Research Notes are an incredible important tool for organizing your information when collecting research. Over the holidays, my husband and I worked on organizing our house, especially my office. In the process, I found some old research materials.
These included early drafts of papers, diagrams of paper concepts, and 3×5 cards that I had used to take notes. While 3×5 cards are a pretty old school way of making research notes, they remain a useful tool. Even if you are making digital notes instead, the concept still applies.
Making the Notes
There are many ways to do this, but we’re going to go over a basic and easy design that seems the most universally used. Generally when either Galen or I work with Research Notes, we create a separate Source Card that lists the Title of the Source, the needed Bibliography information, and where we found the source. Galen often includes the ISBN number as well in case she needs to locate the book via amazon, or another bookseller.
Then, for the notes, we create a card that lists the Subject of Research, the Source, page numbers involved and, of course, the notes, quotes, or thoughts found in the resource. To help you, we’ve prepared some digital examples (because handwriting can be hard to read.)
The Source Card
So, on the Source card you just put the bibliography information for that particular reference. For our example, we’ll use the information on the cards I found.
“Socioeconomic Impact and Gender Differentials of Cholera” by Claudia Durana, published in 1994 in Gender, Health, and Sustainable Development: a Latin American Perspective.
At the time, I assigned this source as the 4th one, so labeled it #4. Every note I made from this source has a #4 in the upper right or left hand corner. Since Galen usually includes a Subject line at the top, which is something new to me, but very useful we’re putting the source # in the upper right hand corner.
Sometimes when you are doing research, there are special notes about the source that can be really handy. For example, the url to the downloadable document, the Location that you found the source, how valuable you find it, etc. Because of this, Galen often includes a ‘Notes’ section on her cards.
Adding the ISBN and/or Library Call # to the card is very useful as well. ISBNs allow you to find the book at stores, or even locate it online in places like Google Books. The Library Call # is the filing “Number” used by the library systems to catalogue books. This is useful if you need to find the book again at the Library later to look something else up.
The Research Note Cards
Everyone writes their cards differently and wants different information on them. What Galen and I have done is combine our preferences into something that we thought could universally work for everyone.
So for this example we’re going to use the notes I found as an way to illustrate how these cards are useful. These notes were taken for a paper on women, public health, and water in Latin America that I wrote years ago. I wrote on each card something I found in a journal or a book I thought might be useful: a statistic, a quote, or a concept.
The top card on the left says, for example, that incidents of cholera were associated with contact with cholera patients and a lack of wastewater management, and that the later was associated with not just poverty but urban environments and race. On the top left of that card, I circled circled #4, and on the right I wrote pg. 134.
Having the page number is useful because it lets us know exactly where I got this information. While I did not, for this paper, consistently label each card at the top with a subject, it is recommended. This makes it easier to find the relevant information later and to organize related information together.
For consistency, we’re going to have the Source # on the upper right and page # on the lower right.
Here is that information in our example:
Why Note Cards?
Writing pieces of information on separate cards y lets me shuffle and organize the information I want to include in my final paper. In practice, it is similar to making an outline but more flexible as I can freely move things around as I structure my argument.
Because every card lists the associated source, it it is easy for me to quickly and easily cite my sources. This is especially useful for long term projects where I may not otherwise remember where I got a specific bit of information and probably no longer have that particular book or journal at hand. Even 20 years after I made these cards, I can cite every bit of information contained in them.
Technology changes and we adapt.
These days I am more likely to make my notes in a digital format than I am a 3×5 card, but I still make notes using the same concept. I break down the information I take from each source into discrete chunks, each labeled with the citation information.
When I get stuck on how I want to organize my thoughts and information, I still sometimes pull out my 3×5 cards and shuffle around ideas. I hope that this idea helps you explore your ideas more fully in your research. Galen and I both recommend that if you are teaching someone how to research, particularly kids, that starting off with the note cards can be extremely useful.
Don’t want to try to figure out how to make your own notecards, or like our printed versions? We have a downloadable version of ours in our Resource Library. You can access it by signing up for our Mailing list.