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Research - Keeping Track

"Organization is essential in the [research] process"
(Thiroux 25).

You will need to keep track of what you are doing. Otherwise, you will repeat the same work often and get frustrated. Research can be a large project and must be planned accordingly. Thiroux (26-7) suggests keeping a research log with the following entries:

I am not sure I agree with her breakdown. I would suggest, for ease and flexibility, keeping this log on a computer. (If this is not possible, keep it in a loose-leaf notebook or on note cards. Whatever you do, don't use a bound book.)

I would devote an entire subdirectory to this research log--separate from the subdirectory containing your notes, and would set up the following files for each subdirectory:

I have shown each file as an MS Word document. You can, of course, use any word processor which is convenient. The main thing is the organization and the allocation of a file for each activity which you will want to track.

Now let's take a look at each file and discuss how you will use it.


"restopic" stands for topic research subdirectory. This is the subdirectory in which you will keep all the files related to the topic you are researching. Instead of naming it "restopic", use the topic which you have chosen. /fishing/ for instance.


Topic DEFinition. This is the file in which you track you thoughts and findings in your attempt to find a good topic on which to work (this is our next discussion item).


TIMELINE... Keep adjusting this so that everything will come out even before the deadline. You might want to post this above your desk--and on your forehead. You should also post all deadlines to your Daytimer. (You don't use a DayTimer, or something similar? You better read the section on study skills and success.)


RESearch PLAN--where to go, what to use... The first step is to explore what sources--like indexes, databases, etc.--may yield information. As you search, you will discover other sources. Add these to the list.

Annotate each item as you work your way through it. For instance, if you are going through the Education Index, keep track of what volumes or years you have been through and what headings you search. You may want to come back and search other headings later as you discover new terminology or narrow your topic. As you finish going through one index from current back to 1985, for instance, you need to note that fact. You may want to search further back at some later time.

This section also serves as a "bookmark" for those times when you cannot finish using a particular index or tool and will have to return later. You need to know what has worked. For instance, if you are seeking material on "GENETIC MAPPING," you will want to note that the terms "GENETIC MARKERS," "LINKAGE," and "GENE LOCUS" are effective alternate terms for searching this area...

In addition, as you search you will discover new terms or author names of which you were not conscious when you began. Five volumes into the Biological & Agricultural Index, for instance, you may discover that a very effective term for searching GENE MAPPING is HETEROZYGOSITY. Where have you tried this term, and where have you NOT tried this term??? You will need to know because if you are doing a thorough search you will have to try this term in every index and database in which you have not previously tried it.

It is critical, therefore, to keep a record of what terms you have searched in each volume or database each time you employ a bibliographic or electronic tool. There may be other miscellaneous notes you want to keep in this area. The specific subject matter, and the purposes of your search, will determine your needs.

Keep notes to yourself in this area as well.


SEARCH... This is the unsorted list of references, citations, etc. that you find as you go through indexes, bibliographies, Works Cited and References lists at the ends of articles and books. (This list should be alphabetized by author as you key it into the computer--this makes eliminating duplicates easier.)

You take this list to the library.

I recommend one further step if you are "online" to the Internet, or another online system which gives you access to the catalogs of all the libraries you may use... Once you have a list of citations you wish to find, you should get online to the electronic catalogs of the various libraries to which you have access. Discover which books and journals are at what libraries. Sort the list by library. This will make you MUCH more efficient when you arrive at each library. Be sure to note the call number for each library and where the material is located...

If you are NOT able to get online to all the libraries you may use, then divide this list of citations into books and articles. Put the books in alphabetical order by author. Sort the articles by the journals in which they are to be found. This will expedite searching when you arrive at each library. If a particular library has subscribed for some tome to one journal, you have at your fingertips ALL the articles listed which you want to locate in that journal.


(what to look for in library number one)

This is the list of citations which you still have to find, or find information to complete. As you search indexes and OPACs, this is where you note down the citations to find and read.

Materials here should be in two parts: (1) first just a raw list of all citations. These should be on note cards (or in computer), and then (2) reorganized into categories. If they are books, they should be categorized by the libraries which own them. If they are articles, they should be organized by the journal titles in which they will be found. Government documents, and other formats should be separated by format, and then added to the category of the library which owns that format.


RESearch BIBLiography--everything you find... Every time you prepare another "run" at the libraries, you will want to take this list with you and eliminate any duplicate titles which will crop up as you search. You have to have one list where everything you have looked at is listed--this is it.


RESearch REJECts--found but rejected bibliography...Every time you locate a source and it is not applicable, not relevant, not high quality, not legible, etc., you need to move the citation to this list. Every time you prepare another search list you will want to refer to this list to avoid duplications of effort.


(research paper subdirectory)


PaPeR BIBLiography... This is the potential bibliography for paper... This is the list of books and articles which you have read, taken notes from, and hope to use in your paper. The actual "Works Cited" (MLA) or "References" (APA) for the draft will be created when the outline is filled in from your notes.


RESearch NOTES#... the actual notes from readings... This is where all your notes go, and if you are diligent, it will be BBIIIIGG! That's why I am showing several files. Don't let your files get TOO big or the word processing software will begin to act peculiar...This file is exremely important for three reasons.

(1) This is a record of your "soaking in the literature." It can be reviewed. Such soaking should result at some point in your gaining a clear enough picture of the subject to be able to create a cogent outline for a paper.

(2) Once an outline is created, material from this .BIG file can be "copied and pasted" (a computer term) into your outline, "filling in" the frame of the outline. Each section of the outline can then be "worked," bridges and explanations added. This is a fast and relatively simple way to write a secondary research paper or literature review.

(3) This file represents an extensive amount of research on a subject. It has quotes, it has references. It is an outstanding source for material for papers which you will subsequently create. Save it and treasure it.


OUTLINE... This should be the FIRST file you create because it should contain every word your professor has said about the paper, and a summary or outline of every syllabus and handout concerning the paper which has issued from the professor.

At the end of these materials should be your initial notes and thoughts on the creation of your paper's outline..

This file is also where, after you have soaked in the literature and been blessed with a vision of how to present your subject, you create your outline of your paper. It should certainly be the last file you read before turning in the finished paper.


The first draft is created by copying and pasting from your notes into the various sections of your outline. Next you write the introduction and ending based on your topic definition and thesis. Then you go back and fill in the connections between the sections of your outline (called "bridging"). Finally, you smooth out the wording and fill in any final holes in the "story" that you are telling.


Now you are beginning to wrestle with the shape of the paper and the best way in which to present the ideas. This phase may involve a substantial change in your outline, as well as rewriting some entire sections. You should keep asking yourself, "Is this paper really clear? Does really make the point I want to make?"


Even more refinement. Keep repeating this process until you feel REALLY good about the product.


This is a draft which has been printed out repeatedly, with the language, grammar, spelling, layout, and everything else gone over repeatedly until it is PERFECT. Don't try to save time at this stage. Make sure everything is right. Save this file in more than one place when done. You don't want to lose your only copy!

Before you go any further, review the notes in Research Strategies.

Now let's look at
Topic Selection

Works Cited

Thiroux, Emily. The Critical Edge: Thinking and Researching in a Virtual Society. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

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Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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