While you're studying, you will read a lot of material from many different sources. It's important to have a system for keeping track of what you read - you may want to find something again to use in an assignment.
There isn't one perfect system – it's important your system works for you and your research style.
Below are tips from successful students. Don't try all of these ideas, but some of them might be helpful for you.
Collect and organise
- Rename downloaded PDFs to something meaningful, like the author's name or the title of the source
- Organise your downloaded PDFs into subfolders – you could make a folder structure like Semester > Subject code/name > Weekly readings or assignment name
- If you print your readings, store them in colour-coded folders or boxes
- Add your readings and PDF files to reference management software such as EndNote, Zotero or Mendeley – in these programs, you have the option to put readings into groups or folders, add tags for different topics and add notes
- Back up your files.
- When you are taking notes from a reading, always record the source and the page number – this will save time later, when you use these notes to write your assignments
- You could use an ‘info dump’ file – a Word Document, Excel spreadsheet or OneNote – and record information about readings such as author/s, year and title plus a link and some of the key points covered and/or quotes, to use later while you are writing
- OneNote is a useful tool for note-taking, and it can be divided into sections and different pages within each section, so you can keep your ideas organised
- Most PDF file viewers and reference management programs will let you make notes and highlight directly into your PDFs
- If you prefer printed material, you can clip handwritten notes to readings – this can help you to keep track of which ones you have read.
Just before you start writing an assignment
- Print key readings and sort them in a way that makes sense to you
- Sort digital sources into ‘Useful’ and ‘Not useful’ subfolders – keep the ‘Not useful’ folder until after the assignment is finished in case your initial plan changes as you are writing
- Use colour-coding – give each main point you want to cover a colour then match that to your notes for each source
- Create a mind map – this is a visual representation of the topics and themes in your assignment. It can help you to see how the different themes from key readings will interact. A mind map can be handwritten, or you could find some free online software to experiment with.