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SPARK: Gathering Information

A resource for students wanting to improve their academic and research skills.

Gathering Information

When gathering information for your assignments and before you begin to take notes, determine your purpose for taking notes. While taking notes, it is particularly valuable to record how and where you might use the information and ideas you have located. For help in finding sources see the Research Strategies module.

Ask yourself each question below and review each section to learn more.

How will what I note now be useful to me later?

In the early stages of your research, take notes in order to:
  • identify key passages or ideas from readings
  • identify in your own words which sources and ideas you want to explore more deeply after your initial reading
  • record quotations or ideas that you might be able to use or directly reference in your paper
  • indicate how/where you might use the selected information

Will I still need to go back to the original source?

There is no method of note-taking that guarantees you will not have to return at some point to the original source. For this reason be sure to record along with your notes the author, title, date, and exact location of the information you may use in your paper (e.g., helpful insight on income inequality, p. 32, 3rdpar., Thompson, Canadian Social Justice, 2004). This will save you time if you have to return to the passage again later.

Resist the temptation to copy all of the information in the author’s exact words. Instead, capture the essence of the key ideas as they relate to your paper, in your own words. It is still important to record the source information even if you intend to paraphrase rather than quote. If you do record a direct quote, be sure to identify it with quotation marks or in some other fashion.

How does this information relate to my topic?

Always keep your purpose in mind as you select information from the readings to include in your notes. Wherever possible, also note how or where you might use this information in your paper (e.g., useful background info for intro). Thinking ahead like this, from the earliest stages of your research, will help you keep on topic, develop your arguments, and shape your paper.