Research Note Cards

stack of various colored note cards
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Many teachers require students to use note cards to collect information for their first big term paper assignment. While this practice may seem old fashioned and out of date, it is actually still the best method for collecting research. 

You will use research note cards to collect all the information necessary to write your term paper--which includes the details you need for your bibliography notes.

You should take extreme care as you create these note cards, because any time you leave out a single detail, you are creating more work for yourself. You will have to visit each source again if you leave out essential information the first time around.

Remember that citing every source completely and correctly is critical for success. If you don't cite a source, you are guilty of plagiarism! These tips will help you collect research and write a successful paper.

  1. Start with a fresh pack of research note cards. Large, lined cards are probably best, especially if you want to make your own detailed personal notes. Also, consider color coding your cards by topic to keep your paper organized from the start.
  2. Devote an entire note card to each idea or note. Don't try to fit two sources (quotes and notes) on one card. No sharing space!
  3. Gather more than you need. Use the library and the Internet to find potential sources for your research paper. You should continue to research until you have quite a few potential sources—about three times as many as your teacher recommends.
  4. Narrow down your sources. As you read your potential sources, you will find that some are helpful, others are not, and some will repeat the same information you already have. This is how you narrow your list down to include the most solid sources.
  5. Record as you go. From each source, write down any notes or quotes that could be useful in your paper. As you take notes, try to paraphrase all the information. This reduces the chances of committing accidental plagiarism.
  6. Include everything. For each note you will need to record author's name, the title of reference (book, article, interview, etc.), reference publication information, to include publisher, date, place, year, issue, volume, page number, and your own personal comments.
  7. Create your own system and stick to it. For instance, you may want to pre-mark each card with spaces for each category, just to make sure you don't leave anything out.
  8. Be exact. If at any time you write down information word for word (to be used as a quote), be sure to include all punctuation marks, capitalizations, and breaks exactly as they appear in the source. Before you leave any source, double-check your notes for accuracy.
  9. If you think it might be useful, write it down. Don't ever, ever pass over information because you're just not sure whether it will be useful! This is a very common and costly mistake in research. More often than not, you find that the passed-over tidbit is critical to your paper, and then there's a good chance you won't find it again.
  10. Avoid using abbreviations and code words as you record notes —especially if you plan to quote. Your own writing can look completely foreign to you later. It's true! You may not be able to understand your own clever codes after a day or two, either.
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Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "Research Note Cards." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Fleming, Grace. (2023, April 5). Research Note Cards. Retrieved from Fleming, Grace. "Research Note Cards." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).