Using Notecards to Simplify Research

imagesCAAKZ039(Originally published Feb. 2012)






When writing a research paper, the end result depends on the effectiveness of your research. Many beginning writers search online databases and web pages, printing  piles of articles, but fail to take notes as they read. Beginning writers might think they’ll be able to recall what they have read, but without taking careful notes, time is wasted that could be spent writing. When you sit down to write, you’ll have to thumb through pages and pages of articles and try to guess what the purpose of saving them was in the first place. Taking effective notes during the research process saves time and energy, and ensures a well thought-out essay.

Notecards taken on 3×5 lined index cards are an excellent method to keep careful records of your research. Utilizing notecards makes it easier to keep track of sources and simplifies the process of creating a Works Cited page.

Once you locate a source you think you would like to include in your paper, evaluate the source, thinking how you might utilize the information. Once you have determined the source is reliable and credible, jot down all of the information you will need for your paper.

Getting Started

Index cards can be used several different ways. In the example below, separate cards are used for the quote and source information. A number is placed in the upper left-hand corner of the card, which corresponds to the source. When it’s time to create an outline and organize your paper, the source information will be numbered in the order of use for easy access.

In the upper right corner, write the call number (if a book) and/or the author’s name. You can also include any other identifying information, including page numbers:

Ex. 1

In the center of the card, place the fact, thought or quote you want to include in your paper. You might use a direct quote, a paraphrase, or you might want to use a bullet-point list of facts or data. If you choose to paraphrase, taking time to thoughtfully paraphrase or summarize now will save you time in the writing stage.





Another way to format your research notecards is shown below. This example is similar to the example above, but here the writer has written whether the information is quoted, paraphrased, or summarized in the lower right corner:

Ex. 2

Some writers find it useful to write the full bibliographic information on a separate card (Ex. 1) for use in compiling the Works Cited page.  An alternative is to write the full bibliographic information on the back side of the notecard, though some writers feel two-sided notecards can be confusing. You might also find it useful to use color-coded cards to easily organize your paper.

Regardless of what format you use, be consistent to avoid confusion later. Your completed card should have all of the information you need to begin to format your outline and begin to write your paper

There are many different ways to utilize notecards, but one thing is certain – the more effective your note-taking skills, the more effective your final paper.

Have you used notecards for research?
Have you formatted them differently than our examples?
Tell us how!



4 comments on “Using Notecards to Simplify Research

  1. Wolfe says:

    Thank you so much. This helped a lot. :)


  2. […] records so you don’t have to go back and try to find where all your sources came from. Keep research note cards, photocopy materials, or keep a detailed research […]


  3. Hi. I didn’t see an e-mail address so I hope it’s okay I’m asking here. I wondered if I could get your permission to use your picture (example 2) on my blog. I can link back to this website in the photo credits. Thank you in advance.


    • E. Mack says:

      Sorry for my slow reply, but we’re away for the summer. You are welcome to use it; I believe it’s originally from a library site (.edu) & since we’re also an educational institution, can use for educational purposes.


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