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Mahoney Research Help: Organization


Take notes and collect information from a variety of sources before you begin working on your final project. This is important for two reasons:

  1. You will gain a better understanding on your topic
  2. You will avoid unintentional plagiarism

Get Organized

As you conduct your research, it is important to stay organized. It will not only keep you focused on the research at hand, but will save you valuable time when it comes to writing/creating your paper/project and citing your sources.

There are two major things you will want to do to stay organized:

  1. Take notes on your research
  2. Create an outline to streamline the writing process

Writing research papers can be challenging but if you follow along to the advice in this section, the process will be quicker, more efficient, and with any luck, easier.


Summarizing is restating the main ideas in as few words as possible.

A good strategy for summarizing, as opposed to paraphrasing or restating is Somebody Wanted But So:

  • SOMEBODY: Write down an important person or group.
  • WANTED: State a problem they faced or their motivation.
  • BUT: Explain some forces that worked against them.
  • SO: Explain the result.


Paraphrasing is your way of explaining the key information you have learned, whether from something you read, a documentary video, a teacher's lecture, or another source. Paraphrasing is more detailed than summarizing.


Paraphrasing is often described as putting important information "in your own words." 

  • "In your own words" does not mean copying someone else's work and trading out a few words with synonyms.
  • "In your own words" does mean how you might explain a new idea to a classmate or teacher when they ask about what you have read.

(Tip: if you discover that you have difficulty explaining what you have read, you probably need to either re-read the information or find another source that explains the information more clearly.)

More information on paraphrasing from Purdue OWL.

Tips For Taking Notes By Hand

  • Use index cards to keep notes and track sources used in your paper.
  • Create Work Cited cards for each source.
    • Include the citation (i.e., author, title, publisher, date, page numbers, etc.) in MLA format. It will be easier to organize the sources alphabetically when creating the Work Cited page.
    • Number the source cards.
  • On each note card:
    • Use only one side to record a single idea, fact or quote from one source. It will be easier to rearrange them later when it comes time to organize your paper.
    • Include a heading or key words at the top of the card. 
    • Include the Work Cited source card number.
    • Include the page number where you found the information.
  • Taking notes:
    • Use abbreviations, acronyms, or incomplete sentences to record information to speed up the notetaking process.
    • Write down only the information that answers your research questions.
    • Use symbols, diagrams, charts or drawings to simplify and visualize ideas.

Tips For Taking Notes Electronically

  • Keep a separate Work Cited file of the sources you use.
    • As you add sources, put them in the style your professor requests that you use such as APA, Chicago/Turabian, or  MLA format.
    • Group sources by publication type (i.e., book, article, website).
    • Number source within the publication type group.
    • For websites, include the URL information.
  • Next to each idea, include the source number from the Work Cited file and the page number from the source. See the examples below. Note #A5 and #B2 refer to article source 5 and book source 2 from the Work Cited file.

#A5 p.35: 76.69% of the hyperlinks selected from homepage are for articles and the catalog

#B2 p.76: online library guides evolved from the paper pathfinders of the 1960's

  • When done taking notes, assign keywords or sub-topic headings to each idea, quote or summary.
  • Use the copy and paste feature to group keywords or sub-topic ideas together.
  • Back up your master list and note files frequently!

How To Create an Outline

To create an outline:

  1. Place your thesis statement at the beginning.
  2. List the major points that support your thesis. Label them in Roman Numerals (I, II, III, etc.).
  3. List supporting ideas or arguments for each major point. Label them in capital letters (A, B, C, etc.).
  4. If applicable, continue to sub-divide each supporting idea until your outline is fully developed. Label them 1, 2, 3, etc., and then a, b, c, etc.

For example: 

Thesis: Federal regulations need to foster laws that will help protect wetlands, restore those that have been destroyed, and take measures to improve the damage from overdevelopment.‚Äč

I. Nature's ecosystem

   A. Loss of wetlands nationally

   B. Loss of wetlands in Illinois

      1. More flooding and poorer water quality

      2. Lost ability to prevent floods, clean water and store water

II. Dramatic floods

   A, Cost in dollars and lives

      1. 13 deaths between 1988 and 1998

   B. Great Midwestern Flood of 1993

      1. Lost wetlands in IL

      2. Devastation in some states

III. Wetland laws

   A. Inadequately informed legislators

      1. Watersheds

      2. Interconnections in natural water systems

   B. Water purification

IV. Need to save wetlands

   A. New federal definition

How Note-Taking Helps You Learn and Organize

Write It Down