Research Note Cards

Compile your research on index cards
to simplify your research process —


When writing a research paper, the final result depends on the effectiveness of your research. Many beginning writers search the internet and copy 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 valuable time, as well as ensures a better research essay.

Many instructors require students to use note cards for research, as note cards are an excellent method to keep careful records of your research. Utilizing note cards makes it easier to keep track of sources, and simplifies the process of creating a Works Cited page if you’re following MLA guidelines, or a Reference page if you’re following APA.
Once you locate a source you think you would like to include in your paper, evaluate the source, thinking how you might utilize it in your paper. Once you have determined the source is reliable and credible, jot down a few bullet points that you might want to include in your paper.

Index cards are a great way to take and save research notes. In the example below, a “code” is used in the upper left corner to indicate the topic, “Cacao Tree”:


In the upper right corner of the example above, the source and any identifying information is listed, including page numbers.

In the center of the card, place the fact, thought, or quote you want to include in your paper. In the example above, the writer has used a bullet-point list to include the major details. You can also paraphrase or directly quote the information you want to use in your paper. Taking time to paraphrase now will save you time in the writing stage.

When complete, the index card should have all of the information you need to begin formatting your outline and begin to write your paper.

Below is another type of note card format. This example places the author and page number at the bottom right; the descriptive heading is at the top, and the source information centered:

note 3

Some writers find it useful to write the full bibliographic information on a separate card for use in compiling the Works Cited page. An alternative is to write the full bibliographic information on the back side of the note card. You might also find it useful to use color-coded cards to easily organize your paper. Below is another example that shows an alternative note taking strategy that includes a direct quote:


There are many different ways to utilize note cards, but one thing is certain: the more effective your note taking skills, the more effective your paper.