Research Paper Notetaking
and Writing Guidelines
These guidelines summarize rather than substitute for a handbook on writing
research papers. Please refer to such a handbook for more detailed information
and for models of student papers. The examples here use parenthetical
in-text documentation in the Modern Language Association (MLA) style.
You should find out from your instructor whether MLA style is acceptable;
if not, consult a handbook for variations such as footnotes, endnotes,
APA style, or specialized medical or scientific documentation.
I. Notes: An effective notetaking system will save you time
later in this project.
- Remember to document each source as you work. Make a 3-by-5-inch
bibliography card for each source you consult. Record authors, editors,
titles, complete publishing information, dates and other significant
details in appropriate form.
Book: Jones, Jane. Theories of Research. New York: Random House,
Newspaper or magazine: Jones, Jane. Modern Research Methods." New
York Times14 Jan. 1983: D12-13.
Journal: Jones, Jane. "Research for Advanced Scholarship." Journal
ofScholarly Research 17 (Spring 1975): 132-147.
- Write information notes on larger cards (4-by-6 or 5-by-8 inches).
- Key each note card to the corresponding bibliography card by
writing the author's last name and the number of the page from
which you are taking information.
- Give each card a heading to reflect the content of the note,
for example, "motivation." motivation Jones 34
- Write information notes in the shortest useful form, one idea per
- Summarize lengthy passages by writing only the most important
information and the essential details.
- Paraphrase technical or complex passages by restating in your
own vocabulary in nontechnical terms. Retain the tone and intent
of the original.
- Quote the exact words of an author if they are well said, impossible
to summarize or paraphrase, or strong reinforcement of your point
through the writer's authority. You may wish to quote some passages
while you take notes and then paraphrase them later when you write
- Always place quotation marks around the exact words of another.
- Be sure to copy all punctuation and spelling exactly as
they appear in the original version.
- Use ellipsis points . . . to signal omissions and square
brackets [ ] to signal interpolations.
II. Outline: As soon as possible during your research
and notetaking, write an outline to organize your ideas and your source
material. An informal outline may use any numbering system that you
feel comfortable with (or no numbers at all). A formal outline has additional
Drafting, Editing, and Revising
- Write your thesis statement at the top of the page, being sure the
thesis states your limited topic and your precise viewpoint.
- If you are writing a formal outline, prepare either a sentence outline
or a topic outline without mixing styles.
- List major subdivisions in support of your thesis.
- Under each major heading, itemize specific supporting points, examples,
and areas of development.
- Continue to show subordinate levels of support.
- Ensure that no categories overlap, that nothing important has been
left out, and that all information is arranged in logical order.
- Unless directed otherwise, do not use the terms introduction, body,
and conclusion as outline headings since all essays have these features;
instead, include in your outline the key points of your beginning
- If you are writing a formal outline, follow these criteria.
- Topic outlines must have no independent (main) clauses and must
use parallel grammatical structure within every section and within
- Sentence outlines must have grammatically complete sentences
for every entry.
- Formal outlines must use the lettering and numbering system
illustrated in this handout, with Roman numerals for the first
level, capital letters for the second level, Arabic numerals for
the third level, and lower case letters for the fourth level.
III. Your first draft is an
opportunity to discover what you want to say and how you want to say
it. Try not to be concerned about mechanics at this stage; instead,
concentrate on clear and complete development of your ideas. Note that
typically, a first draft is really a discovery draft and that your finished
paper will be very different from this draft.
Preparing the Manuscript for Typing
- Using your outline as a guide for organization and development,
write your first draft on one side of the paper, double spacing and
numbering pages as you work.
- Write an introduction of one or more paragraphs.
- Begin with an interesting opening.
- Define important terms and present relevant background information.
- Clarify the significance of the topic.
- End the introduction with a clear statement of the controlling
idea for the paper, a thesis statement that serves as the
focus for your discussion.
- If appropriate, include a summary of the major points you
intend to develop.
- Write the body of supportthe heart of your paperconsisting of
as many paragraphs as necessary to explain and support your thesis.
- State your points as topic sentences for your central paragraphs.
Remember that every paragraph must have a clear, relevant
topic sentence that states the controlling idea of the paragraph
and that relates the paragraph's content to your thesis.
- Support all your points with sufficient examples, statistics,
and expert opinions from your own experience and observations
and from your research. Remember that a variety of sources
and a variety of examples produce the most effective support.
Never rely too heavily on a single source.
- Introduce clearly all paraphrases, summaries, quotations,
and combinations from the sources, usually by naming the source.
This introduction must be keyed to the beginning of the entry
on your bibliography card and page. In parentheses at the
end of each citation write the page number or, if sources
have no pagination, a date or other appropriate signal. Jane
Jones reports that computer data make modern research easier
than past research (37). However, Newsweek claims that the
fun has disappeared from library research ("Library Fun" 17).
One expert on scholarship, Chris Smith, doubts that Jones's
research is valid: "She didn't do enough research before writing
her article about research methods" (53). Many students agree
with Jones. Looking through printed indexes such as Reader's
Guide can take hours while searching a computer database for
magazine articles is likely to take half as long or less.
- Explain clearly the meaning and importance of all source
material so that your readers understand how the research
supports your thesis; in fact, restate your thesis periodically
for reinforcement. It is essential that you relate all source
material clearly to the point it supports. Source information
cannot speak for itself.
- Write a conclusion of one or more paragraphs to summarize your
major findings, to draw significant conclusions about the research,
to comment on significance or solutions, and to reinforce your
- Evaluate your draft carefully for content and style. If you are
using a word processor, print a draft to read on paper rather than
rely completely on the screen for editing. Revise and improve between
the lines and in the margins. You can use the questions below for
- Are all points clearly expressed in complete sentences and are
all of them relevant to your thesis?
- Have you avoided first person (I, we) and second person (you)
- Have you used consistent, appropriate verb tenses? Use present
tense to introduce sources except for logical deviations: Napoleon's
cook invented chicken marengo, reports Howard Cook (73).
- Have you used active voice verbs for directness and conciseness?
Note the difference between active (Brown discusses the problem)
and passive (The problem is discussed by Brown).
- Have you correctly documented with appropriate introductions
and parenthetical in-text citations all source materialsummaries,
paraphrases, and quotations?
- Have you provided enough authoritative support from a variety
of sources, clearly explaining the meaning and importance of each?
- Have you used appropriate transitions and reminders of your
point to provide coherence between paragraphs and within paragraphs?
- Continue drafting and revising until you are comfortable with the
content, the development, and the expression of the ideas and information.
- D. After the content is fully edited, evaluate your draft carefully
for grammatical and mechanical accuracy, including correct documentation
of sources, and make all necessary corrections.
IV. Prepare a revised draft
to serve as a guide for your final paper. Use correct margins and spacing.
- Evaluate this version the same way you evaluated your first draft,
and make revisions as necessary.
- If you are required to use footnotes or endnotes, eliminate the
parenthetical documentation of page numbers from your draft. Assign
to each use of a source a reference number, beginning with the first
mention of an outside source and continuing consecutively to the end
of the paper. 1. On separate pages draft your endnotes, using the
conventions presented in a current handbook. 2. For footnotes, use
the special guidelines for spacing from a current handbook.
- On separate paper, draft your final bibliography, listing references
in alphabetical order according to the format in a recent handbook
of research paper conventions.
- If you list only the works mentioned within your paper, head
the bibliography page Works Cited (humanities and social sciences)
or References (psychology and sciences).
- If you list both the works mentioned within your paper and additional
works consulted but not mentioned in your paper, head this page
Selected Bibliography or Selective Bibliography.
V. Using an acceptable format, prepare your final
paper. Type the paper even if the professor accepts handwritten work.
Work prepared on a word processor should look as if it were typed on
a good-quality typewriter. Use a fresh ribbon or cartridge and high-grade
white bond paper. Even erasable papers come in high-quality versions.
VI. Proofread your finished copy with care. Remember that you, not the
typist, are responsible for the final paper.
- Provide a title page, outline page, abstract, and table of contents
only if required.
- Observe all conventions for presentation: margins, page numbers,
- Pay special attention to spacing guidelines if you use footnotes.
VII. Staple the paper once in the upper left corner unless your teacher
prefers a clip or binder.
- Read once to double-check clarity of meaning and effectiveness of
- Read at least once slowly to locate any remaining grammatical, mechanical,
punctuation, or spelling errors (remember that typing errors will
be considered spelling errors).
- Minor corrections may be handwritten neatly in ink. If corrections
are extensive or messy, retype the page.
August 4, 2003