Organizing Research Material

Shumi Shetty

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How do you organize your research materials that you use to keep upgrading your content? I normally highlight good points when I read a book, get it typed into a separate Word document meant for research on a specific topic. I also give subheadings. What about when you want to capture points from CDs—do you just jot down the notes or get that CD transcribed? In short, how do you go about collecting and organizing your research materials from the various media you read and listen to as a part of your content development?

— Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

I do a lot of research and I’m fairly old school about it because I find it works. It also depends on whether I’m sitting in my office or on a plane. When I makes sense I just photocopy the passages I want (I have a copier) and then jot down the appropriate citation info. I may highlight or underline or even jot notes on the pages. Then when I’ve got a chunk of pages or pages from different books on the same topic, I just scan them. I have an app that allows me to append many pages into one PDF, and then I file them (electronically) with appropriate names etc. I will usually keep the hard copies in a paper file while I’m still writing but (and this is important for me!) then I throw them out. I still have all the stuff digitally. If it’s something especially important I put a PostIt flag (the tiny ones) in the book. I haven’t tried it but you could also read it into DragonSpeak and let the computer do all the work.

On the plane, I may actually copy passages by hand as well as highlight or underline and flag the book. I do this more to lock things into my porous brain than anything else. Then I just dump the notes unless there is something juicy and then I go through the scan routine. I’m sure there are less labor intensive ways of doing things but I find these also help me re-read and think about things so I don’t forget.

— Graham Jones

I use Evernote ( It comes as a free-standing program, a Web service and a smartphone app. All of your notebooks in each of those services stays synced automatically and you can add PDFs, audios, Web pages, handwritten notes, scanned documents or just type in stuff directly. You can even share notebooks with other people. Great for collecting a pile of information to share with your audiences. There are plenty of tips on using Evernote.

It is free, though the paid service (which I have been using for several years) has more storage and is advertising-free.

Evernote also has a function called “clearly” which strips Web pages of all distractions, except the text you want to read.

In terms of organizing research material there is nothing to beat it. Goodness me...shouldn’t they be paying me for saying things like that...?

— Cynthia Kyriazis

Try using’s a wonderful product.

— Karen Wright

I collect huge piles then madly go through it all to highlight what I want to save for the future, then rip out those pages, put them in a huge “to file” pile and then ignore it forever. I say this with a bit of humor, but I’d have to say that it’s more accurate than not! Unfortunately. I sat down last night with a pile about 18" tall to read through. And as I sat there I thought, “Why don’t I just toss this nagging pile in the garbage! I’d feel better being out from under that load of reading that I never get to, and I’ll never know everything, so it’s unlikely that whatever is in this pile will make much difference in my life.” Afraid I’m getting a bit burnt-out on information overload.

— Donald Cooper

I capture all info and photo examples on PPT slides and file the slides by topic and/or by industry. I work principally in the areas of management and marketing and I speak in over 40 different industries. So, if I develop an insight or create a graphic on either of those topics I create a PPT slide and place it in the appropriate place in my PPT master file. If the insight relates to a specific industry, let’s say tourism and hospitality, I place that slide also in my master file for that industry.

When I create programs for clients, after doing my client or industry research, I go through my master files and draw out the insights and examples that will best serve. As I create 80 to 100 tailored speeches each year, this is a hugely efficient way to build great programs that work. This means that I’ve very slide driven...but I’ve learned how to make that work well for me and for the audience. I now have about 8000 slides in my master files. I know of no other way to capture, retain and access so much info and create great programs quickly and easily.

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