How to Take Notes for a Research Paper

Before we dive into discussing how to take notes for a research paper, it is important for you to first understand three basic concepts involved. These are:

Understanding the Information

The skill of note taking is learning how to analyze the material you read. It is useful to write an outline in order to organize your ideas and your source material before you begin reviewing the reference material.

Selecting the Information

Extract only the information that answers your research questions or supports your thesis. Remember to organize the information according to subject matter.

Recording the Information

Most researchers put their notes on 3ΓÇ¥ x 5ΓÇ¥ note cards which contain the quotes they plan to use and the cited sources. ItΓÇÖs best to use topical, concluding and transitional sentences to link the information on the cards. It is sometimes useful to write a subtopic heading at the top of each note card, with source number and page reference at the right upper and left lower corner of the card.

There is a science to taking notes for a research paper to keep your thoughts and sources well-organized, making it easier for you to refer back to them as you write your paper. The following list includes 10 proven methods.

  1. Devote an entire 3ΓÇ¥ x 5ΓÇ¥ note card to each idea or topic. DonΓÇÖt try to fit two sources on one card. Large lined cards are probably best.
  2. Gather more sources than you need. It is usually recommended to have as much as three times the amount of sourcing as your professor recommends.
  3. Record all necessary information such as: author, title, volume, name of publisher, and date of publication because you may be assembling a bibliography as you go along.
  4. Alphabetize the lists.
  5. Re-read the notes you take.
  6. Organize your note cards so that similar information is together.
  7. Keep your research paper organized from the start by color coding your note cards according to topic. Color code your card at the top.
  8. After reading a piece of information, write down your understanding of the data in your own words. By writing down any notes or quotes that could be useful in your research paper in your own words, you greatly reduce the chances of accidental plagiarism.
  9. When writing your notes, be as concise as possible and remember to paraphrase as much as possible to cut down on the number of citations.
  10. For multiple notes, write the page numbers in which the information is contained in the article or piece of data that you wish to cite in the bottom right hand corner of the note card, with the authors last name at the top right hand corner.

When you refer to works by other authors, itΓÇÖs important that you cite them accurately so your reader can validate the references. The citation style will vary based upon the writing format given to you by your professor, whether APA, MLA, or another. To ensure that you donΓÇÖt lose points for not following the proper guidelines, you can use formatting software for accuracy. Plus, using formatting software can save you time during the editing process so you can focus your attention on what matters most, the quality of the content of your research paper.

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto or write to:
info @

Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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