Reading and Managing ALL Those Sources

overview of many books spread on a table


When it comes to reading and research, two things are true – you will need to do a lot of reading AND you will need to be strategic about what you do and do not read. You don’t need to read everything to be a real researcher. 

When you research to explore a topic or to discover potentially relevant sources, you can skim titles and read abstracts, introductions, or conclusions. The goal of reading at this stage is to discover major findings or arguments, and that’s it. Don’t spend time deeply reading a source until you know it is likely to be useful! Learn more about exploratory research on our Starting Your Research guide. 



Once you have found a relevant source, determine how you will be using the source so that you can connect that to your reading strategies. Learn more about reading strategies for empirical studies at our upcoming Tips for Reading Scholarly Articles Effectively workshop or with our How to Read a Scholarly Article Canvas tutorial. 


Taking Notes

One of the most important aspects of engaged reading is note-taking. Good note taking methods don’t just record information and keep you organized – they also help you to think about the information you find. Notetaking systems have varying goals: to support close reading, to synthesize across specific sources, or to track patterns of research within a broader topic. Learn about some of the different methods for taking notes for research on our Take Notes and Read Sources guide 


Tracking Sources

The best time to think about how you will track sources is before you begin your research. For smaller projects, tracking sources alongside your notes may be sufficient. If your major requires a lot of research or if you are conducting graduate or doctoral research, you need citation management. Citation managers keep your sources organized and even generate in-text and reference list citations in your documents. You can export citations directly from library databases or grab citations from the web. 

Learn more about how to use citation management with our Zotero guide and Refworks guide, or attend one of our citation management workshops 

A little bit of thinking and planning ahead of a research project can really help it to feel more manageable and enjoyable. As always, if you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck or just want to take your research to the next level, librarians are here to help. 

This post was written by Megan Heuer, director of educational initiatives for SMU Libraries. Megan leads our teaching team and is the research librarian for journalism, political science, economics, public policy, and international studies.