When you are faced with starting a research paper, the most important part of researching and beginning to write is ORGANIZING the information and your thoughts. If you are not organized, it will take considerably more time to write the paper. To make it easy on yourself, you can use an index card system as you gather information. With this method, you categorize the information you find by topic. For each topic, you could have any number of cards from several different sources. Later, as you write your paper, each card topic becomes a body paragraph (supporting idea) in your paper.
As you find interesting facts about your topic during your research, you should write them down. Each sentence or idea that you find should be paraphrased (summarized in your own words), and written on a card. In order to keep your ideas in order, and to remember where you found the ideas, there are four items that you should include on the index card, as you will see below.
Here is a sample card:
- The card topic is the title for the kind of information on the card. The card topic is a name that you make up yourself. Think of it as the title, or main idea of the card. After writing down the information, figure out how you could briefly categorize, or title it. For example, if you are writing a paper on the life and works of the poet, Langston Hughes, you may have cards with topics such as:
- Hughes' upbringing
- Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance
- Hughes' influences Hughes' poetry
- Hughes' political beliefs
- Hughes' influence on America
Although it may seem tedious to give each note card a topic name, it serves two purposes:
- It keeps you focused in your research. You will be less likely to write down unnecessary information (facts that are not related to your topic) if you are careful to write down the topic for every card.
- It is necessary to have these topics once you begin organizing your research.
- The source title is the name of the book, magazine, website, etc., in which you found the information. In the previous example, the source was given a number, instead of writing out the entire title. You could write out the title on each card, or simply list your sources on a separate sheet of paper, like the example here. Number your sources on this list, and then use the numbers on the note cards to specify which source provided which fact.
Sample Source List
Remember! This is not a complete works cited, bibliography, or reference page. You will need to add the publication information and use the correct citation format (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, etc.) for the formal works cited page.
- Item number three is the paraphrased information that you found. It is helpful to paraphrase, or summarize, your research on the index cards while you are taking notes. If you are consistent in paraphrasing at this stage, then you will be certain not to accidentally plagiarize someone else's work. You will also have less work to do when you are actually writing the paper. the image of a notecard with a mark on page.
- It is important to be accurate with the page numbers on your note cards, as you will need them for citations throughout your research paper. Be sure you know which form of citation your teacher requires. (For information on citing your sources, look at English Works! handouts on MLA, APA, and Chicago/Turabian Style citations).
Once you have written the information down on the note cards, you only need to go back and organize your cards by topic. Group together all the cards that have the same topic (i.e. all the cards titled: "Hughes' Poetry" should be together). When you finish, you should have your cards in piles, one topic per pile. You can have any number of piles and any number of cards in each pile. The length and detail of your paper will determine how many piles and cards you have.
Your piles may look like:
Make an Outline and Start Writing
Once you have separated your cards into piles, each topic pile should become a body paragraph in your paper. That is the key to this system. If every topic directly supports your thesis statement, then each topic pile should become a supporting idea, body paragraph, or part of a paragraph in your paper.
But before you actually begin writing, you should make an outline of the order you want to present these topics in your paper. (For help making an outline, see the English Works web page on Pre-writing and Outlines). Once the outline is complete, use your note cards as guides and begin writing. For further help on writing a research paper, refer to the English Works! web page Process of Doing a Research Paper, Guide to Developing Thesis Statements, and/or Guide to Writing Introductions and Conclusions.
Note cards are where you record the information you research from each source. There are three types of note cards:
- Summary: Only pull out the main idea or facts and put it in your own words. For example:
- Paraphrase: Keep the same amount of words and the same meaning; just restate most of the author’s words in your own. For example:
- Quote: Use a quote when you want to use the author’s exact words. You must introduce the quote first with a signal phrase. For example:
I. In-Text Citations
- In-text citations are when you cite where you got your information within the text. To do this, rewrite your note card information into your paper where appropriate, then write from where you got the information in parenthesis.
- Look at the source number in the right hand corner of the note card. Then, pull out the source card with the same number in the right hand corner. Whatever is the first item on the source card, is often what goes in parenthesis.
1. Book Source
a. Write the author’s last name and page number after the rewritten note card information in parenthesis.
Attempts of politcal censorship in America include the censoring of abolitionist materials in the South and anti-government materials during the Cold War (Buchannan 190).
2. Online Source
a. For an online source, write the last name of the author who wrote the article.
Bullying of players is an issure amongst many coaches (Hoffman).
b. When there is no author, then write the title of the article. If the article title is long, then just write the first four words. Put the article title in quotes.
According to one article, “Houses usually represent yourself, your personality or your body” (“Being Chased in Dreams”).
3. Multiple Authors
a. When there are two to three authors, then list all last names in parenthesis after the note card information. Include the word “and” before the last author.
The effects of bullying can last well into adulthood. Most bullies are seen as paranoid and even a bit narcissistic (Jones, Carretie, and Brown).
b. If it is a book source, then include the page number after the names.
The authors state, “Tighter gun control in the United States erodes Second Amendment rights” (Smith, Yang, and Moore 76).
c. In the event that there are four or more authors, then list the first author’s last name, followed by et al. “Et al.” means “and others” in Latin.
The article declares, “Reading high interest materials help to keep young boys engaged with text” (Rosler et al.).
d. If it is a book source, then include the page number.
The authors of the text claim, “There is plenty of evidence to suggest boys are more engaged with reading when the text features a male narrator or a subject which is of high interest to them” (Smith et al. 20).
II. Introducing Quotes
Use a sentence starter to introduce quotes into your paper. Do not just drop a quote into your paper without introducing it in your own words first.
Examples of sentence starters used to introduce quotes:
- The text states, “To be human is to weep” (Smith 248).
- The author claims, “To be human is to weep” (Smith 248).
- The article declares, “To be human is to weep” (Smith 248).
- The writer comments, “To be human is to weep” (Smith 248).
- The author writes, “To be human is to weep” (Smith 248).
- According to the author, “To be human is to weep” (Smith 248).
Note: If you introduce the author’s name in the sentence, then you do not need it in parenthesis at the end. If it is a book source, however, you still need the page number at the end.
According to Smith, “To be human is to weep” (248).
Note: In the event a student needs to cite a different type of source, which is not listed here, then see http://www.easybib.com/ for more examples.
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