Documentation During Organizing

Good documentation begins in the prewriting step. When you begin to organize, you should already have good notes where information from your sources is carefully labeled.

Organizing material from your sources is easiest when you have carefully read and processed the ideas from your sources during your prewriting step. The best organizing occurs when you put your sources aside and work only from your notes. If you are not ready to do this, go back to the pre-writing step and continue to work on your notes.

Make sure that you have separated out each idea or piece of information from your sources. In the old days people put one idea on a 3x5 “note card”—you could also use sticky notes to represent ideas you’ve typed into computer files.

Whatever method you use, devise a method for labeling each idea that will stay with that idea through the organizing, drafting, and revision. In other words, figure out a way to create a nametag for each idea from your source, and make sure if you move that idea, you move the name tag too. A good nametag might look like this (Author page #). When you organize, follow your own argument, not the argument of your sources


If you see that you plan to site the same source 3 times in a row, and the ideas are appearing exactly in the same sequence of the source, you may be following the argument of the source too closely. Go back to the Prewriting step and make sure you aren’t taking any shortcuts.

Do I need documentation in an outline?

Actually, yes! Whenever you use the ideas of another writer, it’s easiest to keep track of the source if you label it with a “nametag” and keep that tag on the idea where ever you move it. If the outline is just for you, then the nametags are just for you. If the outline is for an audience, you should identify your sources, no matter what the form.

The better your process, the more you’ll be moving your ideas around. If you always move the source, too, you won’t make any mistakes in your final documentation.

"Taking care of it later" is a bad strategy for documentation. Hunting down sources after your paper is finished adds hours to process and risks missing some. Missing identifying a source would be unintentional plagiarism.

More research?

The organizing step is often the time when writers discover they need more information to cover their topic fully.

A good outline can show the holes in your paper and send you back to the prewriting phase for more ideas.

Use your outline to figure out what questions still need to be answered.

Note: Approaching your research with specific questions is a much better research method than trying to find specific answers that might fit neatly into your argument. Try to keep an open mind during this phase of your research, even if you’ve already come up with a great thesis. If you find credible information that contradicts your thesis, consider altering your thesis, or using this new information as a carefully analyzed counterargument.