Chapter 1: Getting started with research

1.9 Keeping track of your sources

As you progress in your research you will find a lot of information from a variety of sources. It is important to keep track of these so you can credit the different ideas and facts you use. Keeping your sources organized also helps strengthen your argument by helping you quickly add more information from a specific source, find the original context of a quote you’ve pulled out, or point directly to what you used to answer your research question. Having your sources organized can also make your writing process more efficient because you have a better idea of where everything came from.

Your instructors will expect you to cite your sources so, at a bare minimum, be sure to track your citation information. You also may want to track other information as you go along. Here are some useful details to track:

  • Citation information: title, author, year of publication, publisher or journal, page numbers, etc.
  • Quotes: quotable or noteworthy passages, ideas you want to include in your project
  • Context: reasons for citing it, ways it is relevant to your research question, and how it relates to other sources

You can keep organized in a variety of ways. There are citation managers like Zotero and EndNote which can help generate citations and attach notes directly to the citation information and sources. You can also use notecards, spreadsheets, and outlines. It doesn’t matter how you stay organized, just that you find a way that works well for you.

Getting used to college-level work

Time management is frequently a problem for students and faculty alike, making it hard to meet deadlines. Being overwhelmed with college life, illness, and having family or personal problems are also common factors that may lead students to make bad academic choices, such as cheating or missing deadlines. Here are a few ways you can get help with time management:

  • Develop a plan for your project by working backward and estimating how much time each step will take. One tool that can help you do this is the online Assignment Calculator from the University of Minnesota. It helps you put your assignments and research projects into a timeline.
  • The Academic Success Center recommends developing a weekly, monthly, and/or semester-long study schedule that accounts for everything you need to get done.
  • Find ways to reduce distractions. Some things that can help include muting phone notifications, using time management apps, and finding quiet places to study.

If you feel overwhelmed, you should talk with your professor, your adviser, or Dean of Students office staff. You can also contact the ISU Student Counseling Services for help. They can help with issues as varied as depression, loneliness, eating disorders, substance abuse problems, and so on. They can help you get counseling for family or personal problems, and also help with career planning. Learn more about how to manage the various demands of student life, and to take care of yourself, as this can help you prepare for life after college.


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Library 160: Introduction to College-Level Research Copyright © 2021 by Iowa State University Library Instruction Services is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.