Monday, July 4, 2011

How I Organize my Research

I just finished polishing my book of Canadian biographies for middle grades. I’m super excited because this will be my first very own book! I’ve been published in compilations but I can’t wait to see my name on the cover of this one. Exciting stuff. (Release date to be announced soon!)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing a book, it’s that I’ve got to be organized. I’ve learned to reduce the amount of paper on my desk, and make use of digital ways to keep track of my research and keep it accessible. Here are a few tools I use.

LiveBinders helps me keep track of websites. With LiveBinders I can make as many folders as I like and keep them private or public. I have folders for everything from research topics, teaching ideas, writing project ideas, dream vacations, and interior decorating.

I also use a program to create a bibliography. Since I’m taking college classes, I can use my college’s online program called Noodle Tools. I just plug in the information and it creates it all by itself. If you don’t have access to something like this, you can also use the bibliography feature in your word processing program, but you'll have to check the MA and APA guidelines to make sure your program is up to date. There is an online bibliography tool, BibMe, but I haven't used it myself to see if it formats for APA or MA. What's cool about BibMe is that you can use the ISBN number of your books and it automatically plugs in the information from that book.

I highly suggest entering your resource information into the bibliography as you go along to save time later when the deadline crunch is on.

Why a bibliography? In fiction, you may want to refer your readers to the sites you used in your research via your blog. In non-fiction, many publishers require one, depending on the subject.

I know that a lot of writers like to use Evernote. Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers swears by it. I'm just beginning to master the program and I love it. You can clip web pages and write your own notes right beside them. It’s also mobile and accessible on your smart phone and you can e-mail your clips, pictures and notes straight into your folders. For a little more help in learning your way around it, check out the Evernote blog. I'm using it for my next project and so far I can already see how helpful it is in keeping me organized and inspired.

Another nifty online tool is the Awesome Highlighter. This website allows you to highlight portions of a website you want to  keep. You can copy the highlighted parts to your clipboard or e-mail them to yourself. I don't use this because it's one of the things you can also do in Evernote. But for someone who can't find their way around Evernote, this is handy and super easy.

I still use real-world notebooks, folders and books for my research.  When I write historical subjects, I usually have to buy my books used (either off of Amazon or ebay). I mark the useful portions in the margins with a bold highlighter and/or with a post-it note. I sometimes buy artifacts off ebay, such as postcards or newspaper articles from the time period. It’s always a treat when a used book arrives with old newspaper article about the subject tucked inside. This happens quite often and is another perk of buying old used books.

I only keep one binder for the resources I’ve printed off the Internet. When the binder is full and I’m finished with that particular section of research, I throw the papers away. I can do this because I’ve already saved the resource digitally on my computer and in my bibliography. So far, I've never regretted getting rid of the paper. (Yes, I do recycle.)

One thing I do struggle with is which books to keep and which to let go. If I hoard anything it's good books. I'm of the opinion that one can never have too many books or too many shelves to keep them on. (Note the tiny portion of  my to-the-ceiling shelves in the above pic.) I do have a Kindle that I enjoy, but I still love my three-dimensional, real world, smell-the-ink books.

I’d love to learn what you use to keep up with your investigations. How do you keep your research organized? Do you prefer digital or physical resources and files? Which books do you keep and which ones do you let go? How do you decide? This curious book-hoarder wants to know!

Karla Akins is a pastor's wife, mother of five, and grandma to five beautiful little girls. She lives in North Manchester with her husband, twin teenage boys with autism, and three crazy dogs. Her favorite color is purple, favorite hobby is shoes, and favorite  food group is cupcakes.


  1. Oh, to be organized! I have organized confusion which makes sense to me but looks chaotic to the rest of the world. Lots of good tips here that I'm going to check out!

  2. Great post, Karla! You are sooooo organized! I print things up and keep them organized in notebooks. I also have a lot of links bookmarked, but nothing like what you're doing. Maybe that's why I don't write stuff that requires a bunch of research. :-)

  3. Wow, you're so organized! Great tips. And congrats on your Canadian biographies--I grew up in Canada, so you've piqued my interest!