memorably phrased or surprisingly expressed—when you might use them as actual quotations in your essay.
  • Otherwise, compress ideas in your own words. Paraphrasing word by word is a waste of time. Choose the most important ideas and write them down as labels or headings. Then fill in with a few subpoints that explain or exemplify.
  • Don’t depend on underlining and highlighting. Find your own words for notes in the margin (or on “sticky” notes).

3. Label your notes intelligently

Whether you use cards or pages for note-taking, take notes in a way that allows for later use.

  • Save bother later by developing the habit of recording bibliographic information in a master list when you begin looking at each source (don’t forget to note book and journal information on photocopies). Then you can quickly identify each note by the author’s name and page number; when you refer to sources in the essay you can fill in details of publication easily from your master list. Keep a format guide handy (see Documentation Formats).
  • Try as far as possible to put notes on separate cards or sheets. This will let you label the topic of each note. Not only will that keep your notetaking focussed, but it will also allow for grouping and synthesizing of ideas later. It is especially satisfying to shuffle notes and see how the conjunctions create new ideas—yours.
  • Leave lots of space in your notes for comments of your own—questions and reactions as you read, second thoughts and cross-references when you look back at what you’ve written. These comments can become a virtual first draft of your paper.

How to Take Notes

First of all, make sure that you record all necessary and appropriate information: author, title, publisher, place of publication, volume, span of pages, date. It’s probably easiest to keep this basic information about each sources on individual 3×5 or 4×6 notecards. This way when you come to creating the “Works Cited” or “References” at the end of your paper, you can easily alphabetize your cards to create the list. Also keep a running list of page numbers as you take notes, so you can identify the exact location of each piece of noted information. Remember, you will have to refer to these sources accurately, sometimes using page numbers within your paper and, depending on the type of source, using page numbers as part of your list of sources at the end of the paper.

Many people recommend taking all your notes on notecards. The advantage of notecards is that if you write very specific notes, or only one idea on one side of the card, you can then spread them out on a table and rearrange them as you are structuring your paper. They’re also small and neat and can help you stay organized.

Some people find notecards too small and frustrating to work with when taking notes and use a notebook instead. They leave plenty of space between notes and only write on one side of the page. Later, they either cut up their notes and arrange them as they would the cards, or they color code their notes to help them arrange information for sections or paragraphs of their paper. Find your own style, but above all–write down all of the citation information as soon as you find a source. Little is more frustrating than wanting to use a source in your paper and then discovering that you did not write down the appropriate citation information.

What to Put into Notes

When you take notes, your job is not to write everything down, nor is it a good idea to give into the temptation of photocopying pages or articles.

Note-taking is the process of extracting only the information that answers your research question or supports your working thesis directly. Notes can be in one of three forms: summary, paraphrase, or direct quotation. (It’s a good idea to come up with a system– you might simply label each card or note “s” “p” or “q”–as a way of keeping track of the kind of notes you took from a source.) Also, a direct quotation reproduces the source’s words and punctuation exactly, so you add quotation marks around the sentence(s) to show this. Remember it is essential to record the exact page numbers of the specific notes since you will need them later for your documentation.

Work carefully to make sure you have recorded the source of your notes, and the basic information you will need when citing your source, to save yourself a great deal of time and frustration–otherwise you will have to make extra trips to the library when writing your final draft.

How to Use Idea Cards

While doing your research you will be making connections and synthesizing what you are learning. Some people find it useful to make “idea cards” or notes in which they write out the ideas and perceptions they are developing about their topic.

How to Work with 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 should enable you to outline the major sections and then the paragraphs of your research paper.

Your Perfect Assignment is Just a Click Away

Starting at $8.00 per Page

100% Original, Plagiarism Free, Customized to Your instructions!

Annotating and note taking

Annotating and note taking

For this assignment, you need to select pages from a textbook, read and annotate the pages, and then create a set of notes based on the material you read and annotated.

Step 1: Review the marking (annotating) strategies from Chapter 6 (pp. 134-136).

Step 2: Select at least four consecutive pages from one of your college textbooks. You may select the textbook for this course (except pp. 129-133) or another textbook; however, no math textbooks are allowed for this assignment.

Step 3: Read and mark your annotations directly on the selected textbook pages. Your annotations may be handwritten (see example (Links to an external site.)) or electronically produced (see directions below). Your annotations should demonstrate your active involvement with the reading.

Annotations should be varied and should appear throughout your selected pages. Use each of the following annotation types at least once or more:

  • summarizing or paraphrasing in the margins
  • identifying key terms
  • defining unknown terms
  • jotting down questions that occur to you as you read
  • jotting down your reactions to the material
  • adding explanations or elaboration
  • providing additional examples
  • underlining and highlighting (no more than 10-15% of your pages)
  • color coding portions

*Add your name, the semester and year in which you are enrolled, and the professor’s name at the top of the first page of annotated text.

Step 4: Next, create a separate, detailed set of notes over the same material you read and annotated. The set of notes should be thorough, covering all major information in the selected pages. Your notes may be handwritten or typed. Use one of the following note-taking methods (read Chapter 5):

  • Cornell Format
  • Outline Format
  • List Format

*Add your name, the semester and year in which you are enrolled, and the professor’s name at the top of the first page of your set of notes.

Step 5: Submit BOTH your annotated textbook pages and your set of notes in the assignment link. If you are taking this course online, you may need to scan or take a photo of any handwritten annotations or notes before uploading. If you are taking this course in a face-to-face setting, your professor may require you to submit your work in class.

How to Annotate the eBook Electronically in Word

  • Click any LaunchPad links in Eagle Online Canvas.
  • After being directed to LaunchPad, click the “Home” button at the top left-hand corner.
  • Click the “eBook” button under the menu column to the left.
  • Select at least 4 consecutive pages from the eBook (that cover important information / major concepts). Then, copy and paste the content of those pages to a Word document.
  • Place your cursor at the location where you want to place the comment.
  • Click the “Review” tab in the Ribbon and then click the “New Comment” button to type in your annotations (See Step 3 above).
  • You can also highlight, underline, and color code in Word. Plus, you can use “Insert” to add arrows or other marks to emphasize terms or concepts. Using a variety of features in Word will help ensure your electronic annotations are varied (See Step 3 above).

“Place your order now for a similar assignment and have exceptional work written by our team of experts, guaranteeing you A results.”

How to take notes for your research paper

Our Service Charter

1. Professional & Expert Writers : Eminence Papers only hires the best. Our writers are specially selected and recruited, after which they undergo further training to perfect their skills for specialization purposes. Moreover, our writers are holders of masters and Ph.D. degrees. They have impressive academic records, besides being native English speakers.

2. Top Quality Papers: Our customers are always guaranteed of papers that exceed their expectations. All our writers have +5 years of experience. This implies that all papers are written by individuals who are experts in their fields. In addition, the quality team reviews all the papers before sending them to the customers.

3. Plagiarism-Free Papers: All papers provided by Eminence Papers are written from scratch. Appropriate referencing and citation of key information are followed. Plagiarism checkers are used by the Quality assurance team and our editors just to double-check that there are no instances of plagiarism.

4. Timely Delivery: Time wasted is equivalent to a failed dedication and commitment. Eminence Papers are known for the timely delivery of any pending customer orders. Customers are well informed of the progress of their papers to ensure they keep track of what the writer is providing before the final draft is sent for grading.

5. Affordable Prices: Our prices are fairly structured to fit in all groups. Any customer willing to place their assignments with us can do so at very affordable prices. In addition, our customers enjoy regular discounts and bonuses.

6. 24/7 Customer Support: At Eminence Papers, we have put in place a team of experts who answer all customer inquiries promptly. The best part is the ever-availability of the team. Customers can make inquiries anytime.

Taking organized notes on your sources as you do research will be helpful when you begin writing.

Learning Objectives

Describe useful note-taking strategies

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Notes should not only include bibliographic information, but also relevant arguments, quotes, and page numbers.
  • Systematizing your note-taking while doing research will reduce the need to aimlessly search through all your sources when you transition into writing. Taking notes now, even though it may feel frustrating, is in your best interest in the long run.
  • Use the full citation as your heading for each segment of notes you take. That way, you can be sure to have the citation ready when you start writing your paper.

Key Terms

  • citation: A paraphrase of a passage from a book, or from another person, for the purposes of a scholarly paper.

Why Take Notes While Researching?

While most of your research will take place before you begin writing, you will still refer to your resources throughout the writing process. This will be much easier if you take thorough notes while reading through your sources during the initial research phase.

The goal of note-taking is to keep a record of whatever information you might want to use later. Your notes should be as thorough as they need to be, but not too long that they are no longer useful to you. If you summarize information, make sure you include whatever you might want to incorporate in your paper. If you think a quote will be useful, write it down in full. Avoid copying whole paragraphs or pages, though; instead, decide exactly what is useful to you on that page and write only that down. You want to be able to look through your notes later on and easily see what information you found useful.

Organizing Your Notes

Organizing your notes is just as important as taking quality notes. You will need to track exactly which source each note came from so that you can properly cite your sources throughout your writing. Thus, the first thing you should do when taking notes is to write down the full citation for the source on which you are taking notes. This will help you find the source later on if you need to, and will ensure that you still have the complete citation even if you lose the source or have to return it to the library. Organizing notes by source also ensures that you will never lose track of how you need to cite them in your paper, so beginning with citation information provides a useful heading.

In addition to labeling each source, always be sure to write down the page numbers where you found whatever information you’ve written down. You will need to know the page number when you cite that information in your paper.

There are several methods for organizing your notes while researching, such as the following:

  • Index cards: You may want to create an index card or set of cards for each source you use. You can then store the cards in order and can easily sort through them to find the notes you need.
  • Online sources such as Microsoft OneNote: OneNote is a digital notebook that allows you to create new pages, tabs, and notebooks for your notes. You can quickly navigate between pages, and you will have the advantage of already having important quotations and citation information in typed form. This makes it easy to incorporate notes into your paper during the writing process.
  • Organize by subtopic: Some sources may provide information on several subtopics that relate to your argument. You can choose to organize your notes for each source by subtopic so that when you get to that topic in your essay, you can easily find the notes on it. You can do this by creating headings or subheadings within your notes.

How to take notes for your research paper

Taking notes: Some people use index cards to organize their notes while researching.

Maintaining an Annotated Bibliography

An annotated bibliography is a list of all your sources, including full citation information and notes on how you will use the sources.

Your grades depend on taking in what’s taught — so depend on these tips for writing down the important stuff, organizing it, and remembering it for the test.

Share Article Menu

How to take notes for your research paper

Taking notes should be more than writing down information as a teacher is lecturing. A student needs to pay attention and try to understand what the teacher is teaching. He should be able to distinguish the big picture from insignificant details. A student should admit it when the lecture material is going over his head and ask for clarification. Here are my ADHD-friendly tips for taking notes in class:

Date every page of your notes. It will help you determine which information will be on specific tests and quizzes. It keeps your notes in order, in the event that your binder pops open.

Fold the left one-third of your notebook paper. Write notes on the right two-thirds of the page and create summary questions on the left side. Don’t write more than five questions per page.

Why do this? Turning your notes into questions helps you take in information at a higher level and remember it. The questions on the left fold become a study guide.

Write down notes whenever your teacher says, “this will be on the test” (put an asterisk next to it), “This is an important point,” or “This is not in your textbook, but it is important”; repeats information twice; slows down as she speaks to give you time to write; uses exaggerated hand gestures; or explains the same concept in several different ways.

Keep the back pages of the notebook paper open for adding additional information, or drawing charts, pictures, or symbols. When possible, it’s a good idea to draw as you take notes.

If you miss something, leave a blank space as a place holder and clarify later.

Keep it short. Write down as little as possible, paraphrasing the teacher’s words when you can. Use the same abbreviations you would use for texting, and create a few more of your own. Remember, your notes have to make sense only to you.

Use as much space as you need to create clear notes. Notes are easier to read and study when information is not crammed on each page. Allot some space to add additional information or to amend notes. Don’t be stingy with the paper when you are taking notes — there are better ways to save trees.

Mining Your Notes for Gold

Taking good notes is not enough. You also need to know how to use your notes to excel on tests and quizzes:

Review all new notes within 24 hours of class. Then go back and briefly review all notes taken since the last test for each class.

Record any information or visuals you remember from class, but did not have time to write down. Highlight items that you do not understand. Ask your teacher about these items in class the next day.

Review your notes by reading them out loud. When you read silently, your brain only processes information through your eyes. When you read notes out loud, your brain processes information through your eyes (reading), your mouth (speaking), and your ears (hearing). This increases your brain’s ability to recall information on tests.

Use additional formats for note taking. Concept maps and graphic organizers are great for learning science or social studies vocabulary. Start out by writing down the central idea in the middle of the page and branch out with subthemes from there. Concept maps allow you to assemble and see a lot of information at a glance.

Finishing a PhD thesis is a complicated process. It includes collecting a great amount of data, classifying them and turning all that information into a monograph. I was writing a dissertation about the foreign assistance received by Turkey in the Postwar period and I had thousands of pages of archival documents, hundreds of books, tens of articles and official reports, newspapers, magazines, assembly transcripts, other dissertations and all kinds of statistical data to collect, organize and analyze. It was overwhelming to say the least. Writing all my notes by hand to my notebooks was too cumbersome because most of my archival documents were digital. Besides, organizing my notes on paper was taking too much time so I decided to use a digital tool, an application to keep all my notes at one source. Word processors (like Microsoft Word and LibreOffice) are not designed to organize your notes. You have to create a separate file for each source, name them accordingly, put them into separate folders. If you want to move your notes between documents, you have to open each document separately which makes the process too slow with an old computer. I had to find something else.

I tried several software but none of them suit my needs. I tried Scrivener, it is a great software, especially for novelists. It has the ability to show your notes like it is on a corkboard. It has many more useful features but it wasn’t cheap and I couldn’t use it on a tablet. After using Scrivener for a month, I tried Microsoft OneNote and found out that it is the one I needed. It was better than the other tools for several reasons. Firstly, It was easy to sync between multiple platforms. (I have a Mac Mini, a netbook with dual boot for Windows and Lubuntu, an iPad and a Windows Phone.) I wanted something which could at least sync between my desktop computer and my tablet. I wanted to write at home and on the road. OneNote does more than that, you could use it on Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android and Web. Secondly, although I was willing to pay a reasonable amount of money for a good software, OneNote is free (as in beer, not as in freedom). Microsoft made it free on all platforms, as part of their goal to convert their products into services. Anyone can try OneNote without paying anything and if not happy, they could switch to something else. Last but not least, it is easy to use OneNote. Anyone who knows how to use a word processor could easily learn to create sections and pages in OneNote. For all these reasons, I picked OneNote to organize my notes and finally write my thesis and this is how I did it.

Creating Sections and Pages

First of all, I created a notebook called PhD. Then I divided it into sections based on my sources. I had lots of primary documents from different resources: scanned documents from the Turkish National Archives (BCA) and the US National Archives (NARA), all put in their own sections. As secondary sources, I had books, journal articles, theses, newspapers, magazines etc. I also had thousands of pages of digitalized documents from the Department of State Archives (DIT), as well as Microfilm Rolls. Microfilms were numbered, so I put them into Section Groups, and each roll had its own section. The notes of each document was written in a page and if there was any document connected to a previous one, I created a subpage for it. So, OneNote provided me with four levels of hierarchy to collect my notes: Section Groups, Sections, Pages and Subpages.

OneNote on Tablet

Another great feature of OneNote is instant syncing. You do not need to save your pages or any documents. As soon as you are connected to the internet, all your opened notebooks are synced with the cloud. If I wanted to go to the library, I didn’t worry about whether I saved the notes on my desktop computer. I just left it as it is and continued taking notes on my tablet. If you are suspicious of cloud, Windows version of OneNote has the ability to backup your notebooks to a local folder. (Unfortunately, Mac OS version is still unable to do that.) Yet, automatic syncing never failed me. Tablet version of OneNote while using an external keyboard is almost the same experience as its desktop counterpart.

This is how it looks on iPad.

Pros and Cons

This was by no means a perfect solution. For example, OneNote lacks the ability to add footnotes. This may look like a major absence for an academic writer but in effect, it is not. When taking notes, if I had to add a citation for my source, I just put the page number. The book to be cited was designated in the OneNote’s page name as in “Black, Strategy of Foreign Aid”. When I was done with taking notes and wanted to add them to my thesis, I used Zotero and its Word integration. This way I wasn’t bothered with writing correct citation style or any other text formatting. I just focused on writing down my thoughts and analysis. Editing and revising was later done in a Word document where I finished my final manuscript. Seperating the processes of taking notes and actual writing/revision provided me with efficiency and peace of mind. I didn’t think about formatting when I was writing about my primary sources and when I needed to make corrections and formatting, other apps helped me to do it. (A post about how I used Zotero is coming soon.)

OneNote and Office Lens

You could also edit notes on your phone regardless of its operating system. Currently, iOS and Android versions of OneNote are quite good for simple editing. Windows Phone 8.1 version of OneNote lacks many features but once its Windows 10 version is released, it will get the feature parity in the last quarter of 2015. Even it wasn’t fully functional I often used it to check my notes and add scanned pages of books.

For that I used Microsoft’s another application called Office Lens. It takes a photo of a document or a whiteboard and converts into a OneNote page (also a Word or Excel document if you want and uploads it to OneDrive). It is quite useful when you need to takes notes from a few pages in a book. You could use your default camera and later upload it OneNote but that way it is cumbersome. There are other document scanning apps but OneNote and Office Lens’ integration makes it easy.

After adding your scanned documents to your notebook, you could add your comments besides them and add them to your thesis whenever you like.

Once you finish taking notes, you could begin adding them to your manuscript. I used it for my PhD thesis but OneNote could be useful for any longform writing. Editing an academic writing is more complex than just putting down some notes. I used Word and Zotero combination for the final text editing. In the next post, I’m going to explain how I used them to finish my dissertation.

You could follow me on twitter or via RSS feed if you want to be informed of my future posts.

Organizing Your Research With Coded Notes

  • Share
  • Flipboard
  • Email

How to take notes for your research paper

Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

  • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
  • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

When working on a large project, students can sometimes become overwhelmed by all the information they gather in their research. This can happen when a student is working on a research paper with many segments or when several students are working on a large project together.

In group research, each student can come up with a stack of notes, and when the work is all combined, the paperwork creates a confusing mountain of notes! If you struggle with this problem you may find relief in this coding technique.


This organization method involves three main steps:

  1. Sorting research into piles, forming sub-topics
  2. Assigning a letter to each segment or “pile”
  3. Numbering and coding the pieces in each pile

This may sound like a time-consuming process, but you will soon find that organizing your research is time well spent!

Organizing Your Research

First of all, don’t ever hesitate to use your bedroom floor as an important first tool when it comes to getting organized. Many books begin their lives as bedroom floor-piles of paperwork which eventually become chapters.

If you are starting with a mountain of papers or index cards, your first goal is to divide your work into preliminary piles that represent segments or chapters (for smaller projects these would be paragraphs). Don’t worry—you can always add or take away chapters or segments as needed.

It won’t be long before you realize that some of your papers (or note cards) contain information that could fit into one, two, or three different places. That’s normal, and you’ll be pleased to know that there is a good way to deal with the problem. You will assign a number to each piece of research.

Note: Make absolutely certain that each piece of research contains full citation information. Without reference information, each piece of research is worthless.

How to Code Your Research

To illustrate the method that uses numbered research papers, we’ll use a research assignment entitled “Bugs in My Garden.” Under this topic you might decide to start out with the following subtopics which will become your piles:

A) Plants and Bugs Introduction
B) Fear of Bugs
C) Beneficial Bugs
D) Destructive Bugs
E) Bug Summary

Make a sticky note or note card for each pile, labeled A, B, C, D, and E and start sorting your papers accordingly.

Once your piles are complete, start labeling each piece of research with a letter and a number. For example, the papers in your “introduction” pile will be labeled with A-1, A-2, A-3, and so on.

As you sort through your notes, you might find it hard to determine which pile is best for each piece of research. For example, you may have a note card that concerns wasps. This information could go under “fear” but it also fits under “beneficial bugs,” as wasps eat leaf-eating caterpillars!

If you have a hard time assigning a pile, try to put the research into the topic that will come earliest in the writing process. In our example, the wasp piece would go under “fear.”

Put your piles into separate folders labeled A, B, C, D, and E. Staple the appropriate note card to the outside of its matching folder.

Start Writing

Logically, you would start writing your paper using the research in your A (intro) pile. Each time you work with a piece of research, take a moment to consider if it would fit into a later segment. If so, place that paper in the next folder and make a note of it on the index card of that folder.

For example, when you are finished writing about wasps in segment B, place your wasp research in folder C. Make a note of this on the folder C note card to help maintain organization.

As you write your paper you should insert the letter/number code each time you use or refer to a piece of research—instead of putting citations in as you write. Then once you’ve completed your paper you can go back and replace codes with citations.

Note: Some researchers prefer to go ahead and create full citations as they write. This can eliminate a step, but it can become confusing if you are working with footnotes or endnotes and you attempt to re-arrange and edit.

Still Feeling Overwhelmed?

You might experience some anxiety when you read back over your paper and realize that you need to restructure your paragraphs and move information from one segment to another. This is not a problem when it comes to the labels and categories that you’ve assigned to your research. The important thing is making sure that each piece of research and each quote is coded.

With proper coding, you can always find a piece of information when you need it—even if you’ve moved it around several times.

There are two words that evoke instant anxiety in nearly every academic—research paper. In this article, we’ll break down the steps to writing a research paper.

How does a research paper differ from a research proposal?

A research paper is different from a research proposal (also known as a prospectus), although the writing process is similar. Research papers are intended to demonstrate a student’s academic knowledge of a subject. A proposal is a persuasive piece meant to convince its audience of the value of a research project. Think of the proposal as the pitch and the paper as the finished product.

A prospectus is a formal proposal of a research project developed to convince a reader (a professor or research committee, or later in life, a project coordinator, funding agency, or the like) that the research can be carried out and will yield worthwhile results.

Dig into the research process.

Although we’ll focus more on the organization and writing of a research paper in this article, the research process is an important first step. Research will help you in several ways:

  • understanding your subject
  • formulating ideas for your paper
  • developing a thesis statement
  • speaking about your topic with authority

Gather resource materials and begin reviewing them. Here are a few good information sources:

  • Google Scholar
  • Online encyclopedias, almanacs, and databases
  • Books and periodicals
  • Newspapers
  • Government publications, guides, and reports

As you read and evaluate the information you discover, take notes. Keep track of your reference materials so you can cite them and build your bibliography later. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) and other university writing lab websites are excellent resources to help you understand what information you’ll need to collect to properly cite references.

Organize before you start writing.

Your research spawned tons of ideas. Great! Now you’re ready to begin the process of organizing your presentation . . . before you begin writing. Don’t skip the organization step—it’s critical to your paper’s success. Without it, your paper will lack focus and you’ll spend much more time in the revision process trying to make sense of your jumbled thoughts.

The Thesis Statement

The thesis statement is a sentence that summarizes the main point of your essay and previews your supporting points. The thesis statement is important because it guides your readers from the beginning of your essay by telling them the main idea and supporting points of your essay.

Most research papers begin with a thesis statement at the end of an introductory paragraph. Even if it’s not a requirement, it’s a good idea to write a thesis statement as you begin to organize your research. Writing the thesis statement first is helpful because every argument or point you make in your paper should support this central idea you’re putting forward.

Most research papers fall into one of three categories: analytical, expository, or argumentative. If you’re presenting an analysis of information, then your paper is analytical. If you’re writing to explain information, then your paper is expository. If you’re arguing a conclusion, then it’s argumentative or persuasive. Your thesis statement should match the type of paper you’re writing.

Invest time in writing your thesis statement—it’s the main idea of your paper, from which everything else flows. Without a well-thought-out thesis statement, your paper is likely to end up jumbled and with an unclear purpose. Here’s more guidance from Purdue OWL.

The Outline

An outline will help you organize your thoughts before you dig into the writing process. Once you’ve developed your thesis statement, think about the main points you’ll need to present to support that statement. Those main points are your sub-headings. Now, organize your thoughts and information under each sub-heading.

Any information that doesn’t fit within the framework of your outline, and doesn’t directly support your thesis statement, no matter how interesting, doesn’t belong in your research paper. Keep your focus narrow and avoid the kitchen sink approach. (You know, the one where you throw in every bit of interesting research you uncovered, including the fungal growth in the U-joint of your kitchen sink?) Everything you learn may be fascinating, but not all of it is going to be relevant to your paper.

Writing the Research Paper

The good news is, once you reach this point in the process you’re likely to feel energized by all the ideas and thoughts you’ve uncovered in your research, and you’ll have a clear direction because you’ve taken the time to create a thesis statement and organize your presentation with an outline.