Monday, January 28, 2008

Taking notes for a large Research Paper

Writing a large research paper is daunting on the best of days, but staring at a blank page can be intellectually crippling. Even after reading dozens of articles, people will procrastinate to avoid starting the writing process.

Today’s tip avoids this research roadblock completely. When I write my research papers, I almost never have to start with a blank screen because I take notes on my laptop while I’m conducting my research. If you can read papers online, make sure you take notes along the way in a Word document you’ve pulled up along side the articles. Feel free to cut and paste great quotes into your Word doc, just MAKE SURE that you have a system to differentiate between your original thoughts/comments and your direct quotes so you don’t accidentally plagiarize someone’s work.* Also, go ahead and put the full citation information and make each note a footnote ahead of time. This way you will know exactly where you got each quote/argument.

Doing this work ahead of time is a great way to make use of the murky procrastination time. You can “work” on your paper and get some information down, without stressing that all of the arguments are in line.

If you do this you must be ready to cut some arguments out and you should also start to create an outline for the whole thing as you go along. Often research papers, especially in the humanities, start to flesh themselves out, but if you have to write a literature review in and department, this tip should help you.

Software tools can help, like Adobe Acrobat Pro which will let you comment within a PDF, but you still have to cut and paste the notes from several documents into one. Also, helpful are citation management products like EndNote and ProCite, but it is difficult to take actual notes in these too.

I hope this research tip helps you get over the procrastination monster and start writing your research paper with organization and ease.

*You may have to download the newest versions of Adobe Reader to be able to cut and paste from PDF documents. Otherwise using HTML documents when available is advised.

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