Research #3: Keeping track of online sources

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From the beginning of this project – when it was still a tiny germ in my mind – I knew that one of the most important things I needed to do was keep track of all my sources of online information.

It’s not enough to create bookmarks of websites, blogs, database articles, etc. Online material changes, it may get deleted or moved. I therefore keep a Research Master File, using either a Word table or Excel spreadsheet.

For every piece of info. I find online that might be useful, I note:

  1. The title of the article, paper or file and the author name.
    In this way, if worst comes to worst, I can probably track it down again later with just this information.
  2. The name of the website and its url.
    Both is better than just one or another. 
  3. The date I last accessed it.
    This is important. One of the last things I do before I submit a piece of work that is based on online research is check all those links again so I know whether they are current and I can rely on them for fact checking or for including in the body of the final work.
  4. A few notes about the most important content and how and where I think I might use it.
    It’s quite likely that I find something that I think might be useful at one point, but weeks later forget all together a) what I was looking for when I found it or b) why I thought it might be useful.
  5. The name of the hardcopy folder when I’ve saved a printed copy of the article or page*.
  6. A column, left blank at this point, where I can later note where this information is used (chapter and/or page#) in the final  MS .

I know this creates a lot of paper, but I then *print out a copy of the website page or article, date it, and file it in the appropriate hardcopy folder. This may seem unnecessary duplication and a waste of paper, but sometimes it’s quicker just to grab the hardcopy to review rather than to go back to the source, and I need to have a copy in case the electronically archived/bookmarked material disappears.

Lastly, I create an electronic bookmark, saved in a named folder, so I can find the source material again if I need it without resorting to the Research Master File or my hard copies.

(I do also from time to time print out a copy of the list all the bookmarks for this project, which I will admit might be ‘surplus to requirement’).

Sounds like a lot of work, and perhaps OTT organization. But I find that starting out by developing processes for documenting and archiving research sources and content saves me the time and effort of having to make it up as I go along.

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