Managing Your Research 

Handout

Research projects seem to take on a life of their own. While you cannot avoid being overwhelmed at times, there are some things you can keep in mind when choosing sources and taking information from those sources.

Choosing Sources Carefully

While your topic, thesis, and argument should be an original product of your own knowledge, your sources are the foundation that will strengthen and enrich your argument. Therefore it is important to find sources that are both scholarly in nature and balanced in perspective. A scholarly source is academic, reputable and reliable. For more information on finding scholarly sources, please see the Evaluating Sources Handout.

It is also important that you utilize sources from a strategic variety of disciplinary perspectives. Just picking and choosing from a bouquet of disciplines is not enough; you must incorporate those disciplines that best offer a new and effective perspective for your argument.

Finally, your argument will only be strong if you acknowledge sources that might refute or challenge your argument. You might be thinking something along these lines: “Won't using sources that contradict my argument only make my idea look stupid or wrong? Wouldn't it be best just to show how many other scholars agree with me or support my ideas indirectly?”

The answer to both of these questions is NO!!!!!!!! Citing works that complicate or even flat-out disagree with your argument forces you to defend your claims. This is YOUR argument, after all. Undoubtedly, this is an extra challenge for you as a writer, thinker, and scholar, but you need to live up to this challenge. Moreover, omitting the arguments of those who disagree with you only serves to WEAKEN your own argument. Your readers, after all, will not just take your argument at face value—they will ask questions and maybe even doubt the validity of your claims. If you go ahead and anticipate these questions and address these difficulties, readers are far more likely to decide that your argument is valid (even if they do not agree with your viewpoint).

Another benefit of seeking out contradictory perspectives on your topic: if you find nothing but firm evidence that completely supports your argument,you might just be beating a dead horse.

Notate Your Notes

As you find sources and begin taking notes, it is important that you devise a system to help you distinguish what source each note came from. This might sound elementary to you, but when you are working with 20+ sources, many with very similar subject matter, there is no way you are going to remember in a month whether your notes about child development came from Watson or Hayes. When it comes time to use the notes in your paper, you will have a serious case of confusion, and a potential case of plagiarism, on your hands…

Unless you notate your notes. This means making absolutely sure that you document the exact source your notes came from WHILE YOU ARE NOTE-TAKING. Below is a helpful method of making sure you keep your sources straight and distinguish your own words from those of the author:

  1. Use a different sheet of paper for each source.
  2. At the top of the page, go ahead and write out the bibliographic data in Turabian style. Not only do you have your source written for your notes' sake, but you have started building your bibliography as well.
  3. Keep each note separated. This can be as simple as using bullet points.
  4. For each paraphrase or summary, be sure to include the page numbers beside the note.
  5. For each direct quote you take from a source, go ahead and put the quotation marks around it AND note the page number.
  6. Make sure you actually write out the whole quote word for word. What seems like a logical abbreviation now might not be so obvious five weeks later when you haven't slept in a week and this is one of three papers you are writing.
  7. Write legibly. Even your own handwriting might not be so easy to decipher later.
  8. Keep all your notes in a folder or spiral notebook. Don't let hours of notetaking go to waste because you left half of them in your car, which is now in a different city because your daughter drove it on a visit to her grandparents.
  9. Don't throw away your notes in celebratory defiance as soon as your paper is turned in. There is actually a good chance they could come in handy for reference purposes later on. Plus, always remember that MALS portfolio.

Cite While You Write

Congratulations. If you have been diligent in your note-taking, you have made the process of writing an initial draft that much easier. As with note-taking, it is important that you maintain some method of keeping source material straight. The best way to do this is to cite while you write.

This means documenting the author, year, and page number (at the very least) each time you work a paraphrase, summary, or quote into your draft. It doesn't have to be in perfect format (although citing correctly could save you time revising the draft later); just make sure you get that citation marked down. Again, when you are in the exhausting stage of writing a draft your paper is very much a work in progress. It is practically a given that you will be rearranging, adding, and deleting material many times over, and it is very easy to get your paraphrases and quotes mixed up as you write - unless you attach a citation from the get-go. Don't count on yourself to remember who said what or whether you took an idea from a source or generated it on your own.

The Moral of the Story: research and writing are difficult enough activities as they are. Don't make it any harder on yourself by jumbling sources and forcing yourself to scramble around at the last minute for bibliographic information.