Organizing Tips for Writers: Keeping Track of Online Research

Have you ever thought you were finished with an assignment, only to receive a request for your sources weeks, or months, later? Of course, all writers know that we should keep track of our sources. But knowing that and doing it in an organized way are two different things. Keeping track of online research can be particularly tricky. Here are the methods I have tried, ranging from silliest to most effective:
1. Noting my sources on sticky notes. I think all of us have done this, but it is incredibly foolish. Those sticky notes just aren’t that sticky. They fly all over the place and then where do they end up? In the recycle bin. Which does you a lot of good when a client wants to know exactly where you found that fact.
2. Keeping my browser’s history turned on so that I can retrace my steps across the Internet. If you spend a lot of time on the Internet, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience trying to retrace your research-related steps. Trust me.
3. Using the Read It Later add-on in Mozilla Firefox. Now, this was a step in the right direction. Read It Later is an incredibly useful tool that I am considering blogging about separately — but it’s more useful for stopping procrastination than it is for becoming organized. If you work on several projects at once (as I do) all your sources will be jumbled in together. You’ll be able to find them easily if you remember what day or days you were working on that project. Do you? I didn’t think so.
4. Copying my citations into a to-do list program. This kept the citations organized in one place, but didn’t store the sources themselves, only the citations.
5. Creating research notebooks online, in the “Cloud,” using Evernote. This turned out to be a wonderful idea, and I should have started doing this sooner. Both Google Chrome and Mozilla have Evernote add-ons, and my phone has an Evernote app. Now, when I start a project, I begin by creating an Evernote notebook to store my research in. As I go through the research process, I store each item instantly in my Evernote notebook using the add-on in my browser–it only takes me a couple of seconds. Sometimes I clean up the page first using the Clearly add-on, which takes all the ads and other webinage fluff off the page, but occasionally loses something in translation. Either way, when I am ready to write, or ready to prepare my bibliography, I can now just go to Evernote and find my sources beautifully organized in one spot (as you can see from the screenshot — click to see a larger image, as the one here is tiny). This research system rocks! And if you don’t like Evernote for some reason, you can always use a different Cloud-based research tool, such as SpringPad, which also has browser add-ons.

P.S. I wrote a blog post on my Evernote/Clearly process for HubPages, so if you would like it see the process broken down in a step-by-step format, just click on my HubPages link on the left side of the screen.

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