Skip to Main Content

Managing Research Projects

How Do I Keep It Together?

There are many strategies and tools out there for staying organized; some of them are listed on this page. Experiment with them or find ones that fit your own strengths or will help you improve.

You know your own style best. Find the tools and strategies that work best for you and stick with them!

Note Taking Strategies

The purpose of note taking is to help you remember and use what you have read or learned. Your strategy for taking notes should help you towards this goal.

A common note-taking strategy is Cornell Notes, or find another system that works for you.

notes on Hebrews and James commentaries

Example of typed note-taking, showing citation of source at top with page numbers for each note. Direct quotes have quotation marks and other notes are paraphrases. Click to enlarge.

As source is an eBook, the direct link to the book is listed on the notes for quick reference.

  • Always record the source in your notes! A full citation is best, but sometimes just the author, title, and page number for each note will do. For more on keeping track of citations, see below.
  • Notes can include summaries, paraphrases, or direct quotes, but be sure to differentiate between the words of the author(s) and your words or thoughts. You could use different colors, fonts, or bold type for this.
  • Organize your notes by topic instead of by source; this will make them easier to use when it comes time to write. 
  • Taking notes in a notebook and taking notes on a computer both have their pros and cons:
    • Handwriting your notes makes them more likely to stick in your memory and forces you to decide what's most important to save. But it can be time-consuming and hard to find particular notes later.
    • Taking notes on a computer makes it easier to find your notes later and allows you to copy and paste quotes, so you can be sure they are accurate. But sometimes digital files can be lost and long computer files can be hard to sort and navigate.
    • Consider your own style and circumstance when deciding which route to take!

If you choose to take notes on a computer, or transfer your handwritten notes to computer, there are many programs and apps to help. You can keep your notes in Word, Google Docs, or a similar word processing program. Or you could use an annotation program like EvernoteDiigo, or OneNote (part of Microsoft Suite, available to SPU students on SPU Download Center).

Tracking Your Research

Research Logs

A helpful strategy for remaining organized during the research process is to keep a research log, where you record items like where you searched and what keywords you used in each research session.

research log notes on Arthur Bryant

Example of research log notes on topic of "Arthur Bryant." Click to enlarge.

This will keep you from repeating work you've already done and will help you refine your searches, since you'll learn what the best terms are for your searches.


A typical research log entry will contain:

  • The date and/or time
  • The resource you searched, e.g. the SPU catalog, one or more databases, a newspaper archive, etc.
  • The terms you used when searching
  • Any notes you want to remember for later about how you searched

Your log can be saved on paper, or in the document or app of your choice. Some options include Word, Google Docs, OneNote, and similar programs.


Search Histories

Some research resources include tools that allow you to save a particular search or set alerts for when new items are added. Sign in to the SPU catalog using your SPU credentials, and click on your name in the top right corner. SPU catalog Search History linkAt the bottom of the menu is an option called "Search History" that allows you to recreate searches you've already made when signed in. You can add new searches to your Search History by doing a search, and selecting the "Save Query" option at the very top of the results list. 

Academic Search Complete Search History link to save searches and set up alerts


Academic Search Premier and Research Library Complete (and other databases from their publishers) have a similar function that's available after creating a free account.

Use the Sign In link at the top of the page to get started.

Keeping Your References Organized

Use a system to keep track of the sources you find, along with their citations. 

You can use a basic document or note-taking system for this purpose, or you can use citation management software, which will help you save, organize, and store the evidence you find. You can also often use these to annotate, create references in various citation styles, and save the full text of articles

There are  free online tools such as Mendeley and Zotero.