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15 Best Free Web Tools to Organize Your Research

How to stay organized when researching and writing papers

organize information research paper

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Organizing research is important not only for your own sanity, but because when it comes time to unfold the data and put it to use, you want the process to go as smoothly as possible. This is where research organizers come in.

There are lots of free web-based organizers that you can use for any purpose. Maybe you're collecting interviews for a news story, digging up newspaper archives for a history project, or writing a research paper over a science topic. Research organizers are also helpful for staying productive and preparing for tests.

Regardless of the topic, when you have multiple sources of information and lots to comb through later, optimizing your workflow with a dedicated organizer is essential.

Patrick Tomasso / Unsplash

Many of these tools provide unique features, so you might decide to use multiple resources simultaneously in whatever way suits your particular needs.

Research and Study

You need a place to gather the information you're finding. To avoid a cluttered space when collecting and organizing data, you can use a tool dedicated to research.

  • Pocket : Save web pages to your online account to reference them again later. It's much tidier than bookmarks, and it can all be retrieved from the web or the Pocket mobile app .
  • Mendeley : Organize papers and references, and generate citations and bibliographies.
  • Quizlet : Free online flashcards for learning vocabulary.
  • Wikipedia : Find information on millions of different topics.
  • Quora : This is a question and answer website where you can ask the community for help with any question.
  • SparkNotes : Free online study guides on a wide variety of subjects, anything from famous literary works of the past century to the present day. 
  • Zotero : Collect, manage, and cite your research sources. Lets you organize data into collections and search through them by adding tags to every source. This is a computer program, but there's a browser extension that helps you send data to it.
  • Google Scholar : A simple way to search for scholarly literature on any subject.
  • Diigo : Collect, share, and interact with information from anywhere on the web. It's all accessible through the browser extension and saved to your online account.
  • GoConqr : Create flashcards, mind maps, notes, quizzes, and more to bridge the gap between your research and studying.

Writing Tools

Writing is the other half of a research paper, so you need somewhere useful to go to jot down notes, record information you might use in the final paper, create drafts, track sources, and finalize the paper.

  • Web Page Sticky Notes : For Chrome users, this tool lets you place sticky notes on any web page as you do your research. There are tons of settings you can customize, they're backed up to your Google Drive account, and they're visible not only on each page you created them on but also on a single page from the extension's settings.
  • Google Docs or Word Online : These are online word processors where you can write the entire research paper, organize lists, paste URLs, store off-hand notes, and more.
  • Google Keep : This note-taking app and website catalogs notes within labels that make sense for your research. Access them from the web on any computer or from your mobile device. It supports collaborations, custom colors, images, drawings, and reminders.
  • Yahoo Notepad : If you use Yahoo Mail , the notes area of your account is a great place to store text-based snippets for easy recall when you need them.
  • Notion : Workflows, notes, and more, in a space where you can collaborate with others.

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  • Library Home
  • Research Guides

Writing a Research Paper

  • Organize Your Information

Library Research Guide

  • Choose Your Topic
  • Evaluate Sources
  • Draft Your Paper
  • Revise, Review, Refine

How Will This Help Me?

Organizing will help you:

  • Simplify citing sources
  • Avoid plagiarism
  • Make the works cited page easy

Links for More Help

These links help with organization.

  • Quoting, Paraphrasing, & Summarizing From the OWL at Purdue, this link can help you summarize, paraphrase, and quote effectively.
  • Honor System - Tips for students The site for K-State's Honor and Integrity System can help you make wise choices about your research.
  • Avoiding Plagiarism This resource from the OWL at Purdue can help you understand plagiarism and how to avoid it.
  • Taking Notes EasyBib takes a look at four popular note-taking systems and the differences between them.

Create a Working Bibliography

A working bibliography, or list of potential sources, helps you track your information.

  • Keep a list and add sources as you find them.
  • Include sources from your background reading, Search It, library databases, or the web.
  • Include all citation information for sources.
  • Record URLs and dates of access for online sources.

Read Sources and Take Notes

Read sources you didn't get to yet and re-read sources if needed.

Taking notes helps you manage your sources and identify information you want to use in the paper. Use the system that works best for you. 

organize information research paper

The system you choose for taking notes is critical to help you track your use of sources and avoid plagiarism. Even professional writers have run into problems in this step of the process, so be careful. Remember these tips:

  • Note clearly whether you quoted, paraphrased, or summarized the source
  • Track the page numbers for the information in the source

Adjust Your Thesis

After studying your sources in detail, your original thesis statement may work fine, and that is super. However, you may find you need to adjust the focus of your paper and, as a result, your thesis statement. This is OK! It means you learned something from your research!

If you adjust your thesis, some of your research material may no longer be relevant. This is OK too. This is a good time to eliminate those sources from your working bibliography (unless your assignment requires you to cite all consulted sources). 

Identify Support for Main Ideas

Now that you've read your sources and, if needed, adjusted the focus of your paper, you're ready to identify how you will support the main ideas of your paper. 

  • Synthesize (combine parts to make a whole) the information from your sources.
  • Add to the information or draw conclusions from the information to make your own contribution to the conversation about this topic.
  • Resist the temptation to use one source exclusively to support each main idea of your paper. 

The amount of support your main ideas need depends on the length of your paper and how new or controversial a stance your paper is taking. In general, each idea should have at least a few pieces of evidence to support it.

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  • Last Updated: Aug 11, 2023 3:48 PM
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How To Organize A Research Paper? Expert’s Guide 2022

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You might have written several research papers up till now and you know well what’s the standard research writing pattern. Apart from researching and writing a paper, there are more things that students tend to avoid unintentionally. There is a lot more than just writing a paper such as editing, proofreading, formatting, and organizing. We know you are thinking about how to organize and  write a research paper .

It is a question that isn’t frequently asked because students do not pay enough attention to it. Organizing a paper contains some specific tasks such as setting the topic, making an outline, and collecting information to assemble it in a sequence. There is so much to know about organizing a paper, so here we go with a complete blog for you on this topic.

Table of Contents

What Does Organizing a Research Paper Mean?

First, you need to have a proper research plan to make sure you’ll be able to accomplish the required goals from the paper. Organizing a paper means writing every detail and information within a proper sequence.

A particular pattern of research is strictly followed and every single heading is arranged as per the standards. The basic purpose of organizing a paper is to present all the arguments, thoughts, and data with a proper flow.

It’s a pre-writing process that is usually done after completing the research and during the creation of the outline. An outline is responsible for keeping the valuable details in an aligned way that’s why it is one of the approaches used in organizing the paper. Students take care of this part previously before writing so they add only the required information in every heading.

It is very important to provide the information stepwise to the readers. It is never good to read the methodology part instead of the introduction at first in the research. That’s why a sequence that is already set must be followed for presenting better research every time to your readers.

What is a Research Paper?

A research paper is an extended form of essay which continues discussing the arguments of the author. It contains one thesis statement which is supported by conducting either qualitative or quantitative research on any of the given topics. The purpose of research paper writing is to justify a stance and bring valuable arguments to make sure it happens.

Benefits of Organizing a Research Paper

There are several benefits of organizing research that you must have been ignoring since long ago. Here we go with some of the advantages of organizing a paper.

  • It saves your time and makes your writing process fast
  • It provides a direction for your research
  • It also saves your energy
  • Helps in building your focus on the research
  • Doesn’t let you get distracted since you have one guideline to follow
  • It sets all the major ideas of each heading into a particular order
  • The whole process becomes simpler and enjoyable when you have great organizing skills

How to Organize a Research Paper

Finally, we are going to have a look at what’s the ideal method of organizing research. There are a few steps involved such as suggesting a topic, finishing the research, making an outline, following the outline to create the first draft, and so on.

  • Find a Topic
  • Start Your Research
  • Make an Outline
  • Create the First Draft
  • Cite the Sources

All of these steps are explained below so you know how things work in this method.

how to organize a research paper

1. Find a Topic

This is the most basic step that you must take before doing literally any other thing in research paper writing. Without a topic, you can’t even begin doing research, although you absolutely can research to find a topic of your choice.

In organizing a research paper it is significant to derive a topic first, and then move on to the further parts. The topic must be thoughtful, interesting, and researchable. It is always better to study research that adds value to the existing pool of knowledge. Hence, as an author, you must keep it in mind and do the same.

2. Start Your Research

One cannot organize a research paper if they do not have anything to write inside. These pre-writing tasks are a must since you need a lot of sources to quote in your research. That’s where your journey of digging in actually starts and you start finding useful information.

In this part, you should look for past research papers, interviews, surveys, and everything which can help you write your research. Writing a paper is something we all are aware of but organizing it might be new for you. That’s why we are going step by step to give you a better insight into the entire activity.

3. Make an Outline

Why do we always suggest creating an outline? We have a healthy obsession with research and paper outlines because they cut short your writing effort and make things much easier for you. Don’t believe us? Let us give you an example.

You have completed research and now you have so much stuff in front of you. You don’t know how to organize it or shift each of the sources into the section they are supposed to be in. Now if you directly start writing you are doing so wrong to yourself. You are kind of allowing yourself to work double when it can be done in the simplest way.

If you create a rough outline by mentioning all the important headings of the research, then assembling all the sources one by one into their assigned sections you will automatically get rid of so much struggle. Once you have mentioned all the sources and some of their content in each heading, you can take a breath of relief.

You’re no more tangled in a number of papers and research data. You have the vision to follow, and a complete outline that will work as a guideline for you. So during writing the paper, you will find this step so easy and fun. That’s why we always emphasize making the paper outline so you can enjoy an organized writing approach.

4. Create the First Draft

Now as you have finished outlining, it’s time to move toward the first draft of your research. Just start writing, by extending the given ideas in each heading of the outline. One by one you can finish the writing part of each section.

It will give your mind more satisfaction that you have finally completed 80% of your research. And the best part is that you have written everything within a flow. There is always correct information shared with the readers in a certain section. There will be no irregularity or confusion for someone who reads your draft because every detail is written in the part it’s supposed to be in.

5. Cite the Sources

It is one of the most significant parts of the research that nobody can deny. You can never write a research or a paper without mentioning the sources you have used. Research is always completed when you look into the past work on the same topic and quote them into yours for building a trustworthy relationship with the readers.

As you are using someone’s work to sound authentic you must give those authors their credits. For this purpose, you must complete the  in-text citations  and bibliography of your paper. Once it’s done, you can revise your document, add more information that you might have forgotten earlier, or proofread your draft.

Afterward, you can just edit the first draft and see if everything is fine or if it needs to be rewritten. This entire procedure allows the students to finish their research writing task within a day or so. It never takes too long when you go along with an organized method that saves time and gives a refined product.

How to Organize a Research Paper Outline

All our readers have always heard us speaking a lot about paper or essay outlines. In the previous heading, you must have realized once again how much we like the idea of creating a research outline before moving to the writing part. A lot of reasons provided by us must have given you the answer to why we want you to create an outlook.

There is another thing called organizing a research paper outline. It is not so different from organizing a paper since an organized outline can lead you towards organized research. Let’s learn about how to organize a paper outline. You can also get the help of a world-class  paper writing service  to ace your research paper.

1. Select a Topic

It all starts with selecting a topic since you cannot go around and conduct research without having a vision in front of you. A topic is the same as the vision that you will make first to jump to the next parts. So select a topic and move towards organizing the outline of your research.

2. Form a Thesis Statement

To make your research authentic and more impactful, it is always better to have a thesis statement. It’s a compulsion in writing a paper. A thesis can make or break your entire research so think more and select one which sounds suitable for your research.

It’s going to be mentioned at the top of your research outline that’s why it must be created as soon as possible. After you are done designing one, you can step ahead and see what’s the next thing to do in organizing a research outline.

3. Add Sequenced Headings

It is very important to follow a sequence into an outline because this outline is going to be the first draft of your research. Organizing a paper means adding everything into it in a certain way. It doesn’t mean adding any information without a sequence such as discussing the  abstract of the research paper  in place of the literature review, or focusing on the methodology later but giving the findings first.

That’s not how things work! Therefore your headings must be aligned in a sequence in your outline. You may further add personalized details into those headings to make sure you have achieved the level of an organized pattern in research outlining. 

4. Write Paragraphs

Yes, there are paragraphs in the outlines too. You can write them along with the source you have used to find the information. Writing paragraphs within each heading allows you to track down the content very easily. You already know which source you have quoted in a particular heading of your research.

When writing the paper you can extend them and properly organize them as per the standards. Afterward, your process of organizing research will be completed so you can start writing the research and finish the paper. A paper written by creating an outline turns out to be much more effective and suitable than one which doesn’t have a research outline.

How to Organize Information for a Research Paper

As you have learned enough about organizing a research paper or an outline, you may utilize your time in learning the technique of organizing information for research. You may use these techniques as a  history research paper help , nursing paper help, or any research paper help. We have some steps to share that can teach you how to organize information for a paper. .

how to organize information for a research paper

1. Finalize a Topic

It is the first thing to be done without any doubt. We have been mentioning it repeatedly due to its major significance in the research. You simply cannot start without a topic so it’s better to finalize a topic first, and then think about the next stuff such as researching and organizing the information.

2. Find Past Research Papers

This is the next step in which you need to find the past research papers. By finding the past research you will have enough information to quote in your work. It is really important to find sources that match your topic and support your thesis statement. You can start by keeping in mind the introduction of your research. Gradually you may move forward to writing the  conclusion of the research paper  and keep searching for the work done in the past.

Don’t forget to do the research sequence-wise. For instance, find data for the background first, then literature review, methodology, and so on. Information collected in order works way better than doing it randomly and staying puzzled throughout the whole process of researching.

3. Write Down Ideas Out of Past Work

Now as you have found all the sources it’s time to quote them. You can start it by reading every paper and writing the core idea of it on a separate sheet. Mentioning the main idea from the past work one by one will help you a lot. Instead of reading every paper during the writing part, you can do it earlier and save your time.

4. Organize the Information

Now it’s time to organize the information properly within the headings. Start with the introduction and add the ideas which are related to this part. Then one by one move to each heading and assemble the required information into it.

Doing so will finally get you an organized set of information for your research. You won’t have to worry about anything in guessing which information must be written in every part of the research. Everything has been finally organized including the paper, outline, and information.

How to Organize Research Paper PDF Files

There is another thing nobody has told you about ever which is called organizing a research paper PDF files. So how exactly is it effective and what purpose does it fulfill? It is the skill of finding the past research and organizing them in a way to add value to your research task.

What you can do is start by finding the PDF files of different research from the past. The internet is full of the work done by the previous authors and researchers who have done quality work in their fields. You need to seek help from their work to make your research more valid. That’s why you use the past work of the researchers.

So what does organizing research paper PDF files mean? It means going through the internet by searching your topic and finding the most approach papers to make your work more authentic. You can do it by selecting the best papers and reading them first. Next, you can write down the main ideas of those papers on a sheet.

What is required next is giving those PDF files a sequence so you can use their details in the right order. There is a new fact given in every other research, so it’s better to organize them properly and set them into a basic order. With this technique, you can use good sources, and quote them in your research by making sure you haven’t used a certain detail in place of another one.

Organizing the paper helps in fastening the process of writing and researching both. Many students who have used this technique experienced better results and an enjoyable writing process. It is a myth that you have to spend days and hours on a paper when you also have a better and alternative method to conduct the same research.

You just have to learn the art of organizing the information, PDF files of past research, outline, and your entire paper. Putting everything in order will help and work out for you like no other thing. Therefore every student is suggested to take organizing skills seriously and implement them into research writing to get the best results.

Hence organizing research can be so useful that it saves half of the time. You can write a better paper within less time just by following this amazing technique. An organized thing is always better, and so do the research papers and their information.

If you want to share your opinions with us or have any questions, feel free to comment below and let your voice  reach us .

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  • Research paper

How to Write a Research Paper | A Beginner's Guide

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that provides analysis, interpretation, and argument based on in-depth independent research.

Research papers are similar to academic essays , but they are usually longer and more detailed assignments, designed to assess not only your writing skills but also your skills in scholarly research. Writing a research paper requires you to demonstrate a strong knowledge of your topic, engage with a variety of sources, and make an original contribution to the debate.

This step-by-step guide takes you through the entire writing process, from understanding your assignment to proofreading your final draft.

Table of contents

Understand the assignment, choose a research paper topic, conduct preliminary research, develop a thesis statement, create a research paper outline, write a first draft of the research paper, write the introduction, write a compelling body of text, write the conclusion, the second draft, the revision process, research paper checklist, free lecture slides.

Completing a research paper successfully means accomplishing the specific tasks set out for you. Before you start, make sure you thoroughly understanding the assignment task sheet:

  • Read it carefully, looking for anything confusing you might need to clarify with your professor.
  • Identify the assignment goal, deadline, length specifications, formatting, and submission method.
  • Make a bulleted list of the key points, then go back and cross completed items off as you’re writing.

Carefully consider your timeframe and word limit: be realistic, and plan enough time to research, write, and edit.

Scribbr Citation Checker New

The AI-powered Citation Checker helps you avoid common mistakes such as:

  • Missing commas and periods
  • Incorrect usage of “et al.”
  • Ampersands (&) in narrative citations
  • Missing reference entries

organize information research paper

There are many ways to generate an idea for a research paper, from brainstorming with pen and paper to talking it through with a fellow student or professor.

You can try free writing, which involves taking a broad topic and writing continuously for two or three minutes to identify absolutely anything relevant that could be interesting.

You can also gain inspiration from other research. The discussion or recommendations sections of research papers often include ideas for other specific topics that require further examination.

Once you have a broad subject area, narrow it down to choose a topic that interests you, m eets the criteria of your assignment, and i s possible to research. Aim for ideas that are both original and specific:

  • A paper following the chronology of World War II would not be original or specific enough.
  • A paper on the experience of Danish citizens living close to the German border during World War II would be specific and could be original enough.

Note any discussions that seem important to the topic, and try to find an issue that you can focus your paper around. Use a variety of sources , including journals, books, and reliable websites, to ensure you do not miss anything glaring.

Do not only verify the ideas you have in mind, but look for sources that contradict your point of view.

  • Is there anything people seem to overlook in the sources you research?
  • Are there any heated debates you can address?
  • Do you have a unique take on your topic?
  • Have there been some recent developments that build on the extant research?

In this stage, you might find it helpful to formulate some research questions to help guide you. To write research questions, try to finish the following sentence: “I want to know how/what/why…”

A thesis statement is a statement of your central argument — it establishes the purpose and position of your paper. If you started with a research question, the thesis statement should answer it. It should also show what evidence and reasoning you’ll use to support that answer.

The thesis statement should be concise, contentious, and coherent. That means it should briefly summarize your argument in a sentence or two, make a claim that requires further evidence or analysis, and make a coherent point that relates to every part of the paper.

You will probably revise and refine the thesis statement as you do more research, but it can serve as a guide throughout the writing process. Every paragraph should aim to support and develop this central claim.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

A research paper outline is essentially a list of the key topics, arguments, and evidence you want to include, divided into sections with headings so that you know roughly what the paper will look like before you start writing.

A structure outline can help make the writing process much more efficient, so it’s worth dedicating some time to create one.

Your first draft won’t be perfect — you can polish later on. Your priorities at this stage are as follows:

  • Maintaining forward momentum — write now, perfect later.
  • Paying attention to clear organization and logical ordering of paragraphs and sentences, which will help when you come to the second draft.
  • Expressing your ideas as clearly as possible, so you know what you were trying to say when you come back to the text.

You do not need to start by writing the introduction. Begin where it feels most natural for you — some prefer to finish the most difficult sections first, while others choose to start with the easiest part. If you created an outline, use it as a map while you work.

Do not delete large sections of text. If you begin to dislike something you have written or find it doesn’t quite fit, move it to a different document, but don’t lose it completely — you never know if it might come in useful later.

Paragraph structure

Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of research papers. Each one should focus on a single claim or idea that helps to establish the overall argument or purpose of the paper.

Example paragraph

George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” has had an enduring impact on thought about the relationship between politics and language. This impact is particularly obvious in light of the various critical review articles that have recently referenced the essay. For example, consider Mark Falcoff’s 2009 article in The National Review Online, “The Perversion of Language; or, Orwell Revisited,” in which he analyzes several common words (“activist,” “civil-rights leader,” “diversity,” and more). Falcoff’s close analysis of the ambiguity built into political language intentionally mirrors Orwell’s own point-by-point analysis of the political language of his day. Even 63 years after its publication, Orwell’s essay is emulated by contemporary thinkers.

Citing sources

It’s also important to keep track of citations at this stage to avoid accidental plagiarism . Each time you use a source, make sure to take note of where the information came from.

You can use our free citation generators to automatically create citations and save your reference list as you go.

APA Citation Generator MLA Citation Generator

The research paper introduction should address three questions: What, why, and how? After finishing the introduction, the reader should know what the paper is about, why it is worth reading, and how you’ll build your arguments.

What? Be specific about the topic of the paper, introduce the background, and define key terms or concepts.

Why? This is the most important, but also the most difficult, part of the introduction. Try to provide brief answers to the following questions: What new material or insight are you offering? What important issues does your essay help define or answer?

How? To let the reader know what to expect from the rest of the paper, the introduction should include a “map” of what will be discussed, briefly presenting the key elements of the paper in chronological order.

The major struggle faced by most writers is how to organize the information presented in the paper, which is one reason an outline is so useful. However, remember that the outline is only a guide and, when writing, you can be flexible with the order in which the information and arguments are presented.

One way to stay on track is to use your thesis statement and topic sentences . Check:

  • topic sentences against the thesis statement;
  • topic sentences against each other, for similarities and logical ordering;
  • and each sentence against the topic sentence of that paragraph.

Be aware of paragraphs that seem to cover the same things. If two paragraphs discuss something similar, they must approach that topic in different ways. Aim to create smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and sections.

The research paper conclusion is designed to help your reader out of the paper’s argument, giving them a sense of finality.

Trace the course of the paper, emphasizing how it all comes together to prove your thesis statement. Give the paper a sense of finality by making sure the reader understands how you’ve settled the issues raised in the introduction.

You might also discuss the more general consequences of the argument, outline what the paper offers to future students of the topic, and suggest any questions the paper’s argument raises but cannot or does not try to answer.

You should not :

  • Offer new arguments or essential information
  • Take up any more space than necessary
  • Begin with stock phrases that signal you are ending the paper (e.g. “In conclusion”)

There are four main considerations when it comes to the second draft.

  • Check how your vision of the paper lines up with the first draft and, more importantly, that your paper still answers the assignment.
  • Identify any assumptions that might require (more substantial) justification, keeping your reader’s perspective foremost in mind. Remove these points if you cannot substantiate them further.
  • Be open to rearranging your ideas. Check whether any sections feel out of place and whether your ideas could be better organized.
  • If you find that old ideas do not fit as well as you anticipated, you should cut them out or condense them. You might also find that new and well-suited ideas occurred to you during the writing of the first draft — now is the time to make them part of the paper.

The goal during the revision and proofreading process is to ensure you have completed all the necessary tasks and that the paper is as well-articulated as possible. You can speed up the proofreading process by using the AI proofreader .

Global concerns

  • Confirm that your paper completes every task specified in your assignment sheet.
  • Check for logical organization and flow of paragraphs.
  • Check paragraphs against the introduction and thesis statement.

Fine-grained details

Check the content of each paragraph, making sure that:

  • each sentence helps support the topic sentence.
  • no unnecessary or irrelevant information is present.
  • all technical terms your audience might not know are identified.

Next, think about sentence structure , grammatical errors, and formatting . Check that you have correctly used transition words and phrases to show the connections between your ideas. Look for typos, cut unnecessary words, and check for consistency in aspects such as heading formatting and spellings .

Finally, you need to make sure your paper is correctly formatted according to the rules of the citation style you are using. For example, you might need to include an MLA heading  or create an APA title page .

Scribbr’s professional editors can help with the revision process with our award-winning proofreading services.

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Checklist: Research paper

I have followed all instructions in the assignment sheet.

My introduction presents my topic in an engaging way and provides necessary background information.

My introduction presents a clear, focused research problem and/or thesis statement .

My paper is logically organized using paragraphs and (if relevant) section headings .

Each paragraph is clearly focused on one central idea, expressed in a clear topic sentence .

Each paragraph is relevant to my research problem or thesis statement.

I have used appropriate transitions  to clarify the connections between sections, paragraphs, and sentences.

My conclusion provides a concise answer to the research question or emphasizes how the thesis has been supported.

My conclusion shows how my research has contributed to knowledge or understanding of my topic.

My conclusion does not present any new points or information essential to my argument.

I have provided an in-text citation every time I refer to ideas or information from a source.

I have included a reference list at the end of my paper, consistently formatted according to a specific citation style .

I have thoroughly revised my paper and addressed any feedback from my professor or supervisor.

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How to Organize Research Papers: A Cheat Sheet for Graduate Students

Aruna Kumarasiri

  • August 8, 2022

how to organize research papers cover

It is crucial to organize research papers so that the literature survey process goes smoothly once the data has been gathered and analyzed. This is where a research organizer is useful.

It may be helpful to plan the structure of your writing before you start writing: organizing your ideas before you begin to write will help you decide what to write and how to write it.

It can be challenging to keep your research organized when writing an essay. The truth is, there’s no one “ best ” way to get organized, and there’s no one answer. Whatever system you choose, make sure it works for your learning style and writing habits.

As a graduate student, learning how to organize research papers is therefore essential.

This blog post will cover the basics of organizing research papers and the tools I use to organize my research. 

Before you start

The importance of organizing research papers.

No matter how good your paper management system is, even if you keep all your literature in places that are easy to find, you won’t be able to “create” anything unless you haven’t thought about organizing what you get from them.

The goal of the research is to publish your own work to society for the benefit of everyone in the field and, ultimately, humanity.

In your final year of your PhD, when you see all the papers you’ve stored over the years, imagine the frustration you might experience if you hadn’t gathered the information from those papers in a way that allows you to “create” something with i.

This is why organizing research papers is important when starting your research.

Research with your final product in mind

It is very important to have a clear idea of what your research’s outcome will be to collect the information you really need.

If you don’t yet have all your information, consider what “subheadings” or chunks you could write about.

Write a concept map if you need help identifying your topic chunks. As an introduction to concept mapping, it involves writing down a term or idea and then brainstorming other ideas within it.

To gather information like this, you can use a mind map.

When you find useful information.

Come up with a proper file management system.

Sort your literature with a file management system. There’s no need to come up with a very narrow filing system at this point. Try sorting your research into broader areas of your field. When you’re more familiar with your own research, you’ll be able to narrow down your filing system.

Start with these methods:

Don’t waste your time on stuff that’s interesting but not useful :  

In your own research, what’s the most important part of a particular paper? You won’t have to pay attention to other sections of that paper if you find that section first. 

What is the argument behind your research? Make notes on that information, and then throw everything else away.

Create multiple folders :

Create a file containing related topics if you’re using a computer. Bind the related articles together if you like to print out papers. In other words, keep related things together!

Color code your research papers:   

To organize notes and articles, assign different colors to each sub-topic and use highlighters, tabs, or font colors.

Organize your literature chronologically: 

Even in a short period of time, you might have missed overarching themes or arguments if you hadn’t read them previously. It’s best to organize your research papers chronologically.

If you want to do all this at once, I suggest using a reference manager like Zotero or Mendeley (more on reference managers later).

File renaming 

Make sure you rename your files on your computer according to your own renaming strategy. Taking this step will save you time and confusion as your research progresses.

My usual way of naming a pdf is to use the first author’s last name, followed by the first ten letters of the title and then the year of publication. As an example, For the paper “ Temperature-Dependent Infrared Refractive Index of Polymers from a Calibrated Attenuated Total Reflection Infrared Measurement ” by Azam et al., I renamed the file as “ Azam_Temperature-Dependent_2022.pdf “.

One thing to notice is that I don’t do this manually for all the papers I download. That wouldn’t be as productive, and I’d probably give up after some time renaming every single file. In my reference manager of choice (Zotero), I use a plugin called Zotfile to do this automatically. Zotfile automatically renames files and puts them in the folder I specify every time I add a new paper.

Organizing your research articles by the last names of the lead authors will simplify your citation and referencing process since you have to cite the names of the researchers everywhere. The articles will also be easier to find because they’ll be lined up alphabetically by any researcher’s name you can remember.

Use keywords wisely

Keywords are the most important part of sorting. It’s easy to forget to move a paper to a specific file sometimes because you’re overwhelmed. But you can tag a paper in seconds. 

When organizing research papers, don’t forget to develop a better keyword system, especially if you use a reference manager.

My reference manager, for instance, allows me to view all the keywords I have assigned in the main window, making life much easier.

Create annotations

When reading literature, it is very important to create your own annotations, as discussed in the blog post series, “ Bulletproof literature management system “.

This is the fourth post of the four-part blog series:  The Bulletproof Literature Management System . Follow the links below to read the other posts in the series:

  • How to How to find Research Papers
  • How to Manage Research Papers
  • How to Read Research Papers
  • How to Organize Research Papers (You are here)

The best thing to do is to summarize each section of the article/book you are reading that interests you. Don’t forget to include the key parts/arguments/quotes you liked.

Write your own notes

If you decide to read the whole paper, make sure you write your own summary. The reason is that 95% of the things you read will be forgotten after a certain period of time. When that happens, you may have to read the paper all over again if you do not take notes and write your own summary.

By writing your own summary, you will likely memorize the basic idea of the research paper. Additionally, you can link to other similar papers. In this way, you can benefit from the knowledge you gain from reading research papers.

After reading a paper, make sure to ask these questions:

  • Why is this source helpful for your essay?  
  • How does it support your thesis?  

Keep all the relevant information in one place so that you can refer to it when writing your own thesis.

Use an app like Obsidian to link your thinking if you keep all your files on a computer, making things much easier.

When you are ready to write

Write out of order .

Once you have all the necessary information, you can use your filing system, PDF renaming strategy, and keywords to draw the annotations and notes you need.

Now that you’re all set to write, don’t worry about writing the perfect paper or thesis right away.

Your introduction doesn’t have to come first.

If necessary, you can change your introduction at the end – sometimes, your essay takes a different direction. Nothing to worry about!

Write down ideas as they come to you

As you complete your research, many full-sentence paragraphs will come to your mind. Do not forget to write these down – even in your notes or annotations. Keep a notebook or your phone handy to jot down ideas as you get them. You can then find the information and revise it again to develop a better version if you’re working on the same project for a few days/weeks.

My toolbox to organize research papers

Stick with the free stuff.

Trying to be a productive grease monkey, I’ve tried many apps over the years. Here’s what I learned.

  • The simplest solution is always the best solution (the Occam razor principle always wins!).
  • The free solution is always the best (because they have the best communities to help you out and are more customizable).

As someone who used to believe that if something is free, you’re the product, I’ve learned that statement isn’t always true.

Ironically, open-source software tends to get better support than proprietary stuff. It’s better to have millions of enthusiasts working for free than ten paid support staff.

There are a lot of reviews out there, and EndNote usually comes out at the bottom. I used EndNote for five years – it worked fine, but other software improved faster. Now I use Zotero, which I like for its web integration. 

Obsidian, my note-taking app of choice, is also free software. Furthermore, you own your files; also, you’ve got a thriving community.

There are a lot of similarities between the software as they adopt each other’s features, and it’s just a matter of preference.

In any researcher’s toolbox, a reference manager is an essential tool.

A reference manager has two important features: the ability to get citation data into the app and the ability to use the citation data in your writing tool.

It should also work on Windows just as well as macOS or Linux, be free, and allow you to manage PDFs of papers or scanned book chapters.

Zotero , in my opinion, gives you all of this and more.

Zotero is one of the best free reference managers for collecting citation data. It includes a browser plugin that lets you save citation information on Google Scholar, journal pages, YouTube, Amazon, and many other websites, including news articles. It automatically downloads a PDF of the associated source when available for news articles, which is very convenient.

One of the things I really like about Zotero is that it has so many third-party plugins that we have almost complete control over how we use it.

With Zotero 6, you can also read and annotate PDFs, which is perfect for your needs.

My Research paper organizing workflow in Zotero :

  • Get References and PDF papers into Zotero : I use Zotero’s web plugin to import PDFs directly 
  • Filing and sorting : I save files from the web plugin into the file system I already have created in Zotero and assign tags as I do so.
  • File renaming : When I save the file, the Zotero plugin (Zotfile) automatically renames it and stores the pdf where I specified.
  • Extracting Annotations and taking notes : I use Zotero in the build pdf reader to take notes and annotate, and then I extract them and link them in Obsidian (next section).

You need to keep your notes organized and accessible once you’ve established a strong reading habit. For this purpose, I use Obsidian . I use Obsidian to manage everything related to my graduate studies, including notes, projects, and tasks. 

Using a plugin called mdnotes , Obsidian can also sync up with my reference manager of choice, Zotero. It automatically adds new papers to my Obsidian database whenever I add them to Zotero.

Obsidian may have a steep learning curve for those unfamiliar with bi-directional linking , but using similar software will make things much easier. Thus, you may be better off investing your time in devising a note-taking system that works for you.

You can also use a spreadsheet! Make a table with all the papers you read, whatever tool you choose. Include the paper’s status (e.g., whether you’ve read it) and any relevant projects. This is what mine looks like.

how to organize research papers

I keep all my notes on an associated page for each paper. In a spreadsheet, you can write your notes directly in the row or link to a Google document for each row. Zotero, for example, allows you to attach notes directly to reference files.

While it might seem like a lot of work, keeping a database of papers you’ve read helps with literature reviews, funding applications, and more. I can filter by keywords or relevant projects, so I don’t have to re-read anything.

The habit of reading papers and learning how to organize research papers has made me a better researcher. It takes me much less time to read now, and I use it to improve my experiments. I used this system a lot when putting together my PhD fellowship application and my candidacy exam. In the future, I will thank myself for having the foresight to take these steps today before starting to write my dissertation.

I am curious to know how others organize their research papers since there is no “ right ” way. Feel free to comment, and we will update the post with any interesting responses!

Images courtesy : Classified vector created by storyset – www.freepik.com

Aruna Kumarasiri

Aruna Kumarasiri

Founder at Proactive Grad, Materials Engineer, Researcher, and turned author. In 2019, he started his professional carrier as a materials engineer with the continuation of his research studies. His exposure to both academic and industrial worlds has provided many opportunities for him to give back to young professionals.

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An outline is a formal system used to develop a framework for thinking about what should be the organization and eventual contents of your paper. An outline helps you predict the overall structure and flow of a paper.

Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.

Importance of...

Writing papers in college requires you to come up with sophisticated, complex, and sometimes very creative ways of structuring your ideas . Taking the time to draft an outline can help you determine if your ideas connect to each other, what order of ideas works best, where gaps in your thinking may exist, or whether you have sufficient evidence to support each of your points. It is also an effective way to think about the time you will need to complete each part of your paper before you begin writing.

A good outline is important because :

  • You will be much less likely to get writer's block . An outline will show where you're going and how to get there. Use the outline to set goals for completing each section of your paper.
  • It will help you stay organized and focused throughout the writing process and help ensure proper coherence [flow of ideas] in your final paper. However, the outline should be viewed as a guide, not a straitjacket. As you review the literature or gather data, the organization of your paper may change; adjust your outline accordingly.
  • A clear, detailed outline ensures that you always have something to help re-calibrate your writing should you feel yourself drifting into subject areas unrelated to the research problem. Use your outline to set boundaries around what you will investigate.
  • The outline can be key to staying motivated . You can put together an outline when you're excited about the project and everything is clicking; making an outline is never as overwhelming as sitting down and beginning to write a twenty page paper without any sense of where it is going.
  • An outline helps you organize multiple ideas about a topic . Most research problems can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives; an outline can help you sort out which modes of analysis are most appropriate to ensure the most robust findings are discovered.
  • An outline not only helps you organize your thoughts, but it can also serve as a schedule for when certain aspects of your writing should be accomplished . Review the assignment and highlight the due dates of specific tasks and integrate these into your outline. If your professor has not created specific deadlines, create your own deadlines by thinking about your own writing style and the need to manage your time around other course assignments.

How to Structure and Organize Your Paper. Odegaard Writing & Research Center. University of Washington; Why and How to Create a Useful Outline. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Lietzau, Kathleen. Creating Outlines. Writing Center, University of Richmond.

Structure and Writing Style

I.   General Approaches

There are two general approaches you can take when writing an outline for your paper:

The topic outline consists of short phrases. This approach is useful when you are dealing with a number of different issues that could be arranged in a variety of different ways in your paper. Due to short phrases having more content than using simple sentences, they create better content from which to build your paper.

The sentence outline is done in full sentences. This approach is useful when your paper focuses on complex issues in detail. The sentence outline is also useful because sentences themselves have many of the details in them needed to build a paper and it allows you to include those details in the sentences instead of having to create an outline of short phrases that goes on page after page.

II.   Steps to Making the Outline

A strong outline details each topic and subtopic in your paper, organizing these points so that they build your argument toward an evidence-based conclusion. Writing an outline will also help you focus on the task at hand and avoid unnecessary tangents, logical fallacies, and underdeveloped paragraphs.

  • Identify the research problem . The research problem is the focal point from which the rest of the outline flows. Try to sum up the point of your paper in one sentence or phrase. It also can be key to deciding what the title of your paper should be.
  • Identify the main categories . What main points will you analyze? The introduction describes all of your main points; the rest of  your paper can be spent developing those points.
  • Create the first category . What is the first point you want to cover? If the paper centers around a complicated term, a definition can be a good place to start. For a paper that concerns the application and testing of a particular theory, giving the general background on the theory can be a good place to begin.
  • Create subcategories . After you have followed these steps, create points under it that provide support for the main point. The number of categories that you use depends on the amount of information that you are trying to cover. There is no right or wrong number to use.

Once you have developed the basic outline of the paper, organize the contents to match the standard format of a research paper as described in this guide.

III.   Things to Consider When Writing an Outline

  • There is no rule dictating which approach is best . Choose either a topic outline or a sentence outline based on which one you believe will work best for you. However, once you begin developing an outline, it's helpful to stick to only one approach.
  • Both topic and sentence outlines use Roman and Arabic numerals along with capital and small letters of the alphabet arranged in a consistent and rigid sequence. A rigid format should be used especially if you are required to hand in your outline.
  • Although the format of an outline is rigid, it shouldn't make you inflexible about how to write your paper. Often when you start investigating a research problem [i.e., reviewing the research literature], especially if you are unfamiliar with the topic, you should anticipate the likelihood your analysis could go in different directions. If your paper changes focus, or you need to add new sections, then feel free to reorganize the outline.
  • If appropriate, organize the main points of your outline in chronological order . In papers where you need to trace the history or chronology of events or issues, it is important to arrange your outline in the same manner, knowing that it's easier to re-arrange things now than when you've almost finished your paper.
  • For a standard research paper of 15-20 pages, your outline should be no more than few pages in length . It may be helpful as you are developing your outline to also write down a tentative list of references.

Muirhead, Brent. “Using Outlines to Improve Online Student Writing Skills.” Journal on School Educational Technology 1, (2005): 17-23; Four Main Components for Effective Outlines. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; How to Make an Outline. Psychology Writing Center. University of Washington; Kartawijaya, Sukarta. “Improving Students’ Writing Skill in Writing Paragraph through an Outline Technique.” Curricula: Journal of Teaching and Learning 3 (2018); Organization: Informal Outlines. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Organization: Standard Outline Form. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Outlining. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Plotnic, Jerry. Organizing an Essay. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Reverse Outline. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Reverse Outlines: A Writer's Technique for Examining Organization. The Writer’s Handbook. Writing Center. University of Wisconsin, Madison; Using Outlines. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Writing: Considering Structure and Organization. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College.

Writing Tip

A Disorganized Outline Means a Disorganized Paper!

If, in writing your paper, it begins to diverge from your outline, this is very likely a sign that you've lost your focus. How do you know whether to change the paper to fit the outline, or, that you need to reconsider the outline so that it fits the paper? A good way to check your progress is to use what you have written to recreate the outline. This is an effective strategy for assessing the organization of your paper. If the resulting outline says what you want it to say and it is in an order that is easy to follow, then the organization of your paper has been successful. If you discover that it's difficult to create an outline from what you have written, then you likely need to revise your paper.

  • << Previous: Choosing a Title
  • Next: Paragraph Development >>
  • Last Updated: Oct 10, 2023 1:30 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide

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Organizing Papers and References without Losing your Mind

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In January, Ulrike Träger wrote a great PLOS ECR post describing how to stay on top of reading during graduate school. If you haven’t read it yet, go take a look, as it’s relevant for people at all career stages. As a follow up, here are a few tips on how to keep track of the papers you want to read without losing your mind.

Choose a reference manager. Sure, you can get by creating a poster or two without a reference manager, but it’s incredibly risky to cite references by hand for manuscripts and grant proposals. Choosing and using a reference manager is also a great way to track papers as you collect them, particularly because reference managers often have powerful search functions. There are many to choose from. Some are free, like Zotero and some versions of Mendeley . Others, like Papers and EndNote , are not, though some paid programs may be free through your institution. Spend some time researching which manager fits your needs, but don’t get bogged down, you can always switch later. Personally, I have transferred references from RefWorks to Zotero to Mendeley to EndNote over the past several years without much trouble.

Choose a place to keep unread papers. Whether it’s a physical folder on your desk or a virtual folder on your desktop, it’s important to have a designated place for unread papers. This folder is more than just a storage space, it should also be a reminder for you to review unread papers. It’s tempting to download papers and forget about them, falling prey to PDF alibi syndrome , wherein you fool yourself into thinking that by downloading a paper you’ve somehow read it. So, set aside some time every few weeks (on your calendar if you need to) to review papers. You won’t necessarily read each paper in detail, but you should complete a quick skim and take a few notes. Try to resist the urge to leave notes like “finish reading later.” However, if needed, consider using notes like “need to read again before citing” for papers that were skimmed particularly quickly.

Choose how to keep track of your notes. It’s a great idea to create a summary of each paper as you read it, but where do you keep this information? Some people write separate documents for each paper (e.g., using the Rhetorical Précis Format ), others write nothing at all, but tag papers (virtually or physically) with key words. The exact components of your system matter less than having a system. Right now, I keep a running document with a few sentences about each paper I read. I also note whether I read it on paper or as a PDF so that I can find notes taken on the paper itself later. If I’m doing a deep read on a specific topic, I might also start another document that has in-depth summaries. I usually keep notes in Word documents, but it’s also possible to store these notes in many reference managers.

Choose how to file read papers. Again, having a system probably matters more than which system you choose. Given the interdisciplinary nature of science, it can be complex to file by topic. Therefore, I find it easiest to file papers by last name of the first author and the publication year. It’s also useful to include a few words in the file name that summarize its content. This will help you differentiate between articles written by authors with similar last names. So, for example, using this method, you might label this blog post as Breland_2017_tracking refs. I keep articles I’ve read in a folder labeled “Articles” that includes a folder for each letter of the alphabet. Therefore, I’d file this blog post in the “B” folder for Breland.

TL;DR. The goal of creating a system to organize papers and references is to be able to easily access them later. If you follow the steps above, it’s relatively easy to keep track of and use what you’ve read – if you want to find a paper, you can search for a key word in your reference manager and/or in your running document of article summaries and then find a copy of the paper in the appropriate alphabetized folder. That said, there is no right way to organize references and I’m curious about how others manage their files. Chime in through the comments and we’ll update the post with any interesting answers!

Pat Thomson (2015) PDF alibi syndrome , Patter blog. Accessed 2/27/17.

Ulrike Träger (2017) Ten tips to stay on top of your reading during grad school , PLoS ECR Community Blog.

Sample Rhetorical Précis: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/rhetorical-precis/sample/peirce_sample_precis_click.html

Featured image available through CC0 license.

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Effective Use of Tables and Figures in Research Papers

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Research papers are often based on copious amounts of data that can be summarized and easily read through tables and graphs. When writing a research paper , it is important for data to be presented to the reader in a visually appealing way. The data in figures and tables, however, should not be a repetition of the data found in the text. There are many ways of presenting data in tables and figures, governed by a few simple rules. An APA research paper and MLA research paper both require tables and figures, but the rules around them are different. When writing a research paper, the importance of tables and figures cannot be underestimated. How do you know if you need a table or figure? The rule of thumb is that if you cannot present your data in one or two sentences, then you need a table .

Using Tables

Tables are easily created using programs such as Excel. Tables and figures in scientific papers are wonderful ways of presenting data. Effective data presentation in research papers requires understanding your reader and the elements that comprise a table. Tables have several elements, including the legend, column titles, and body. As with academic writing, it is also just as important to structure tables so that readers can easily understand them. Tables that are disorganized or otherwise confusing will make the reader lose interest in your work.

  • Title: Tables should have a clear, descriptive title, which functions as the “topic sentence” of the table. The titles can be lengthy or short, depending on the discipline.
  • Column Titles: The goal of these title headings is to simplify the table. The reader’s attention moves from the title to the column title sequentially. A good set of column titles will allow the reader to quickly grasp what the table is about.
  • Table Body: This is the main area of the table where numerical or textual data is located. Construct your table so that elements read from up to down, and not across.
Related: Done organizing your research data effectively in tables? Check out this post on tips for citing tables in your manuscript now!

The placement of figures and tables should be at the center of the page. It should be properly referenced and ordered in the number that it appears in the text. In addition, tables should be set apart from the text. Text wrapping should not be used. Sometimes, tables and figures are presented after the references in selected journals.

Using Figures

Figures can take many forms, such as bar graphs, frequency histograms, scatterplots, drawings, maps, etc. When using figures in a research paper, always think of your reader. What is the easiest figure for your reader to understand? How can you present the data in the simplest and most effective way? For instance, a photograph may be the best choice if you want your reader to understand spatial relationships.

  • Figure Captions: Figures should be numbered and have descriptive titles or captions. The captions should be succinct enough to understand at the first glance. Captions are placed under the figure and are left justified.
  • Image: Choose an image that is simple and easily understandable. Consider the size, resolution, and the image’s overall visual attractiveness.
  • Additional Information: Illustrations in manuscripts are numbered separately from tables. Include any information that the reader needs to understand your figure, such as legends.

Common Errors in Research Papers

Effective data presentation in research papers requires understanding the common errors that make data presentation ineffective. These common mistakes include using the wrong type of figure for the data. For instance, using a scatterplot instead of a bar graph for showing levels of hydration is a mistake. Another common mistake is that some authors tend to italicize the table number. Remember, only the table title should be italicized .  Another common mistake is failing to attribute the table. If the table/figure is from another source, simply put “ Note. Adapted from…” underneath the table. This should help avoid any issues with plagiarism.

Using tables and figures in research papers is essential for the paper’s readability. The reader is given a chance to understand data through visual content. When writing a research paper, these elements should be considered as part of good research writing. APA research papers, MLA research papers, and other manuscripts require visual content if the data is too complex or voluminous. The importance of tables and graphs is underscored by the main purpose of writing, and that is to be understood.

Frequently Asked Questions

"Consider the following points when creating figures for research papers: Determine purpose: Clarify the message or information to be conveyed. Choose figure type: Select the appropriate type for data representation. Prepare and organize data: Collect and arrange accurate and relevant data. Select software: Use suitable software for figure creation and editing. Design figure: Focus on clarity, labeling, and visual elements. Create the figure: Plot data or generate the figure using the chosen software. Label and annotate: Clearly identify and explain all elements in the figure. Review and revise: Verify accuracy, coherence, and alignment with the paper. Format and export: Adjust format to meet publication guidelines and export as suitable file."

"To create tables for a research paper, follow these steps: 1) Determine the purpose and information to be conveyed. 2) Plan the layout, including rows, columns, and headings. 3) Use spreadsheet software like Excel to design and format the table. 4) Input accurate data into cells, aligning it logically. 5) Include column and row headers for context. 6) Format the table for readability using consistent styles. 7) Add a descriptive title and caption to summarize and provide context. 8) Number and reference the table in the paper. 9) Review and revise for accuracy and clarity before finalizing."

"Including figures in a research paper enhances clarity and visual appeal. Follow these steps: Determine the need for figures based on data trends or to explain complex processes. Choose the right type of figure, such as graphs, charts, or images, to convey your message effectively. Create or obtain the figure, properly citing the source if needed. Number and caption each figure, providing concise and informative descriptions. Place figures logically in the paper and reference them in the text. Format and label figures clearly for better understanding. Provide detailed figure captions to aid comprehension. Cite the source for non-original figures or images. Review and revise figures for accuracy and consistency."

"Research papers use various types of tables to present data: Descriptive tables: Summarize main data characteristics, often presenting demographic information. Frequency tables: Display distribution of categorical variables, showing counts or percentages in different categories. Cross-tabulation tables: Explore relationships between categorical variables by presenting joint frequencies or percentages. Summary statistics tables: Present key statistics (mean, standard deviation, etc.) for numerical variables. Comparative tables: Compare different groups or conditions, displaying key statistics side by side. Correlation or regression tables: Display results of statistical analyses, such as coefficients and p-values. Longitudinal or time-series tables: Show data collected over multiple time points with columns for periods and rows for variables/subjects. Data matrix tables: Present raw data or matrices, common in experimental psychology or biology. Label tables clearly, include titles, and use footnotes or captions for explanations."

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9 Organizing Research: Taking and Keeping Effective Notes

Once you’ve located the right primary and secondary sources, it’s time to glean all the information you can from them. In this chapter, you’ll first get some tips on taking and organizing notes. The second part addresses how to approach the sort of intermediary assignments (such as book reviews) that are often part of a history course.

Honing your own strategy for organizing your primary and secondary research is a pathway to less stress and better paper success. Moreover, if you can find the method that helps you best organize your notes, these methods can be applied to research you do for any of your classes.

Before the personal computing revolution, most historians labored through archives and primary documents and wrote down their notes on index cards, and then found innovative ways to organize them for their purposes. When doing secondary research, historians often utilized (and many still do) pen and paper for taking notes on secondary sources. With the advent of digital photography and useful note-taking tools like OneNote, some of these older methods have been phased out – though some persist. And, most importantly, once you start using some of the newer techniques below, you may find that you are a little “old school,” and might opt to integrate some of the older techniques with newer technology.

Whether you choose to use a low-tech method of taking and organizing your notes or an app that will help you organize your research, here are a few pointers for good note-taking.

Principles of note-taking

  • If you are going low-tech, choose a method that prevents a loss of any notes. Perhaps use one spiral notebook, or an accordion folder, that will keep everything for your project in one space. If you end up taking notes away from your notebook or folder, replace them—or tape them onto blank pages if you are using a notebook—as soon as possible.
  • If you are going high-tech, pick one application and stick with it. Using a cloud-based app, including one that you can download to your smart phone, will allow you to keep adding to your notes even if you find yourself with time to take notes unexpectedly.
  • When taking notes, whether you’re using 3X5 note cards or using an app described below, write down the author and a shortened title for the publication, along with the page number on EVERY card. We can’t emphasize this point enough; writing down the bibliographic information the first time and repeatedly will save you loads of time later when you are writing your paper and must cite all key information.
  • Include keywords or “tags” that capture why you thought to take down this information in a consistent place on each note card (and when using the apps described below). If you are writing a paper about why Martin Luther King, Jr., became a successful Civil Rights movement leader, for example, you may have a few theories as you read his speeches or how those around him described his leadership. Those theories—religious beliefs, choice of lieutenants, understanding of Gandhi—might become the tags you put on each note card.
  • Note-taking applications can help organize tags for you, but if you are going low tech, a good idea is to put tags on the left side of a note card, and bibliographic info on the right side.

organize information research paper

Organizing research- applications that can help

Using images in research.

  • If you are in an archive: make your first picture one that includes the formal collection name, the box number, the folder name and call numbe r and anything else that would help you relocate this information if you or someone else needed to. Do this BEFORE you start taking photos of what is in the folder.
  • If you are photographing a book or something you may need to return to the library: take a picture of all the front matter (the title page, the page behind the title with all the publication information, maybe even the table of contents).

Once you have recorded where you find it, resist the urge to rename these photographs. By renaming them, they may be re-ordered and you might forget where you found them. Instead, use tags for your own purposes, and carefully name and date the folder into which the photographs were automatically sorted. There is one free, open-source program, Tropy , which is designed to help organize photos taken in archives, as well as tag, annotate, and organize them. It was developed and is supported by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. It is free to download, and you can find it here: https://tropy.org/ ; it is not, however, cloud-based, so you should back up your photos. In other cases, if an archive doesn’t allow photography (this is highly unlikely if you’ve made the trip to the archive), you might have a laptop on hand so that you can transcribe crucial documents.

Using note or project-organizing apps

When you have the time to sit down and begin taking notes on your primary sources, you can annotate your photos in Tropy. Alternatively, OneNote, which is cloud-based, can serve as a way to organize your research. OneNote allows you to create separate “Notebooks” for various projects, but this doesn’t preclude you from searching for terms or tags across projects if the need ever arises. Within each project you can start new tabs, say, for each different collection that you have documents from, or you can start new tabs for different themes that you are investigating. Just as in Tropy, as you go through taking notes on your documents you can create your own “tags” and place them wherever you want in the notes.

Another powerful, free tool to help organize research, especially secondary research though not exclusively, is Zotero found @ https://www.zotero.org/ . Once downloaded, you can begin to save sources (and their URL) that you find on the internet to Zotero. You can create main folders for each major project that you have and then subfolders for various themes if you would like. Just like the other software mentioned, you can create notes and tags about each source, and Zotero can also be used to create bibliographies in the precise format that you will be using. Obviously, this function is super useful when doing a long-term, expansive project like a thesis or dissertation.

How History is Made: A Student’s Guide to Reading, Writing, and Thinking in the Discipline Copyright © 2022 by Stephanie Cole; Kimberly Breuer; Scott W. Palmer; and Brandon Blakeslee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Manage: Organizing Information Effectively and Ethically

Now that you have gone through the processes involved to find and evaluate information, the next step is to start working with it. This is where the Manage pillar comes in: it focuses on the need to organize information professionally and ethically.

Individuals understand:

  • Their responsibility to be honest in all aspects of information handling and dissemination (e.g. copyright, plagiarism, and intellectual property issues)
  • The need to adopt appropriate data-handling methods
  • The role they play in helping others in information seeking and management
  • The need to keep systematic records
  • The importance of storing and sharing information and data ethically
  • The role of professionals, such as data managers and librarians, who can advise, assist, and support with all aspects of information management.

They are able to

  • Use reference management software if appropriate to manage information
  • Cite printed and electronic sources using suitable referencing styles
  • Create appropriately formatted bibliographies
  • Demonstrate awareness of issues relating to the rights of others including ethics, data protection, copyright, plagiarism, and any other intellectual property issues
  • Meet standards of conduct for academic integrity
  • Use appropriate data management software and techniques to manage data

Visualization of the previously stated proficiencies in the Manage pillar, separating information the student should know from skills a student must master.

It is wonderful to have access to information. It empowers us humans, with data and knowledge that leads us throughout our busy days and helps us organize our leisure time more efficiently. GPS devices and mobile phones help us get to unfamiliar destinations. We can find places to eat, to stay, and to get entertainment. All of this information is at our fingertips due to modern technology. We all take advantage of this technology to some degree and use this information to our advantage.

But there is another type of information—not just the kind that provides directions. We seek such information when we are ill and need to look up medical advice. We also seek information when in school—very few subjects require only the use of a textbook. We need to search for information and then use it in our intellectual work, because every paper or project produced in college is a product of someone’s creativity.

So how should we handle this product of creativity (a.k.a information)? Let’s think about a simple example: apple picking in the fall. It is a popular thing to do, especially here in the Northeast where most of the authors of this textbook live. People come to the farm, get bags or baskets, gather apples, and then line up to weigh them and pay. The farmers’ hard work is being rewarded.

Now imagine a different situation. You worked hard and wrote a very good paper and your roommate just copied a couple of paragraphs and inserted them into her own paper because the topics were related. Was this fair? How were you rewarded for your hard work? Nobody is saying that your roommate should have paid you, as you would pay the farmer for apples. But she should not use your intellectual capital without attribution to you! What she did was an act of plagiarism—you will read more about it soon!

You might publish an article in your college newsletter. This article is your intellectual personal property and you hold the copyright, which means that no one has the right to reproduce all or any part of it (i.e. copy it) without your permission. If your roommate decides to use some information from your article in her paper, she should provide a citation (the information that will help the reader identify and find your article should they decide to do so). If she is using direct quotes from your article, again, she would need to put double quotes around your words and provide information about the author (you, in this instance) to avoid plagiarism. Keep reading to find useful information about avoiding plagiarism.

Copyright and plagiarism are just two aspects of intellectual property that you need to deal with. You have to respect copyright, i.e. the rights of the author and avoid plagiarism. However, there are more aspects to it. Have you heard of patents? If you are planning a career in science and technology-related fields then you also have to learn more about patents. Patents deal with creators’ rights to their invention of new machinery or processes. Plants and design can also be patented. You can find useful information at the United States Patent and Trademarks Office (USPTO) . Trademarks and trade secrets are other aspects of intellectual property that you may have to deal with.

In addition to being aware of plagiarism, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets, you need to be mindful of open access issues, which relate to valuable research data and academic publications posted online for everybody to read. However, you cannot always just use the data from open access sources. You often need to ask the author for permission. Many open access publications use Creative Commons licensing. You can read more about open access in the Science Literacy chapter.

There is a lot to learn about using information legally and ethically, but this knowledge will empower you in your academic work and ultimately allow you to succeed. The following examples and tips will get you off to a good start.

Unintentional Plagiarism

Have you ever thought about why teachers and professors seem to spend way too much time urging everyone to be sure to cite all of their sources properly? You’ve heard it all before: footnote this, endnote that, put this in the bibliography, capitalize this word, where are the italics, the commas, periods, hanging indents, yada yada yada! It’s enough to make you give up and just wing it. But hold on a second while you gather your thoughts. Why do your professors always spend so much time urging you to do something that seems to have little practical purpose?

Jackie was working on her 10-page research paper at the last minute. It was 3:30 am and her paper was due in class at 9:00 am. She finished the last sentence at 5:15 am, did a spellcheck and voila! Done! Groggy yet awake she went to class, turned in the paper and waited for her grade. She received an email from her professor that read, “There are some major issues with your research paper that I need to discuss with you. Please see me.” Uh oh. What could it be?

When she nervously went to see him, Professor Muntz told Jackie that she hadn’t cited any of her sources, and because she included a lot of direct quotes in her paper, she was guilty of plagiarism. She received an F on her paper and may be referred to the school administration for academic dishonesty.

Was she really guilty of something that bad? In fact, yes she was. In this chapter we will discuss the importance of managing your information sources and some tips on how to easily and effectively avoid Jackie’s pitfall.

Real World Cases

Students often feel that they are being singled out in regard to plagiarism and academic dishonesty. But that is far from the case. There are numerous examples of scholars and other professionals who have been caught plagiarizing. One such person is Doris Kearns Goodwin, a famous historian who wrote the noted Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2006). She included material in an earlier book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (1987), from three other sources without citing it, according to an article written by Michael Nelson. [1]

Although she has since published other works, her reputation has been tarnished, and people may not take her work as seriously because of this. Unfortunately, as Nelson points out in his article, she is not the only well-known historian caught plagiarizing.

Another example, with a dramatic outcome, is that of Eugene Tobin. He was the president of Hamilton College in New York State, when it was discovered that he had included plagiarized material in speeches he had given over the course of almost a decade. He resigned from his position as the head of this prestigious institution, admitting his guilt. [2]  Other college presidents and administrators have also been caught violating academic trust: if you try a search using the terms plagiarism and college president , you may be dismayed at the number of results.

Like some of the historians Nelson cites in his article, many students fall into a trap when they do research because they fail to mention where they found all of their information. Thousands of students in schools, colleges, and universities are guilty of committing plagiarism, but often they don’t know they are plagiarizing.

Let’s look at plagiarism and how to avoid it, and then continue on to some other intellectual property issues you may need to deal with.

What is Plagiarism?

In short, plagiarism is when you use words, thoughts, or ideas that belong to someone else without giving them credit. In the classroom (and in the world of publishing), documenting your information sources is the only way others can tell how thorough and careful you’ve been in researching your topic. If you don’t tell readers where your information came from, they may think (and many do) that you either made up the information or “stole” it . Failing to cite your sources is plagiarism.

By managing the sources in your papers, you encourage others to do the same and you can be a go-to expert for your friends and classmates when they need help with how to find out how to cite sources properly. The information and advice you impart may help them avoid serious difficulties. Some students truly don’t know that they are doing something wrong when they paraphrase information without citing the information source. They might feel that paraphrasing the words of someone who is clearly an expert on the topic is the best way to write an accurate paper. And because they aren’t quoting it directly, it doesn’t need quote marks or attribution, does it? While the penalties they receive might (and this is a big “might”) be less severe than someone who buys a paper online or copies and pastes big sections of material into their work, the penalties could still be substantial. Raising your friends’ awareness so they won’t face this situation would be a kind thing to do.

Keeping Track of Your Sources

Try this the next time you do research. If you find some great articles on your topic, collect the following information about each as soon as you realize they will be helpful resources:

  • Author name(s)
  • Title of the article
  • Name of the journal
  • The volume number
  • The issue number
  • The date of the issue
  • The name of the database where you found the article

Or, if you found a book, note the following once you think it might contain useful information:

  • Title of book
  • Place of publication
  • Publisher’s name
  • Year of publication

Or, if you found a website you want to use, collect the following details before you leave the site:

  • Title of article or webpage
  • Title of overall website
  • The date of the webpage (if any)
  • The URL (or web address)

You might be able to get some of this information with a simple screenshot, but be sure to fill in any missing elements.

This information is often referred to as bibliographic information or metadata. It consists of essential information that identifies the information resource used to inform a research project.

You may not use every single item that you found when you gathered your sources, but having a list of all of the sources you considered will help you keep track of everything you use for your paper.

As you read each source, write down any of the authors’ ideas, quotes, or thoughts you want to use and be sure to write down page numbers, if the source provides them. When you put your paper together, you will then have all the information you need to properly cite any quote, idea, or thought that came from each source.

Reference Management Software

Many researchers take the time to gather all of this information before they start writing. However, when they are ready to compile their footnotes or bibliography they can’t find their preliminary notes. It may be the case that some notes are in one notebook, other notes are in a file in their computer and still others are missing entirely. Fortunately, software has been developed that helps researchers manage their source material. You may have heard of some of these reference management products. Endnote, Refworks, Mendeley, and Zotero, among others, all help manage the information gathering and retrieval process.

In addition to providing one central location for all of your references, these reference managers can

  • import bibliographic information directly from a library catalog database,
  • provide additional space for personal notations,
  • create a bibliography or list of references in a variety of citation styles such as APA, MLA, Chicago, and more.

Some academic libraries provide access to Endnote or Refworks. If your library does not, Zotero is available free for use with the Firefox browser and Mendeley is also available at no charge.

When to Cite

Now that you have gathered all of your information resources, you need to be mindful about how you used them in your research project. There are some very firm rules about what constitutes plagiarism:

  • If you copy a sentence or paragraph verbatim (exactly) from a book, article, website, blog posting, or anywhere online or in print, you must provide information on the author and the publication in which the sentence or paragraph appears. This is known as “citing a source.”
  • If you use some of the exact phrases in a sentence or paragraph, even if you are not copying the whole sentence or paragraph, you must cite your source.
  • If you use original information that you have obtained from an interview or conversation with someone, you must cite your source.
  • If you do not use the exact sentence or phrase but paraphrase it, or use the ideas inherent in the exact sentence or phrase, you must cite your source.
  • If you reprint images, maps, diagrams, charts, or tables, you must cite your source.
  • If you embed video files or audio files into your work, you must cite your source.

Exercise: Plagiarism Quiz

The following paragraph is from an article titled, “Hydraulic Fracturing Overview: Growth of the Process and Safe Drinking Water Concerns” in the March 1, 2012 issue of Congressional Digest .

The use of hydraulic fracturing continues to increase significantly, as more easily accessible oil and gas reservoirs have declined and companies move to develop unconventional oil and gas formations. Hydraulic fracturing is used for oil and/or gas production in all 33 U.S. states where oil and natural gas production takes place. According to industry estimates, hydraulic fracturing has been applied to more than 1 million wells nationwide. (p. 71)

Which of the following sentences does not plagiarize?

  • a. As of March 2012, hydraulic fracturing has been applied to more than 1 million wells nationwide.
  • b. Hydraulic fracturing has become more prevalent nationwide. More than one million wells have been created.
  • c. According to the Congressional Digest , more than one million wells in the United States use hydraulic fracturing ( Congressional Digest , 71).
  • d. None of the sentences contain plagiarism.

Citation Styles

Citing sources and avoiding plagiarism should always be an author’s intent, but it is easy to get confused about how to cite. Citation styles were introduced in the Gather chapter, but it is worth repeating that there are many different citation styles. The three styles that are used most often are APA (American Psychology Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), and Chicago. There are no hard and fast rules about when to use each style. Professors often have a preference for one style over another, so make sure that you check with your instructor about which style they prefer.

Creating properly formatted citations has become easier in recent years with the introduction of reference management software and citation generators. A citation generator is software that will help to correctly format your citations. Some popular citation generators are Noodlebib and Easybib, both are available for a fee. There are also free citation generators available online. You can search the web to retrieve them. These generators are handy to use but they often contain errors so it is important to check the results for accuracy. The following resources are useful tools for all writers.

  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association , 6th edition for APA citations
  • MLA Handbook
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • Citation Fox

You should be able to locate the three manuals in the reference section of your library. Citation Fox is available online.

Where to Go For Help

Even if you are a very organized person and have diligently collected bibliographic information on all of the information resources that you consulted during the research process, you may misplace essential information on a resource. You may think that since you can’t find this information, you will be unable to use it. But there is another option—consult a librarian. Librarians have comprehensive knowledge about how information is organized and retrieved. They also have a wealth of information resources at their fingertips. Even if you can’t retrace your steps to find the missing data, it is likely that a librarian will be able to help you find the bibliographic information you need. Librarians can also help you determine when and how to cite your work. They may even be able to help you navigate citation generators and reference managers. Librarians at your library are available to help you in person, by telephone, and via email and chat. Consult your library’s website for contact information.

Ethical Issues and Intellectual Property

The Manage pillar includes the practice of professional and ethical use of information. Ethical treatment of information assumes that you are treating an author’s rights appropriately and avoiding an act of academic dishonesty such as plagiarism. As a creator of information yourself, you should understand the importance of respecting other authors’ rights and following the general rules set forth in legal documents (see the Useful Links about Intellectual Property section for citations to some of these documents).

There are many examples of intellectual property issues that you can find in the media. For example, in June 2013 as the authors were working on this textbook, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the law that had previously allowed gene patenting. It might sound strange, but up until now if you were a scientist who studied the human genome and happened to discover a new gene, under the earlier law, you could patent it, thus assuring that whenever a person needed to have a medical test involving the gene they would have to pay you as a patent holder. These types of tests usually weren’t covered by insurance companies and were very expensive.

As an information creator, you want to be respectfully treated by others. That is why you should constantly strive to improve your ability to practice fair treatment of other authors’ works, including being cognizant of copyright, patents, and other issues associated with intellectual property.

Academic Integrity

You have already learned about plagiarism, often enemy number one when it comes to academic success involving research and writing. But there are other issues under the larger umbrella of academic dishonesty. First of all, every academic institution has a set of academic regulations that explain what is expected of students. Students are required to make themselves familiar with these rules.

Other examples of dishonesty that are mentioned in academic regulations are multiple submissions (one may not submit one project for two different classes), cheating on examinations, and forgery. Professors are dismayed when they have to talk to the students about these issues because, inherently, every teacher wants to believe that his or her students are honest. Unfortunately, plagiarism is so common that educators have begun using plagiarism detection software, such as Turnitin (see the Useful Links section). You obviously don’t want to be identified as committing plagiarism by this software.

It is imperative to understand that everybody has to be accountable for their own work and respectful of the work of others. Future scholarship depends on the accuracy and integrity of prior scholarship. That is why, when doing research one must use the information produced by other people responsibly, i.e. provide citations within the text and a list of references at the end of the paper with full citation information that will allow retrieval of the document. Remember what you have learned in this chapter about managing your sources and citation style. If you are diligent about applying this knowledge and careful about giving credit where credit is due, you should have no worries.


Association for Molecular Pathology et al. v. Myriad genetics, Inc. et al. 569 U.S. (2013), http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-398_1b7d.pdf

CitationFox , 2011. http://library.albany.edu/cfox

Consolidated Patent Laws, USC 35 (2013). http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/consolidated_laws.pdf

Turnitin, 2013. http://turnitin.com/

United States Copyright Office, Copyright Law of the United States and the related laws contained in the Title 17 of the United States Code, Circular 92 (2011). http://www.copyright.gov/title17/circ92.pdf

  • Nelson, Michael. “The good, the bad, and the phony: Six famous historians and their critics,” The Virginia Quarterly Review, 78, no. 3 (2002): 377–394. ↵
  • Isserman, Maurice. “Plagiarism: A lie of the mind,” The Chronicle of Higher Education , 49, no. 34 (2003): B12. ↵

The Information Literacy User’s Guide: An Open, Online Textbook Copyright © 2014 by Deborah Bernnard, Greg Bobish, Jenna Hecker, Irina Holden, Allison Hosier, Trudi Jacobson, Tor Loney, and Daryl Bullis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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How to Search and Organize Research Articles

  • by Tiffany Yue Zhang
  • November 01, 2021

Quick Summary

  • Organizing research articles using a reference manager and other strategies will make life as a graduate student much easier.

As PhD students, reading is part of our life. There are so many new papers coming out every day, so many research blogs to follow, so many books to read. But, how would you find them and organize them? Certainly, I’ve seen people downloading everything to their desktop and piling up 100 pdfs with no labeling or grouping. To be honest, that was me at one point. When you start to write a report or research paper, it can become a nightmare to organize the reference list. If you are first year graduate student doing research, or if you are just looking for a method to organize your scientific literature, this blog can hopefully help.

Finding Articles

The best resources for starting to build your reading list are your advisor and lab mates.  This is definitely the fastest way to gain background on your research area. Simply ask around the lab about key articles in the research field. The downside of this method is that the pool of articles is limited by what’s already known by your advisor or lab mates. Starting by reading a review paper in your field, then finding and reading the most relevant references listed for the review, is also a good method.

Searching by key words is another common way to find scientific literature. I use Google Scholar, Web of Science, and Scopus, mostly.  Searches can be done by entering the key words, subject area, document type (e. g. review, articles), and sort by relevance. Start to read from the most cited papers in your field. If you are interested in a specific researcher’s publications, you can follow them on Google Scholar and you’ll get notified when they publish new articles. Lens.org is another good resource for searching, analyzing and managing patent and scholarly data.

Subscribing to RSS feeds is another good way to keep up with recent research. There are a variety of apps that can send notifications when new research papers of interest are coming out, such as Researcher, Feedly and Academia. Pick your favorite topics or journals to follow and get your daily feeds about research topics. You can even track when a paper is cited. These tools are good for scientific literature, but you can also use them for your hobbies, your favorite magazines, etc.

Following blogs can be helpful, as well. As a chemistry student, I follow some of the ACS (American Chemical Society), RSC (The Royal Society of Chemistry) blogs, as well as blogs written by researchers and professors. If you are looking for something interesting to read, follow Retraction Watch. There, you’ll find the research articles that are retracted for fraud, ethical violations, and many other reasons.  Some stories can be quite interesting.

Listening to podcasts can be a good way to broaden your knowledge. Usually, the content in podcasts is less technical and you can learn some basics for topics that you are not familiar with.

Organizing Research Papers

Different people find different ways to organize research articles. Some prefer to print everything out and put them in binders, some prefer to read the digital versions and sort them in folders. Personally, I like to read on a computer screen and sort research papers by project. I usually keep important references in a reference manager. For papers that I want to go over multiple times, I usually print them out and read them carefully. It’s easier to take notes with a printed version and, for some reason, it seems like I can memorize the content longer when I read the printed paper. The main drawback in using hard copies is that it can be difficult to find a specific paper when you have a large pile. With digital versions, it’s much easier to locate specific research articles by keywords.


There are many digital reference managers. This type of software tool can allow you to keep research articles in different folders for each research project. Within the reference manager, you can also take notes, sort by author, year, or topic. Most reference managers also help with searching for research articles. When you write a report or publication, reference managers allow for import of references from these databases directly into Microsoft Word, which is very convenient.  Here are three of the most commonly used reference managers: EndNote, Mendeley  (Figure 1)  and Zotero. All of them can sync between devices and be shared between different people. EndNote is not free, but it is very powerful. It supports many unusual or complex citation formats. Some versions of Mendeley are free. It’s good at dealing with pdfs files and can extract citations from pdfs, as well as searching from pdfs. Zotero is also free and allows for saving snapshots of web pages and annotating them in your library, which is good for web-based publications.


When I read a paper, I usually ask myself the following questions: 1) what’s the purpose of reading this article?; 2) how is the article important or relevant to my work?; and, 3) what’s the take home message?. If the paper is important, I then write down the conclusions and methods. Taking notes makes reading more efficient ( Figure 2).  Notion is a good application to keep track of reading notes and allows for creation of lists of papers for different topics. You can also assign properties to each paper and tag papers with keywords. Notion also supports markdown which makes your notes clean and easy to read. When I read a research article, I usually start with the title and abstract and try to figure out the big picture conclusions or contributions to the research field.  Then, I skim through the figures and the figure captions to get an idea of the key points. If a figure is important, I keep it in my notes. I usually skip the introduction at first if I’m familiar with the author or the research field, instead jumping directly into the results and conclusion sections. From there, I’ll decide if I want to read the paper in detail or not. Different people have different ways of reading papers; find the one that works for you.

I hope you find these methods helpful for finding and organizing research articles and happy reading!

Marcus, Adam, and Ivan Oransky. Retraction Watch , Oct 24 2021, https://retractionwatch.com/. 

“Which Reference Manager? Comparision of Endnote, Medeley and Zotero.” Library Guides , Mar 2 2021, https://aut.ac.nz.libguides.com/managingreferences.

“How to (Seriously) Read a Scientific Paper.” Science , Mar 21 2016, https://www.science.org/content/article/how-seriously-read-scientific-paper.

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How to code and organize research notes for analysis like a pro

organize information research paper

15 Minute Read

organize information research paper

Conducting high quality, rigorous research is tough, regardless of how seasoned you are, because each research project is completely unique. In addition to actually doing the research itself, aggregating and organizing research notes can be overwhelming. 

Making sense of research data during synthesis and writing up a research report takes a lot of time. And if you don't organize your research notes and set yourself up for success early on, it will take even longer. You’ll miss out on important observations that will slow down your analysis and impact the quality of your research findings.

Taking the time to code and organize your research notes is key to avoid feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data. In this article, we’ll share some practical tips to set you up for doing high quality analysis and synthesis. 

Re-Organize, Re-Group, Re-Compile: A method for making meaning out of mess.

You must be wondering - organize, group and compile make sense. But what does the 'Re' mean? This is a recursive approach to research. You cast a wide net to gather as many ideas and data points as you can when conducting your research. Don’t filter the data or try to make sense of it prematurely.  

This data-gathering stage is where you pull in qualitative data, like interview transcripts with direct quotes from a user interview analysis and/or observations from a user researcher’s notes. Only once you’ve collected all of your data do you start analysis.

It’s useful to timebox synthesis to a day or two, depending on the size of your study. Because of how fresh the data needs to be in your mind, it isn’t the type of thing you can span over weeks. Ideally, this process can be done with a teammate, but it can also be a solo activity. 

Break down information into smaller pieces of data that might become sub-topics, and then cluster that data into groups that display likeness or tension. Group and regroup that data to sharpen it and you’ll start to recognize recurring patterns or themes using a grounded theory approach. 

Don’t think about it too much, these groups aren’t set it stone, so just go with your gut. Later on, we’ll talk about how color coding and tags can augment you here.

 Once the initial cluster analysis is done, you begin to dive deeper into the data. Your research hasn't quite crossed the chasm to become anything meaningful quite yet, but you might start to sense emerging insights. During this messy middle stage of analysis, data still appears to be a bunch of disparate observations, anecdotes, and verbatims bunched into subtopics.

You may feel the need to do additional research as some points need to be elaborated further, or you want to add additional points. Continue to follow the above method again if you do bring in more data. 

Using physical or digital research notes

This process can be done with physical sticky notes or digital sticky notes . Some researchers prefer working outside of the physical limitations of a screen and to manipulate and marinade with the data in person. I’m a big fan of the physical war room, but there are a lot of upsides to working data digitally. Using tools designed specifically for this process, you won’t lose track of where data came from and will save time otherwise wasted writing and manually coding sticky notes.

Whether you opt for physical or digital notes, continue to regroup your data into sub-topics and then topics, until you feel confident with the higher level themes that are emerging.  

Applying meaning to research notes with color and tags

Coloring and tagging, otherwise known as “coding” in research, are effective ways to organize research notes and assign meaning to pieces of data. They are helpful as you start to pull apart and apply different lenses to your data during the synthesis process. 

Color as a visual cue

Color can be a powerful visual cue to see how patterns distribute across your themes. For example, using a unique color for each participant or persona type can reveal an interesting visual that becomes a nugget of an emerging insight. 

How heavily are you influencing one theme by a certain persona type or participant?

You can also assign a color to sentiment and see how positive or negative emotions are distributed across or concentrated in a particular product experience or workflow. This too can be done with either physical or digital sticky notes. 

Global versus project tags

You can think of tags in two buckets: global or project-based. Some tags will be universally applicable to any research, while others will surface during analysis and be completely unique to that dataset. 

For example, you may decide to code data across all research projects with persona type, like “Parent” or “Teacher.” Or you may get more specific and assign it to a participant as well, like “P1” or “T2.” You might also decide as a research organization to adopt tags like “Pain Point”, “Motivation”, “Goal”, or “Need.”

An example of a tag that might organically reveal itself in the data would be “Inequity”, “Age appropriateness”, or “Student interaction.” Notice that these are much more specific.

You can code data physically on sticky notes by simply writing the tag in the bottom of each note. However, there are constraints to this method, like if one note should be coded by several different tags and fits into multiple themes. In this scenario, you can duplicate the note.

If this process of coding data sounds tedious and time consuming, it certainly can be. But it’s also important. Turning over every stone and marinating in the data is important to fully immerse yourself into the synthesis process. 

organize information research paper

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10 Ideas for Custom AI Summary and Insight Templates in Notably (plus 10 prompts to get started)

Using notably to code and organize research notes.

Notably is designed specifically for a research workflow, so you can speed up the tedious parts of coding and slow down to find meaningful insights.  

Notably has four sections in a research project: Info, Data, Analysis, and Insights. 

The Info tab serves as a space to document your research plan and goals. It can also be where you document the global and project tags used along with their meaning. This helps the team stay on track and on the same page, as well as orient any stakeholders or coworkers to the project. 

The Data tab is where you organize your raw research data, including written observations, video and audio recordings, photos, and more. This is where you start the process of coding data, highlighting important parts and tagging them with your global or project tags. Each highlight turns into digital sticky notes on the canvas and a row in a table in the analysis section.  

The Analysis tab is where you begin making sense of your notes. This is where you apply the method we discussed earlier of re-organizing, re-grouping, and re-compiling your notes. In this workspace you can group your data into “themes”, recolor your data by different criteria, as well as use AI to run a sentiment analysis from your notes. As you continue grouping and regrouping your data, patterns will start to emerge which will inform your research insights.

In the Insights tab, you can begin to develop thematic takeaways from your research.  What does the data mean, and why does it matter? Each insight allows you to add evidence from your data to support your conclusions. This is especially helpful once you begin to button up your research into a report, to then share with your team and stakeholders. The thematic takeaways you discover through your research allow you to know what future research needs to be done to expand on topics, which direction you may need to pivot to, and most importantly to develop a plan to better benefit your users and customers.  

With best research practices already baked into the foundation of Notably, you and your team can speed up your research process, and develop better, stronger insights to share. Find out more about Notably here: https://www.notably.ai/

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How to Organize Research: Notes, PDF Files, & Documents

What's the best way to organize research? This post explains the formula: strategies, free software, and free research organizer templates.

Topics covered ✅

  • How to organize research papers and PDF files
  • How to organize research projects
  • Organizing research notes
  • Organizing research notes software
  • Organizing research tools
  • Research organizer template
  • How to organize research material

If you are a busy college student, creator, or blogger your life can get really cluttered. But the messiness in our lives can extend much farther than just a dorm room or office. As active researchers, we can often struggle to organize research in the form of copious amounts of articles, journals, academic writings, thesis, rough drafts, etc.

It gets pretty exhausting.

But where do you even begin?

What's the best way to organize research?

We believe we have created the best recipe for organizing your research and you will never go back to your old ways.

1. Note-taking and Mind mapping – How to Hack Your Mind

First, start by organizing your notes into categories. You can do this on a sticky note or on a mind map.

Even though you may feel like a middle school kid using colorful sticky paper, sticky notes are proven to be one of the most effective ways to organize research.

You'll want to do some research before you begin writing.

Use sticky notes to organize the information you find, and write down any thoughts or ideas that come up as you read or listen.

Also, sticky notes are great if you want to jot down quick notes during a lecture or discussion with friends about the topic at hand.

You can write down important points and make connections between them on sticky notes.

An option similar to this is creating a mind map.

If you are a very visual learner, this style of research may appeal to you because you can visually see where you will be taking this research into categories and subcategories.

Plus it’s fun making them!

organize information research paper

2. The Hard Part – Research & Writing

You should be familiar with the different types of sources that you can use when writing a research paper.

5 Examples of Sources

Here are a few examples of sources:

  • Primary sources (original documents like letters or speeches)
  • Secondary sources (articles, books, etc.)
  • Audio files (podcasts, interviews, etc.)
  • Online databases (Academic Search Complete, JSTOR, LexisNexis)
  • Tertiary sources (reviews of other people's research and analysis of your topics

organize information research paper


When conducting research for your essay, be sure to use academic sources only!

Academic sources are those written by experts in their field who have been published in peer-reviewed journals or books and are therefore considered credible resources for learning more about any given topic.

Academic sources will always include citations at the end of each paragraph (or chapter) so that readers can easily identify where they can go if they'd like to learn more about the topic being discussed in each section of the text.

You can use secondary sources for information about your topic, but make sure that they are academically-reputable sources.

Primary sources are also great for finding information, but they provide only one side of the story and should be used with caution.

Overall, try to use a variety of sources as this will strengthen the argument you are defending.

We recommend putting a lot of emphasis on option five (tertiary sources) because it is something that we were not previously familiar with and we believe it should become more known as it is super helpful.

Tertiary sources are those that have been compiled by other people, such as academic journals and published books.

They can be great resources for getting more background information on a topic, but they aren't original works of scholarship—so be sure to cite them accordingly!

organize information research paper

Quick Bibliographies

As you organize research, there’s no need to get bogged down in how you structure or create your bibliography.

For starters, here’s a simple list of tools for quick bibliographies:

  • Bibliography.com

3. Putting Your Thoughts On Paper

One of the hardest parts is the beginning of the writing process. You should always keep in mind your thesis statement when you write.

It's easy to get carried away with details and forget what you're trying to say—but if you can keep your thesis statement in mind, it will help you stay focused on the main point of your work.

The writing process is a great way to get started with your research because it helps you organize your thoughts before writing them down into sentences and paragraphs.

You'll be able to take notes faster because everything is already written down for you!

Moving on, an excellent strategy that works best for me is just word vomiting onto a page to get a basis of everything you want to say, and then after that is done, organize and clean up what was written.

This is especially useful if you have collected all the data and you just don't know how to put your thoughts into actual words.

organize information research paper

Claim My Free Research Organizer Template

This free research organizer template comes pre-built with folders, subfolders, aesthetic formatting, and much more.

4. The Finishing Touches

If there is anything you should take away from this, it’s to use a reference manager.

Reference managers help ensure that all your citations are correct and up-to-date.

When choosing one, make sure it's compatible with whatever citation style is required by your instructor or institution.

Research doesn't have to be something that you dread or bores you out of your mind.

Being organized can make this process fun and exciting.

So now it's time to put on your thinking cap and get to work.

Notion user? You might also like...

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How to organize research in 2023 [notes, pdfs, docs, tabs], knowledge sharing: examples, platform, best practices [2023], how to create a learning organization [examples], knowledge transfer: 5 tips for your framework [templates], subscribe to new posts..


  • December 9, 2021
  • Productivity

Keeping Multiple Research Sources Organized


Research is the pillar of an effective paper. It provides evidence for your message — thus, we have to be aware of the importance of managing our diverse range of research sources. However, the information we obtain from our research vary in format; articles, newsletters, videos, and more. Fortunately, our world has arrived at a point in which such information is digitalized, greatly increasing the accessibility of research information. Nonetheless, many students and business managers, especially those who document research-heavy papers, struggle to effectively manage their sources. So why is organization of research so important, and how can we achieve it effectively?

Why It’s Important to Manage and Organize Your Research Sources

Creating a reliable, well-made document requires a diversification of information from sources that come in several formats. Unfortunately, we lack practice in at least trying to manage this research, and thus we are overwhelmed by all this input of information. When writing, it’s difficult to process this information in a structural manner, crucial for writing the document. Soon enough, you find yourself staring at the screen trying to organize all this research in your brain. Before highlighting certain practices that help achieve effective research management, it’s important to realize why we should be doing it in the first place.

Structuring your Writing

A solid piece of writing follows a structure that allows the writer to logically order their content in order to best convey information and their ideas. Moreover, it makes it easy for readers to follow. That being said, having your resources scattered and inaccessible makes it difficult for you to structure your writing. Without the organization of research sources, you’ll soon find yourself confused and asking yourself the questions: “Where should I put this information? Wait. Where should I use this information?”. Organizing your research sources lays out a map for the path of your writing, and makes it easier to deliver your message to readers in a logical, convincing manner.

Many different types of structures exist today – nonetheless, the structure you follow depends on the type of writing you’re doing. Writer’s Digest lays out Six Logical Writing Structures that help build the bones of your creation. Considering that you have built the skeleton and pillars of your writing, it’s time to start researching information that you can integrate into your writing.

Integration: Research to Writing

By managing your resources, it makes the process of integrating the information to your writing much easier. You can initiate certain practices that help you transform data and information. For example, categorizing research sources can assist you in effectively transforming and compressing information into your writing. Research provides  evidence for your writing, and thus effective integration helps you create a document of reliable information, with a touch of professionalism.

Saving Time

Saving time is crucial for writing, especially when you’re dealing with deadlines. In fact, we often find ourselves being chased by the pressure of time when writing certain documents, whether it be for academic or business purposes. 

Writing long documents that require plenty of research and data can be difficult to write in a short period of time, and thus, when we take part in such long projects, we save our work and continue the progress some other day. The problem is that when we reopen a work-in-progress document, we often spend a bit of time trying to figure out the progress of the document, and at times, forget the context and information. Eventually we find ourselves looking through folders, and browsing through the internet trying to relocate previously used resources in order to refresh our memory and understanding of the context of information. 

Fortunately, several tools do indeed exist, that help people work efficiently, and ultimately save time in their documentation process. By managing your research sources, you can save valuable time in relocating – and moreover, keep a steady level of understanding throughout the long-term writing process. 

How to Manage your Research Sources

Our operating systems provide the traditionally, horizontal file system to organize our files. Whether it be our operating system, or any other digital platform and software, we have yet to reach a norm in which we begin to manage and organize research sources and information. Presently, the best we can do for saving our research by simply copy and pasting the URL of sources on a separate document, or saving them through our local files or online clouds. Fortunately, digital tools do indeed exist to help you with the process of saving, managing and organizing your research.

Use Digital Tools that Do the Work for You

As much as we heavily rely on documentation tools in our world today, there are several existing tools that can immensely help with the process of saving and managing your resources.

All the internet browsers we utilize today provide a Bookmark function. You can save certain web pages that you want easy access to. The downside is that this bookmark isn’t too user-friendly, and it may be difficult to relocate bookmarks when you have too many. The downside of using bookmarks is that they lack user-friendliness: It’s difficult to relocate bookmarks when you have too many, and it doesn’t support bookmarking offline research sources such as documents, sheets and pdf files. Nonetheless, it provides a space in which we can store our research in one single location.

Everything mentioned can be achievable through our tool. Typed is the best resource management and organization tool you can find out there. Typed allows users to easily save both online and offline sources necessary for your research. By making your work environment easier and faster, enables you to concentrate your focus on pure creation.

The way Typed adopts organization of research into their software is unlike any other solution. Every resource that has been collected and stored on Typed’s network, can be assigned to a specific document. For an example, if you’re doing a research paper on analyzing economic change, you can have all articles, files and any form of resource stored within the workspace itself.

In order to ensure that users can focus on the context of their writing, Typed provides a unique, easy-to-use workspace in which you can view both your sources and the document simultaneously. Typed also provides a feature in which users can highlight important information on their research sources. If you’re looking for the perfect document writing tool for your heavy research, you can do it with ease through Typed.

Other Tools to Help Your Research

Other than Typed and Google’s Bookmark function, there are existing tools out on the web that may help you in achieving a few of the points I have mentioned before. Typed still is the best tool out there to successfully carry out all the necessary steps mentioned in order to achieve successful integration of your research, and ultimately become a better searcher, and writer. You can check out our post about the Top 5 Writing Tools That Will Save Students’ Time when Writing a Paper .

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  • research paper

How to Organize Information a Research Paper – A Quick and Useful Guide

Organizing a paper the right way is a critical step. Even when it seems like you are being clear, a reader may not understand your point. This is why you need to know how to organize your research paper. This ensures you are communicating clearly with anyone who may read your paper.

When you consider how to organize information for a research paper, remember that your goal is to create clarity. You want to walk the reader through your thought process. By introducing your ideas in the thesis and summarizing them in the conclusion, the reader grasps the main point of the paper. Finally, since they know exactly what you are trying to say, you communicate the same idea to every person that picks up your paper. This is the reason that teachers are so strict about writing style.

Organize Throughout the Process

Think about a messy bedroom. If you go a week without cleaning it, the mess continues to grow until it is impossible. Likewise, when you write an entire paper without taking the time to organize anything, it is a mess. Keep your facts with the appropriate sources. You should also use an outline to help organize your main ideas and supporting details. By doing this, you will write the best paper possible.

How Do You Organize a Research Paper?

As you consider the best way to organize your research paper, consider these critical steps:

  • Step 1: Organize your introductory paragraph.

You should have enough information to get the reader’s attention of your topic. Once they have a general idea of what you are talking about, you will introduce the thesis. The thesis links to the topic sentence of each main paragraph.

  • Step 2: Organize the Major Points

Writing an outline is one of the best ways to create order in your paper. As you think about how to organize your research paper, consider which supporting details should be group to support a main point. Each main point should be the topic of a body paragraph. By ensuring these are in the right place, your writing is orderly.

  • Step 3: Organize the Individual Body Paragraphs

When you are writing a chronological paper like something for history class, it can be obvious that you want to introduce your ideas according to a timeline. For other topics, however, the organization pattern is not so clear. It does not always matter how ideas are introduced. If you would like, write each of your paragraphs on a separate sheet of paper. Move these sheets around and read them in different orders to see how it would be best to organize the body paragraphs.

  • Step 4: Organize the Conclusion

Now that you know how to organize my research paper, you should know how to present your ideas clearly to the reader. Organization improves communication. It takes the reader through your thought processes, helping them understand your viewpoint. It also ensures that every person who reads your paper has the same take away. By following the steps above, you should always be able to communicate your point.

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How to organize a research paper

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Life is replete with many examples of organization and order. Even the universe on which the earth is suspended is an incredibly organized system of planets and other celestial bodies. In education, having a well-organized research paper provides direction and also saves time for the researcher. For the readers, it provides clarity and helps them identify how the researcher has structured his ideas. Although one cannot say that there is only one best way / to organize a research paper, there are however some main points that can be followed in order to produce a well-organized paper. Technically speaking, the best way to organize a research paper depends to some degree on the type of paper that you are writing as well as the research question that you are seeking to adress. 

It’s also important that your paper, from the very first sentence to the very last sentence, is able to capture the interest of your target audience, something that will make them want to engage with the full read. Make sure you – Define important terms and outline the methods / resources you used for the paper.

– Check out the research paper outline of other papers covering the same topic.

– Produce good arguments when discussing your results and conclusions. Likewise, make sure you your particular take is internally consistent, and that it produces relevant information for the people who are reading it.

Here are some notes on different ways to organize a research paper

Scholars have evolved different ways of organizing research papers based on the demands of peculiarities of each paper. For instance, a scholar may sometimes organize his research paper with the explicit use of the popular format below:

  • introduction (including thesis statement),

At some other times, he may want to use the indentation style that uses Roman and Arabic numerals to create an outline for the paper, e.g

  • Supporting Idea
  • Details or examples that back up the ideas
  • Any additional information about a detail or example

Another standard way to organize your research is to use any formal format provide by a journal or your university, for example. Such formats are usually compulsory and leave little or no chance for the student to add his creative instincts to the organization of his research paper. An example format is highlighted below:

Social science thesis format

The cover page should start with the topic of the thesis, name and matriculation number of the student, the destination and purpose of the thesis [e.g., a thesis submitted to the department of economics in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in economics] as well as the submission date which is located towards the bottom of the page. The cover page is usually not numbered.

Has the same contents as the cover page but is numbered (from the title page to the glossary of foreign words page are numbered in Roman numerals).

  • Certification page

The student is certified as having personally conducted the study by the Faculty Dean, Head of Department, and external examiner.

  • Dedication page

A page where the student dedicates his or her study to those he or she deems appropriate .

  • Acknowledgement page

The student expresses gratitude to those who assisted in one way or another during the course of writing the thesis.

  • Abstract page

A brief (not more than a page) summary or overview of the thesis, especially the research methodology, findings, conclusion, and recommendations.

  • Table of contents

A table showing all the major headings in the thesis and the page numbers where they are located.

  • List of tables

A list of all the tables used in the study including their label numbers and the page numbers where they are located.

  • List of figures

A list of all the figures used in the study including their label numbers and the page numbers where they are located.

  • Abbreviations of references

An alphabetical ordering of all abbreviations used in the references .

  • Glossary of foreign words

An expression and translation of all foreign words, phrases, and sentences used in the thesis.



  • Background of the study

This is a brief overview of the topic under investigation. It tries to discuss the key variables, concepts, etc underlying the topic with a view to providing insight and laying the necessary foundation for the research problem and the rest of the thesis.

  • Statement of the problem

This is one of the most important segments of the thesis. The student has to present the problem that prompted his study convincingly. This means that readers should not be in doubt as to the need for the study after perusing the problem statement.

  • Objectives of the study

Every study must have at least one purpose or objective it intends to achieve. This section of the chapter is meant for the student to enumerate the objectives of his study. They are usually expressed in bullet points.

  • Research questions

These are pertinent questions formulated by the researcher to help find solutions to the research problem. They should be carefully framed according to the study’s objectives and problem statement.

  • Research hypothesis

A conjecturing of possible relationships among the key variables under investigation. The hypothesis is subsequently tested with an appropriate technique from the research methodology/design.

  • Significance of the study

Here, the student tries to justify the importance or relevance of his or her research in terms of its overall usefulness to the academic community and society as a whole.

  • Scope of the study

This is a brief explanation of the areas the research intends to focus on. It is mainly determined by the topic and problem.

  • Limitations of the study

All studies are faced with one limitation or another. This could be inadequate funding, scarcity of data, time constraints, etc. In this segment, the student is expected to state whatever constraints he or she faced while conducting his or her research.



Brief introduction of the chapter’s contents.

2.1      Conceptual review of literature

Definition/description of the various key concepts, variables, etc that relate to the topic research problem, questions, and hypothesis.

2.2      Theoretical review of literature

Review of various theories that shed light on the topic under investigation. Care must be taken to include only topics that are relevant to the study.

2.3      Empirical review of literature

A report of some previous empirical findings related to the topic of interest. The student should endeavour to present a balanced report by reporting contrasting findings or results.

2.4    Literature gap

Usually, students are not only expected to identify gaps in knowledge through their research but also to clearly describe how they will fill such gaps. The student is expected to state the observed gaps in this section as well as how he or she will fill them.



3.1      Research design

The student explains the design he or she has adopted for his or her research as well as the rationale for choosing such a design.

3.2      Sources of data

In this section, the student clearly discloses all the sources from which he or she collected data for the research.

3.3      Data analysis techniques

Most researches require a combination of various measurement techniques or approaches. The student is expected to enumerate all of them in this segment.

3.4      Model specification

For students that have opted for regression analysis (such as OLS, VAR, etc), it is very important to specify a model for your dependent and independent variables.

3.5.1  Tests of hypothesis and significance

This is the section where you have to describe the various hypotheses testing techniques you used in detail. Be sure to include equations, formulas, and mathematical symbols/notations.



Brief introduction of the chapter’s contents

4.1      Data presentation

To ensure validity and reliability, the data used to generate empirical results or findings should be presented in this section. They are usually arranged in a tabular format.

4.2      Analysis of data and hypothesis tests

A detailed analysis of collected data. Usually commences with descriptive analysis. Results of the hypothesis tests are also analyzed in this segment. Tables and other diagrams should help support verbal analysis. If the tables were generated by software, the software used and its version must be indicated underneath the tables and other diagrams.

4.3      Estimation results

This section is reserved for the results from regression estimates as well as some of the measures of validity and reliability (such as multicollinearity, autocorrelation, homoskedasticity, etc). Results from causality tests and other estimations can also be included here. Tables and other diagrams (e.g., computer printouts) are also necessary for this segment.

4.4      Discussion of findings

 In this section, the researcher is expected to report on the data he or she has collected, processed, and analyzed. He or she has an opportunity to use the discussion to justify his investigation and also to show his logical reasoning capabilities. The student should try to state the theoretical and practical implications of his studies. He or she should also compare his or her findings with those of others.



5.1      Summary of findings

A brief rehash of the key findings of the study.

5.2      Conclusion

The study’s conclusion(s) based on the empirical findings from the measured data.

5.3      Recommendations

The student’s policy (and other) recommendations, also based on the study’s findings.

5.4      Suggestions for further research

Based on his or her observations while conducting the research, the student suggests possible directions or areas that should be researched in future.

5.5      Contributions to knowledge

In this section, the student is expected to clearly explain what his or her study has contributed to the body of knowledge in his field of learning.

An alphabetical ordering or listing of all the sources cited in the thesis. This is written according to the Style Guide approved by the faculty or department.          

An arrangement of all diagrams or illustrations that may provide useful insight (mostly empirical insight) but may not be ideal to be included in the main body of the thesis. These include tables, graphs, charts, and others. Ensure that you place only one diagram per page and that each diagram must be numbered, e.g., Appendix 1, Appendix 2, etc.

Being organized is an important aspect of life in our universe. Without organization, research papers may lack uniformity and appear arbitrary. Organizing a research paper first before proceeding to write is vital because it helps direct the researcher on how to structure his ideas which could end up saving time than otherwise. A research paper can be organized in a number of ways, such as those discussed above. Whatever the approach used, the objective is usually the same: a clear, coherent, logical, and systematic ordering or arrangement of ideas.

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Harvard President Resigns After Mounting Plagiarism Accusations

Claudine Gay faced backlash over the university’s response to antisemitism on campus, which led to increased scrutiny of her academic record.

  • Share full article

Claudine Gay wearing a scarf and a dark jacket at an outdoor event.

By Jennifer Schuessler ,  Anemona Hartocollis ,  Michael Levenson and Alan Blinder

  • Jan. 2, 2024

Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, announced her resignation on Tuesday, after her presidency had become engulfed in crisis over accusations of plagiarism and what some called her insufficient response to antisemitism on campus after the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on Oct. 7.

In announcing she would step down immediately, Dr. Gay, Harvard’s first Black president and the second woman to lead the university, ended a turbulent tenure that began last July. She will have the shortest stint in office of any Harvard president since its founding in 1636.

Alan M. Garber, an economist and physician who is Harvard’s provost and chief academic officer, will serve as interim president. Dr. Gay will remain a tenured professor of government and African and African American studies.

Dr. Gay became the second university president to resign in recent weeks, after she and the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and M.I.T. appeared in a Dec. 5 congressional hearing in which they appeared to evade the question of whether students who called for the genocide of Jews should be punished.

Penn’s president, M. Elizabeth Magill, resigned four days after that hearing. Sally Kornbluth, M.I.T.’s president, has also faced calls for her resignation.

In a letter announcing her decision, Dr. Gay said that after consulting with members of the university’s governing body, the Harvard Corporation, “it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.”

At the same time, Dr. Gay, 53, defended her academic record and suggested that she was the target of highly personal and racist attacks.

“Amidst all of this, it has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor — two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am — and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus,” she wrote.

Last year, the news of Dr. Gay’s appointment was widely seen as a breakthrough moment for the university. The daughter of Haitian immigrants and an expert on minority representation and political participation in government, she took office just as the Supreme Court rejected the use of race-conscious admissions at Harvard and other universities.

She also became a major target of some powerful graduates like the billionaire investor William A. Ackman , who was concerned about antisemitism and suggested on social media last month that Harvard had only considered candidates for the presidency who met “the D.E.I. office’s criteria,” referring to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Dr. Gay’s resignation came after the latest plagiarism accusations against her were circulated in an unsigned complaint published on Monday in The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online journal that has led a campaign against Dr. Gay over the past few weeks.

The complaint added to about 40 other plagiarism accusations that had already been circulated in the journal. The accusations raised questions about whether Harvard was holding its president to the same academic standards as its students.

Lawrence H. Summers, the former U.S. treasury secretary who resigned as Harvard president under pressure in 2006, suggested that Dr. Gay had made the right decision. “I admire Claudine Gay for putting Harvard’s interests first at what I know must be an agonizingly difficult moment,” he said in an email.

Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who leads the House committee that is investigating Harvard and other universities, said the inquiry would continue despite Dr. Gay’s resignation.

“There has been a hostile takeover of postsecondary education by political activists, woke faculty and partisan administrators,” Ms. Foxx said in a statement, adding, “The problems at Harvard are much larger than one leader.”

On Harvard’s campus, some expressed deep dismay with what they described as a politically motivated campaign against Dr. Gay and higher education more broadly. Hundreds of faculty members had signed public letters asking Harvard’s governing board to resist pressure to remove Dr. Gay.

“This is a terrible moment,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Republican congressional leaders have declared war on the independence of colleges and universities, just as Governor DeSantis has done in Florida. They will only be emboldened by Gay’s resignation.”

Some faculty members criticized how the secretive Harvard Corporation had handled the political onslaught and plagiarism allegations.

Alison Frank Johnson, a history professor, said she “couldn’t be more dismayed.”

“Instead of making a decision based on established scholarly principles, we had here a public hounding,” she said. “Instead of listening to voices of scholars in her field who could speak to the importance and originality of her research, we heard voices of derision and spite on social media. Instead of following established university procedure, we had a corporation granting access to self-appointed advisers and carrying out reviews using mysterious and undisclosed methods.”

Rumors about problems in Dr. Gay’s work had circulated for months on anonymous message boards. But the first widely publicized report came on Dec. 10, before Harvard’s board met to discuss Dr. Gay’s future, after her disastrous testimony in the congressional hearing.

That evening, the conservative activist Christopher Rufo published an essay in his Substack newsletter highlighting what he described as “problematic patterns of usage and citation” in Dr. Gay’s 1997 doctoral dissertation.

The Washington Free Beacon followed with several articles detailing allegations regarding her published scholarly articles, and reported two formal complaints submitted to the Research Integrity Office of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In a statement on Dec. 12 saying that Dr. Gay would stay on, the board acknowledged the accusations and said it had been made aware of them in late October. The board said it had conducted an investigation and found “a few instances of inadequate citation” in two articles, which it said would be corrected. But the infractions, the board said, did not rise to the level of “research misconduct.”

Dr. Gay was already under pressure for what some had said was the university’s inadequate response to the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

After initially remaining silent after student groups wrote an open letter saying that Israel was “entirely responsible” for the violence, Dr. Gay and other officials released a letter to the university community acknowledging “feelings of fear, sadness, anger and more.” After an outcry over what some considered the tepid language, Dr. Gay issued a more forceful statement condemning Hamas for “terrorist atrocities,” while urging people to use words that “illuminate and not inflame.”

At the congressional hearing, Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, pelted Dr. Gay and the other university presidents with hypothetical questions.

“At Harvard,” Ms. Stefanik asked Dr. Gay, “does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment? Yes or no?”

“It can be, depending on the context,” Dr. Gay replied.

That exchange, and a similar back and forth between Ms. Stefanik and Ms. Magill, rocketed across social media and infuriated many people with close ties to the universities.

Dr. Gay moved to contain the fallout with an apology in an interview that was published in The Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper. “When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret,” she said.

One week after her testimony, the Harvard Corporation issued a unanimous statement of support — after meeting late into the night — saying that it stood firmly behind her.

But there were signs that controversy might have harmed Harvard’s reputation. The number of students who applied this fall under the university’s early action program — giving them the possibility of an admissions decision in December instead of March — fell about 17 percent, the university said last month.

Reporting was contributed by Dana Goldstein , Rob Copeland , Annie Karni and Vimal Patel . Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

Jennifer Schuessler is a culture reporter covering intellectual life and the world of ideas. She is based in New York. More about Jennifer Schuessler

Anemona Hartocollis is a national reporter for The Times, covering higher education. More about Anemona Hartocollis

Michael Levenson joined The Times in December 2019. He was previously a reporter at The Boston Globe, where he covered local, state and national politics and news. More about Michael Levenson

Alan Blinder is a national correspondent for The Times, covering education. More about Alan Blinder


  1. Ways to Gather&Organize Research

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  1. 15 Best Free Web Tools to Organize Your Research

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    1. Before you start 1.1. The importance of organizing research papers 1.2. Research with your final product in mind 2. When you find useful information. 2.1. Come up with a proper file management system 2.2. File renaming 2.3. Use keywords wisely 2.4. Create annotations 2.5. Write your own notes 3. When you are ready to write 3.1.

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    Future scholarship depends on the accuracy and integrity of prior scholarship. That is why, when doing research one must use the information produced by other people responsibly, i.e. provide citations within the text and a list of references at the end of the paper with full citation information that will allow retrieval of the document.

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    Applying meaning to research notes with color and tags. Coloring and tagging, otherwise known as "coding" in research, are effective ways to organize research notes and assign meaning to pieces of data. They are helpful as you start to pull apart and apply different lenses to your data during the synthesis process.

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    Even though you may feel like a middle school kid using colorful sticky paper, sticky notes are proven to be one of the most effective ways to organize research. You'll want to do some research before you begin writing. Use sticky notes to organize the information you find, and write down any thoughts or ideas that come up as you read or listen.

  20. Keeping Multiple Research Sources Organized

    Research is the pillar of an effective paper. It provides evidence for your message — thus, we have to be aware of the importance of managing our diverse range of research sources. However, the information we obtain from our research vary in format; articles, newsletters, videos, and more.

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    Step 1: Organize your introductory paragraph. You should have enough information to get the reader's attention of your topic. Once they have a general idea of what you are talking about, you will introduce the thesis. The thesis links to the topic sentence of each main paragraph. Step 2: Organize the Major Points.

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  24. The Latest Plagiarism Accusations Against Clauide Gay, Explained

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