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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).

Example: User italisizes their response to the reading, bolds key sections, and includes screen captures or photos if necessary. 

Note-Taking: Paper, Digital, or Both?

The debate between keeping paper notes vs. going paperless seems never-ending.In the end, it comes down to personal preference.

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, one can easily reorganize the order of notes and add more detail quickly to handwritten notes. This flexibility is great, especially when working on the go.

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. This is useful as a master index of reading notes, where one can make a list of the hyperlinks to all reading notes. This means that one can always go back to this list, scan through it quickly and jump to a reference.


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.

The Tags Summary feature allows me to quickly jump to something tagged for later. In the case below, the user set up a "to be found" tag for references mentioned in-text that they want to follow up on.

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. 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.