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How to Start Your Research | Stay Organized

Tips and tools for starting your research and searching for information in library databases and catalogs.

Your Librarian

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Amanda Walch
Raugust Library, Reference & Instruction Office
701-252-3467 ext. 5441

In This Section

magnifying glass iconIn this section, you'll find help with:

  • Tips for staying organized when it comes to finding and reading sources

Staying Organized

Taking good research notes is a key part of staying organized.


Keep track of:

  • What search terms or keywords you used
  • Where you were searching (database names, the library catalog, Google, etc.)
  • When you were searching - databases and websites are constantly removing and adding content, and links change or break
  • Full citation information for everything you save
  • Permalinks or stable URLs (or DOIs) so you can get back to what you found


When you download PDFs:

  • Create and use folders on your computer or in your OneDrive. You might keep all your research for a history paper in a folder called HIST361 - Research Paper, for example.
  • Name the file something useful! (Usually the file name automatically assigned at download is not helpful - you want to be able to quickly identify and find the articles you're using in your research, so name them accordingly.) 

Keep track of potentially useful quotes as you read your sources.


document iconStep 1: Create a Word (or Google) doc

Name this document something descriptive, like Sources for COMM410 or Articles for Synthesis Paper.


Step 2: Create headings or sections for each of your sources

Including full citations in this document will save you some time later on. You might also make note of what an in-text citation for the source would look like.


quotation mark in a speech bubbleStep 3: Copy and paste or type out interesting quotes from each source you read into the document

Keep track of the page numbers each quote can be found on, and make sure each quote is under the correct heading, of course! If no quotes jump out at you, at least make some notes on what the source is about (summarize it).


Step 4: Change the color of your text and start analyzing/commenting

Record some of your own thoughts about every single quote you add to this document. Changing the color of your text will help you keep track of what comes directly from the source and what comes from your own analysis.


hand with pen iconStep 5: Start writing

Use your interesting quotes and analysis to start drafting your paper or project. Ask yourself if your sources answered the question you were researching, or what themes emerged from your reading. Start writing, and if you still have unanswered questions, keep researching!

If you've got a lot of sources, try a citation manager.

Citation managers can help you keep track of large amounts of sources, as well as generate references lists and in-text citations. They can save you a lot of time and effort as you compile resources and integrate them into your writing.

Zotero logoZotero

Zotero is a free bibliographic manager available as a software plugin in your web browser. Zotero collects, manages, and cites research from multiple types of sources. Through Zotero you can organize your research into different folders for different projects. Zotero can create bibliographies using Word or OpenOffice. Zotero provides a series of tutorial videos to get you started. 

Mendeley logoMendeley

Mendeley is a free reference manager that allows you to manage citations and PDFs. It includes plugins for Word and OpenOffice to create citations and/or bibliographies as you write. Unlike other similar tools, Mendeley is a social networking tool that allows you to connect and share with other researchers and students - you can even login via Facebook.