Organizing Dissertation Research

Hello to dear researchers, students, professors, associates and working professionals!

It is always an amazing experience to research and produce something of help for our fellow scholars out there. Though, we are not a direct part of any of your scholastic and pedagogical labors yet it always feels great to be some sort of indirect aid.

Ok, so today we will be organizing research notes with you.Research notes typically include research materials, reference resources and bibliography examples as you sift through the web, collecting and recording content for your research.

How to Take Research Notes the Smart Way?

Either you are working on a dissertation or writing a research paper, somewhere along the way you will be juggling your  thesis statement, introduction writing or formatting the conclusion for your thesis. The back and forth process of checking and analyzing research information can be a tedious task unless you follow an organized and self-disciplined approach which would help you in getting done with your research, faster.

Working in the offline mode, students normally opt for research note cards or research paper notes. The process involves a lot of writing and then editing and re-editing. In summing up the scenario, a lot of time is taking in organizing your research rather than writing your research.

Working With Research Notes

Working with research notes, on the internet can save you a lot of time spent otherwise in organizing materials. You can simply use one or a couple of research tools to store and record your data.

As you work in narrowing down your focus you will find yourself in need of more and more facts to back up your opinion. We always advise  to first have a bird’s eye view of all types of available opinions and speculations and then handle your angle of choice by evaluating materials available by your side.

The method of your research notes, hence vastly depends on your research methodology and the type of your research design:

  1. Quantitative (Fixed) Research Design
  2. Qualitative (Flexible) Research Design
  3. Mixed Research Methods

Collaboration and Organizing of Your Research Notes from Multiple Formats (PDF, Word, Excel and Text Files)

The premier responsibility of a research note organizer should be the ability to collect, record and organize your research notes in multiple formats. Next requisite is the ability to retrieve and use your data with ease and speed.

As per your need and requirement, you can choose between web based applications or simple browser add-ons to help you in your in handling and taking your research notes.

Helpful  Browsers Add-Ons to Organize Your Research Notes

Blue Organizer

Blue Organizer is available as a Firefox add-on and helps you to collect and record all types of content including, mp3s, documents, images, videos and podcasts etc. The tool also personalizes your research experience by looking into your browsing history and offers you valuable suggestions and resources.


EverNote is an application which comes with browser a add-on. It would help you to organize and save your research material notes by either adding clippings of web pages or saving entire URLs.


Zotero is an amazing add-on for Firefox which is very helpful for managing and organizing your bibliographies and reference materials The tool has the option to take and save your notes and analyze your research.

Web Based Applications for Managing Research Notes

Noodle Tools

NoodleTools is an excellent web based application for note-taking, outlining, citation, document management, archiving/annotation and collaborative research and writing.

Research Gate

Research Gate is a great web based organizing tools for scientific research with  collaboration and available research publications at your end for quick referencing and note taking.


Docear is is an academic literature suite. It integrates everything you need to search, organize and create academic literature into a single application: digital library with support for PDF documents, reference manager, note taking and with mind maps taking a central role. What’s more, Docear works seamlessly with many existing tools like Mendeley, Microsoft Word, and Foxit Reader

Personal Brain

Personal Brain helps you to organize your notes in multiple formats and is more of a mind mapping tool. It helps to project your ideas, notes and snippets in front of you to evaluate and synthesize from all materials, while not missing anything in your research.

Mac Based Research Note Organizers


Devoonthink is a commercial research organizing tool for Macintosh. It aims in enabling you to work in a paperless office by collecting and storing all of your data in easily accessible style.


Papers help you in downloading organizing and citing research materials and references, all from one source. The app also offers the option to collaborate with fellow colleagues and researchers for peer review and information sharing with your research notes.

Author: Julia Hallas, Doctoral Candidate

If you’re experiencing procrastination, depression, all-nighters and melt-downs… join me in my quest for the best writing tips.
My desk has been piling up with stuff – articles, books, bits of paper I ‘think’ I really need. Drafts, notes, diagrams, photocopies and sketches of my research. My rule is to only enter references and attachments into EndNote that I will use. So the problem is all the stuff that I don’t want to put into EndNote – just yet. There’s a lot of stuff on my desk that looks interesting, that I might want to use, or that I want to keep on hand – just in case. This indecision or inability to know what to do with it all is causing me stress. It is also at odds with my previous post about having a dedicated writing space. I did mention in that post that the space should be organised. The problem was that I hadn’t tackled the issue of organising effectively.

How can you organise your dissertation stuff effectively so that you can find it again efficiently?

Part of doing a PhD is learning to organise yourself, your tools and the literature you will use for your research. It’s been worrying me – how to organise all this stuff so I can find it when I need it. I’d been feeling a bit of a failure… until I learned about the April Boxes.

I was reading Robert E Stake’s – Qualitative research book (downloaded from the AUT Library to my iPad Bluefire App) ignoring the mess around me, until I hit on these words of wisdom from Stake about April Boxes. He explained how a visiting lecturer called April Munson had told his class how the boxes changed her research from being overwhelming to doable. The idea is that you identify and use the headings from information domains, research steps, topic concepts or your literature review. Whatever works for you. Draw a table on a large sheet of paper or create a table in Google docs like I did and fill it in. For example:

In all I had nine boxes. Each heading was a topic in my literature review with concepts to discuss underneath. I also included a box headed Methodology, and one called Training – for those tips I find on writing, database searching, etc.

The next step is to get a box file for each heading and label them. Then I picked up every piece of paper on my desk and filed it into the correct box file. I couldn’t believe it was so easy. I didn’t have to think twice about what went where. Every item had a box waiting for it. Within 10 minutes, my desk was clear.

Feeling successful, I moved onto my Drop box – – an app for storing your files in the cloud. I cleaned up my messy PhD folder, by creating subfolders for each heading from the April boxes. Then I moved all my soft copies into the folders. Today I’m all organised, everything can be found easily and I have a place for all those bits and pieces I expect to pick up along the way.

The real test came two days later when I came across a page of data gathering questions from a conference I attended recently. The presenter had asked us to complete the questions and hand them to her for her research project. Unfortunately I forgot to give them to her! But I decided to keep the questions because I want to analyse how she developed them. Where should I put this paper? I created a new box file called Data Gathering. Then I added to the box some notes I had taken on data gathering from an AUT Postgraduate Round Table session I had recently attended. It’s working!

Today I have a dedicated work space and it’s organised. So far so good. Next post, I am going to tackle my biggest problem yet – procrastinating when I should be writing!

By the way, Stake’s book on qualitative research was so good, I’ve ordered it from Amazon.

Stake, R. E. (2010). Qualitative research: Studying how things work. New York: The Guilford Press.



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