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Organizing Your Research

This guide will provide you with some strategies and tools for organizing your notes, readings, references, and more!

Taking Useful Notes

Good note-taking practice is essential for graduate students who have to be familiar with hundreds of readings. Most of the time you will be reading with a specific purpose or project in mind. Note-taking, therefore, should also be tailored to how this reading will help your research in the future.

What information should you capture?

  • Thesis statement (major claim of the reading)
  • Evidence & key points
  • How this aligns with the rest of the literature, as well as other readings you have done
  • Interesting quotes
  • Your own reaction
  • A sentence or two on how this work may be beneficial to your research

Important: Always include the correct citation in your notes! Especially when you are copying down direct quotations, you should cite it as if you were writing a scholarly paper (i.e. with page number as well).


Note-Taking: Paper, Digital, or Both?

The debate between keeping paper notes vs. going paperless seems never-ending. I find that it comes down to personal preference in the end. What I would add is that even if you prefer note-taking by hand, you can still take advantage of digital capability (such as search function) by scanning your notes and organizing them into note-taking softwares. Most softwares and scanners now have Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which makes handwritten text searchable as well. Below are some features unique to digital note-taking softwares that you might find useful in your workflow.

Scanning and storing handwritten notes

After scanning and pasting paper notes into a digital note-taking program, I can easily re-organize the order of my notes and add more detail quickly to my handwritten notes. This flexibility is great, especially when I am working on the go and cannot bring all of my binders and notebooks.

Linking notes

Another helpful feature of digital note-taking programs is their ability to link different note pages together. Basically, each note page has its own hyperlink that you can include in other pages. An use case I have found for this is a master index of my reading notes, where I make a list of the hyperlinks to all of my reading notes. This means that I can always go back to this list, scan through it quickly and jump to a reference that I'm interested in.


The strength of digital note-taking softwares lies in their search and keyword systems. You can use tags to organize your notes according to their themes. You can also create 'action tags' for your to-do lists, reading lists, or lists of materials to check out.

Example: Tags Summary in OneNote

Suggested Tools for Note-Taking

OneNote: Capture thoughts, ideas, and to-dos and sync them to all your devices. Each note’s paper size can be expanded indefinitely, and you can categorize from notebooks > group of sections > sections > pages > sub-pages.

Install: Important: Install the Windows Desktop version as that is the most powerful


EverNote: Capture notes and sync across devices. Powerful keyword tagging and search capability, but you have to pay for premium features.



Scrivener: Scrivener is a word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers.