Research Practices: Finding, Organizing

Research Practices: Finding, Organizing

Today we’ll be discussing finding sources and organizing research material. I’ll post all the ideas we share in class here, as well as my strategies that I outline in class. Use the comment section to share any methods or techniques you think of outside of class.

Finding Sources (Non-Library)

  1. Wikipedia – “References” and “Further Reading” sections of topic and author articles
  2. Google Books / Google Scholar – keyword and author searches that often partial or full PDF files of chapters/articles in scholarly books and journals
  3. MOOC Sites – search for courses with reading lists / media related to your topic [Udacity, Coursera, EdX]
  4. Emailing – email living scholars in relevant fields directly with pointed, short emails about sources related to your topic (find their email at the college/department they teach in)
  5. Bibliography Browse – look at the bibliographies of key sources for new sources
  6. Amazon Suggestions – search for a key text on Amazon and then look at the “others bought” section below
  7. Lectures/Interviews – search for audio and video media of scholarly talks/lectures/panels on Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud (search their name and “lecture” or “interview” or “podcast”)

Organizing Strategies

  1. Notes & Quotes document – have a separate document to collect your notes and key ideas, along with topic or author-grouped quotations from key sources.
  2. Graveyard document – have a separate document to save your writing that you have to cut out or that doesn’t work (yet). This relieves the anxiety of deleting something you spent time on while also keeping your main document clean and clutter-free.
  3. Idea maps – schematize or map out key ideas or source relations as you go, revising or making multiple maps as your understanding develops. This process is good for organizing your thinking, and *may* actually help in the writing process, especially if you work hard to refine it over several iterations.
  4. Zotero / bookmark archive – use a citation manager or method of bookmarking sources/webpages that keeps access to the sources handy and ordered. With Zotero you have the option to export a properly formatted bibliography/works cited page, take notes on sources (etc.).
  5. Download your audio/video files – if you use audio or video that you found on the web in your project make it a habit to download it so that you have access to it in case you have no internet or the publisher removes it, etc. This happens a lot with material on Youtube, Soundcloud, etc. and you never know when you will want to access – perhaps much later!
  6. Associate ideas with people – as you make your way through the research material you should make a habit of linking ideas/claims/data/evidence with author(s) or institutions. This will help you remember things in a way that will be easiest to translate into writing and talking about it in most contexts.
  7. Filename conventions – name your files intelligently, e.g. lastname_yourresearchpapertitle-draft.doc, lastname_yourresearchpapertitle-quotes.doc, lastname_yourresearchpapertitle-graveyard.doc, and so on. Have a system like this which identifies the content and status in the name. So, perhaps putting dates in the filename for benchmark drafts or the “final” version, etc. (see below)
  8. Benchmark draft saves – when you complete a draft or a segment that is going to be reviewed or critiqued, save that as a draft and leave it in an archive/folder of “benchmark drafts.” When you respond to feedback, revise, polish, etc. copy it and start a new file. This will preserve old thinking and provide a means of looking at the development of your paper later.
  9. Backup files – an obvious recommendation that is not often observed: save your work in multiple places. Copy your entire folder of material to another location at least once a week, and ideally after any major additions have been made. So, you might have an external USB drive to save it to as a backup, or upload it Google Docs (you will have to zip/archive it into a single file for this); use Dropbox or some other backup service, etc.


  1. Form workgroups – have accountability structure in your process. Make a plan to co-work on your projects with a colleague at set times. This will keep you from procrastinating and also enforce the imperative to work on your project regularly and think about it daily.
  2.  Scan/print articles & chapters (OCR) Рget digital copies of key sources and use Adobe to recognize the text so it can be searched, copied, etc. Some sources can be downloaded as a source PDF (with selectable text), others you may have to manually scan and then use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to render the image as text that can be selected. This makes quoting easy and protects against misquoting, etc.
  3.  Focus on introductions Рwhen reading your sources focus attention early on introductions, especially of anthologies of essays: they often contain a roadmap of the book and a summary of the key ideas at the end of the introduction, and they will often provide historical context and model the discourse you are engaged with.
  4. Use smartphone to image material in bookstore – sometimes you cannot find free access to a source, so you can go to the library and take images of the chapters/pages you need. It is also a good idea to browse around the target source to see if there are other relevant sources.