From collaborating extensively to finalizing a whitepaper to building out a case for a colossal legal battle, organizing your research and notes can be the difference between success or failure.
Take financial reports, for example. Every organization has to deal with them, and the implications of poor research, in this case, can create legal ramifications. Research is important, but if you cannot go back through your notes to find relevant information, that time could be wasted. That is what the team at Slice is here to talk about today. We want to help show professional writers (and anyone else tasked with research) how—and why—they should keep their work organized. In this extensive guide, we aim to cover the most important aspects of this topic, such as how to organize your research notes, how to organize your research projects, the importance of organized research and notes, and what is the best way to stay organized?
What Is Organizing in Research?
At the most basic level, organization in research is the discovery and analysis of all the sources, statistics, quotes, and other relevant information in an easy-to-access and use location. Beyond that, the specific way someone organizes their research will depend, to some extent, on what they are trying to accomplish. For example, is it for a business plan or a whitepaper? This type of question can help establish a path that will make the organization process as simple as possible.
Common Research Challenges that Writers Face
Even the most experienced writers can encounter certain challenges when setting out to perform any research task. The first step to overcoming many challenges is to simply be aware of them in the first place. Let’s take a look at some of the more common ones to keep an eye out for.
- Team Sizes: What is better for a research project, a large team, or a small one? Ideally, somewhere in the middle. When an organization does not value research, it can put a huge burden of responsibility onto a single individual’s plate. If, on the other hand, a research team is too large or disorganized, then silos can be formed where certain parts of the team are unaware of the work their colleagues are working on. Let’s use financial reports as an example again. These are extensive documents that cover the performance of the business over the course of a year. If the research team is too small or doesn’t include people from different departments, key information could end up being left out. The best way to tackle this challenge is to construct a research team (regardless of size) of highly-motivated individuals who can all work towards the same goal while being able to work independently.
- Lack of Direction or Support: Researchers are often left to their own devices when given their projects, and this leaves much to be desired for their work. If you are given the project, perform a preliminary analysis of what you may need to begin the early stages of your research. Will you need specific access to files or databases that the general public cannot get to? Try to get rid of as many barriers early on as possible to help ensure the project can proceed smoothly.
- Poor Collaboration: Whatever is causing poor communication and collaboration to occur needs to be identified early or it can derail the success of any project. In some instances, poor research efforts can come down to a lack of communication, but it can also be due to a lack of a proper place to share information and other findings. At Slice, we understand the need for collaboration between research teams, which is why we have made the process of inviting collaborators as simple as the click of a button. Now, the entire team can add and edit research information in one central location.
Unfortunately, research projects don’t run flawlessly even if major challenges are identified early on. Mistakes are still bound to happen from time to time. However, we want to try and help minimize the times when organizing research materials goes wrong by pointing out some of the more common examples, so you don’t have to go through the same experience.
Common Research Mistakes that Writers Make
We would be here all day attempting to list all the potential research pitfalls writers encounter, but here are a few of the most common examples:
- Citing Secondary Sources: Citing the proper sources is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of performing research. With the sheer amount of information on the internet today it can feel impossible to find the original data source. As difficult as it may be to pass on certain information, if you cannot locate the primary source, it may be best to leave it out until you can do so.
- Losing Focus of the Topic: Take a whitepaper, for example. This is a standard document that almost every business writes at some point to highlight the exciting features of a product or service that it offers or will plan to offer in the near future. Not double-checking that a given source is relevant and related to the topic at hand could result in a lack of focus. Once all of your sources have been gathered, take the time to go back through and evaluate if each one still supports the main goal.
- Weak Structure: Even the target audience for the research can only stay engaged for so long. The longer and more complex the research becomes, the higher the chance the reader will disengage. To avoid this, during the editing process, you should trim all unnecessary information from your writing. What may have seemed like vital information early can wind up resulting in pointless additions that take away from the aim of the project. A great way to approach this is to look for things that would be considered general knowledge for your business. This helps cut out any superfluous explanations. On the flip side, information that is not considered general knowledge should be properly cited and explained in enough detail for the reader to understand the point and move on.
All three of these mistakes (and many others) can be avoided, for the most part, by keeping all of your research and notes organized. It does not need to be a major overhaul at first, but utilizing just a handful of the tips we’ve mentioned today can help with citing the right source, staying on topic, and creating a cohesive structure for the final product.
What Is the Best Way to Stay Organized When Doing Research?
Your time is incredibly valuable, which is why so many people rightfully try to find the best method of staying organized before they begin to make sure they stay on track throughout the entire process. Let’s look at some tactics that anyone can use to stay organized while they research.
- Hold Off on Taking Notes: This might sound strange, but it could benefit your research to perform some preliminary reading before you dive head first into the intense research and note-taking. If the topic of your research is new, it can take time to learn which sources are credible and what information is relevant to your efforts. Slice’s Web Clipper can efficiently pull resources for you as you conduct preliminary research. It will file each article for you directly into the Slice project you specify, and you can continue all your research without having to worry about finding that source again.
- Keep the End Goal in Mind: It is easy to lose sight of what you are conducting the research for once you get into the thick of it. Cross-checking sources and data, taking detailed annotations, and transcribing videos are just a handful of research methods that can take hours at a time to complete. If you follow one source too deeply, you may wind up researching information that ends up not actually supporting the end goal. To combat this, ensure that you stop and reflect on the work you have done so far to see if it aligns with the purpose of the project.
- Color Code: The old-school method of highlighting information in a text by hand was taught to school children all over the world for a good reason. Highlighted information draws our attention and can help keep us focused on the most important information. Nowadays, it is a standard feature of any writing app to include a highlight tool, making this process easier than ever. If you discover a scientifically-backed survey that perfectly aligns with the rest of your research, would you rather comb through all 150 pages of data, or does it sound better to scroll down the pages until you see bright colors pop off the screen? It is a simple choice. Always remind yourself to highlight the most important information that you know you’ll need to use or cite.
- Save Your Research: This tip might sound obvious, but let us explain. How many tabs do you have open right now? Odds are, people don’t just have one tab open for the immediate task they are performing at the moment. When conducting research, you will be multi-tasking and hopping back and forth between multiple pages. What if the internet goes out, your computer crashes, or you accidentally click on the little x next to the tab? All of your hard work can go down the drain in an instant. That’s one of the problems we solve with Slice–every time you (and your team) open a project, everything that you’ve added to it will be there.
- Clean Workspace: While having a clean desk can be helpful in uncluttering your mind, the actual place you put your notes and other aspects of your research is just as important. Slice has created a space where your writing can flourish barrier-free. You can break your content into manageable sections rather than keeping all of your work in one giant file. And because your writing and researching can live side-by-side, your workflow will be smoother and suffer fewer disruptions.
Organized Research Example
Simply reading a general guide online will not provide enough value to those looking for help on how to organize all of their professional writing research. We understand that frustration, which is why we are going to break down the possible organization and structure for a whitepaper, one of the most common documents in professional business writing.
- Understand the Assignment: Before you begin to scour for sources or hit that first keystroke, you need to ensure that you (and your teammates, if any) understand what is being asked. Not every single whitepaper is identical, and your organization will likely have specific needs.
- Outline: Take your time with this step, as the more thorough your outline, the easier your research will be. Make a note of all the information you already have readily available. It is important to remember that this is a rough outline to help guide your research. You should include some general ideas about the information you need and possibly how you plan to structure the actual written information inside the whitepaper.
- Order Researched Material: As you conduct your research, try organizing your notes as you go along. Waiting until you are done with all of the research to organize your notes will only slow down your progress and leave you confused about what should go where. After you finish researching, you can go back through it and make sure everything is organized in the way you will write it. Creating headers for major concepts and filling in supporting information underneath them is an effective way to structure all your material.
- Re-Do Outline: This can appear to be the most tedious step, but it can wind up being the most beneficial. Break out that rough outline and fill in or replace the old stuff with all the new data and information. In this version of the outline, it would be helpful to mark where you plan to use your newfound sources to support the writing.
- Write the Whitepaper: Stick as close to your outline as possible and focus on one section at a time. You will want to edit and rewrite as you go, but this will actually slow you down and could lead to a more confusing end product.
- Revise & Publish: Take the time to slowly comb through each page and look for
- Clearly-cited sources
- Clear writing
- Clear relationships between each section and the larger topic at hand
- Proper promotion for the new product, feature, or service
How Do You Organize Your Research Sources?
As you conduct your research, it is best to organize all of your sources so that you don’t lose any of them as you go. How can you best do this? Record them as you go. Even if you don’t end up using the source in the end, it is better to have a record of it to call upon.
When organizing your sources, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. For years, academia has provided students with highly-effective methods we feel are universally applicable to all types of research. Take, for example, this simple chart provided by Eastern Washington University’s Writing Center. It lays out all of the possibly relevant information you would need to note about a source you intend to use.
What Is the Best Way to Organize Research Notes?
It is not uncommon for people to ask how to keep track of research notes. The truth is that there’s no “one right way” to assemble research notes. The best way to organize notes for one person could be an overly-complicated mess for another. Regardless, here are a few methods you can try to see what works best for you.
- Headers and Sub-Headers: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Using headers to identify the biggest points, topics, arguments, or other data gathered establishes a hierarchy for you to follow. If your research is around the best point of care ultrasound systems to use in medical facilities, then creating a header for the top five most-used options would filter all of your research. You could then create sub-headers for the types of facilities such as hospitals and birth centers.
- Point of View: If you are conducting research on a topic that requires you to discuss ideas from two different sides of a subject, it might be helpful to frame your work by filtering information for what side of the topic it supports. Another key element of point of view is the source itself. If your research relies heavily on statistics or support from prominent individuals or organizations, then it could be helpful to sort your notes into categories based on where the information came from.
- Clearly Identified Files: If you are sharing large amounts of research between multiple people, it can be easy for information to get lost or overlooked. To combat this, whenever information is stored in a file, make sure to label it with a relevant title, date, and any other information that could quickly communicate to someone what the contents of the file are. It is also a best practice to keep this method consistent. Every file should follow the same format to keep confusion and frustration at a minimum.
It is important to remember that the strategies for organizing research are not independent of one another. For example, you can color-code sections of your research notes that are organized by the source they came from. Mix and match different methods to find the easiest and most effective way to conduct your unique research.
Why Is Organizing Research Important?
We have alluded to a few reasons why proper organization is essential for any level of writer. Above all, organization helps keep you on task, helping to ensure that you are able to complete your work on time. While a certain amount of research can be performed by a single individual, when the project grows in scale, it is not uncommon for an entire team to be assigned to that task.
In that case, organization is not just about helping one person stay on track, but it helps a project from falling behind and ultimately failing. Let’s look at a handful of ways that careful organization of your research can positively impact a team.
The first thing that comes to mind is the ability to save valuable time for all team members. Nothing frustrates people more than learning there was a much easier option after the fact. By properly organizing and filtering research in an easy-to-use way, someone can quickly search what the team already has to see whether or not they need to go out and find new information.
As a professional, the research you perform can be vital to the success of your organization. The archival aspect of research means that whenever leadership at a company needs data for a business plan, they should have no problem combing through files to find the information they need.
What Is the Best Research Software?
Writers conducting important research cannot operate with outdated systems or platforms, and doing so can drastically impact productivity. This leads many professionals to ask, “Is there an app for research?” The good news is that there are plenty of digital tools for researchers available to make the entire process easier.
- Google Scholar: While not technically a downloadable application, Google Scholar is one of the best tools on the market. This public library allows anyone to search for articles, theses, books, abstracts, online repositories, universities, academic papers, and other websites. Google Scholar’s benefit over simply typing your questions into a search engine is that all the results are peer-reviewed and include citations to technical reports and other scholarly material. On top of all this easy-to-access information, it is completely free to use.
- Endnote: This application serves to make all the tedious work of formatting bibliographies, finding full text, and searching for references a thing of the past. Endnote also has efficiency in mind by allowing its users to create rules that will automatically organize your references as you work. This platform also utilizes the cloud, which means you can access your work anywhere.
- ResearchGate: Think of ResearchGate as similar to Google Scholar, but with a scientific focus. It gives you access to over 135 million publications, and you can easily find researchers on the site.
- Slice: We don’t try to provide the research depth of a Google Scholar, but we’ve created a much more potent research and writing environment than Google Docs. Slice works like you do: its organizing principle is a project, which means you and your team can spend less time chasing information and each other and more time cranking out better content faster.
Slice: Home Base for Professional Writers
From research projects of multi-million dollar organizations to graduate school thesis papers, every professional (or aspiring) writer needs to be able to work distraction-free and have access to tools that make their lives easier. Luckily for you, Slice has both.
Slice was created from the ground up with the professional writer in mind. Take a look at just a handful of the things you are able to do inside our robust platform:
- Divide your primary content into smaller ideas to help focus on different portions of your project better.
- Harvest project research in the same workspace where you write (and eliminate all those tabs).
- Manage your projects where you edit your projects.
Don’t just take our word for it. If you are looking for a way to improve your writing and research process, contact us today to get started on a brighter path.