As an often ridiculously disorganized person, one of the hardest things for me to do during the long process of writing this thesis is keeping all of my sources straight. Right now, I have probably over 20 sources, including books, articles, parts I’ve photocopied from books, etc. I have lists of writers given to me by my readers and advisor that I’m supposed to look up. I have my primary sources, and books I found at Half Price Books that looked like they could potentially be helpful but haven’t even touched yet. How do I keep track of the growing mound of sources on my bedroom floor?
Well, first of all, I should probably put them somewhere other than the floor. That would be a good start. But, luckily, I found a few tips on how to keep everything straight.
1) Pick a uniform way to keep a list of your sources. Whether you want it in a note on your phone, a document on your computer, or scratched down on a yellow legal pad, keep your list in one place so that you always know where to find it.
2) With every source you find, add it to the list. And when you add it, record full citations. That means all of the info necessary for whatever citation method you are using (MLA, APA, Chicago) and putting it down in that format. It will be much harder to find these citations later on than it is to just write them down while you have the source right in front of you.
3) The “Writing an Honors Thesis” packet* created several years ago by Dr. West, former director of the Honors Program at Bellarmine and current Chair of the English department, recommends noting the following while scanning and browsing sources:
- Use abbreviated subject headings in your list. Have two or three words that remind you what the source is about to label it, rather than the title or author’s name.
- Include basic notes on the source, whether these include quotes, statistics, key points and arguments, etc.
- For lab or field research, make sure to include your carefully recorded data, along with dates and other factors.
- You should also definitely include your interpretation of the source. Ask yourself questions about the context and significance of each source, like: Why was it written? What was the author’s agenda? How does this source answer (or complicate) my research questions? Does it pose new questions for my project? How reliable is the source?
So, hopefully, you are more organized than I am right now, but, more than likely, these tips will help all of us get everything straight. Right now, I’m going to go pick those books up off my floor and hopefully find a nice shelf for them.
*The “Writing an Honors Thesis” packet can be found both online and in the ARC in a green binder, and it contains a lot of useful information.