Organizing your research

Sandra Collins

This Appendix provides one example of how to organize and keep track of ideas from various sources as you conduct your initial research on a topic. It is organized into three days, during which I continued to read the literature and add to my research summary.


My background research – Day 1

Social Justice and Career Practice

Appendix 1 paper 1a

Appendix 1 paper 1b

Additional Tips:

  • Adding titles and subtitles as you go will help you keep the material organized.
  • Be sure to paraphrase the material you read or to indicate an exact quotation. If you do not do this carefully now, it will be much harder later to go back and make sure you are not plagiarizing the original source.
  • I use bold to make it easier to find the headings as I work – when I format my final paper, I then create the correct heading levels.
  • Add each reference to your list as you go – you can worry about final formatting later.


My background research – Day 2

Sections 1 and 2 of my notes remain the same, at this point, but I add in some new ideas under two new themes below.

Appendix 1 paper 2a

Appendix 1 paper 2b

Additional Tips:

  • You do not have to wait until you find a point in an article to start adding in headings and key points. You will notice I started two new sections here because I have an idea of where I want to head with the paper. I’ll look for supporting points in the literature as I read more.
  • Make sure you add in the references from the original work you draw on.
  • You should rarely reference your own work, and, if you do, it should represent a very small amount of a new paper. Normally, I would only do this for works that I have previously published.
  • Having said that, if you plan your research and writing process well, you can begin to build the literature review for your thesis, course-based exit project, or other advance course assignments by writing about similar themes in different courses. You cannot copy material directly from one paper to another, but if you have created this type of summary of the literature, you can draw on the same ideas and resources to support the thesis and arguments in a different paper.


My background research – Day 3

I do not make any changes to section 1 the next time I sit down to add to my background research; however, I add content to other sections and create a couple of new categories or themes.

Social Justice and Career Practice

Appendix 1 paper 3a

Appendix 1 paper 3b

Appendix 1 paper 3c

Appendix 1 paper 3d

Appendix 1 paper 3e

Additional Tips:

  • I started out looking for some specific information on social justice definitions. But at this point, I am just reading through each article I find and adding in the points I think are important. That way, I do not have to return to an article multiple times looking for different information.
  • For the articles I have not yet read, I add the information to the reference list, but keep it separate until I read them myself and decide if I want to include these points. This way, I have a path to follow to spread my research net wider and I am not guilty of relying on secondary sources.
  • Remember, I am including the full citation for each entry at this point (e.g., Blustein, McWhirter, & Perry, 2005). Once I have reorganized this content to support my thesis and key arguments, I will edit the citations to make sure that only the first entry contains all authors (e.g., Blustein et al., 2005).