Getting Started

Research papers are a conversation between you and other scholars. To write a successful one, you will need to hone several important skills: research, notetaking, analytical thinking, and writing.


Image of a pile of books for research+Image of a stack of notes to represent the notetaking process+Image of a thought cloud containing a magnifying glass, a light bulb, and a question mark to represent the process of analytical thinking+  An image of  several sheets of lined paper to represent writing a research essay


On this page you will find resources to support each of these stages. More support is available in the library, so feel free to reach out to us if you have other questions. 

Research Support

Reading and Notetaking

On this page you will find resources to help you on the "front end" of your writing journey. Most of these documents and sites focus on reading and notetaking strategies to help you build a research agenda and argument. Also included are a series of resources from the GSD and Harvard for productivity and time management. 

Questions to ask before you start reading:

1. How much time do I have for this text?

If you have more to read than you can realistically complete in the time you have, you will need to be strategic about how to proceed. Powering through as fast as you can for as long as you can will not be efficient or effective. 

2. What do I most need from this text?

Knowing your purpose will help you determine how long you should spend on any one part of that text. If you are reading for class or for research, or if you are reading for background information or to explore an argument, you will use different reading strategies.

3. How can I find what I need from this text?

Once you know what you need, there are strategies for finding it quickly, like pre-reading, skimming, and scanning.

Determining your purpose

Your purpose will become clearer if you first situate the text within a larger context.

Reading for Class

Your professor had a reason for assigning the text, so first try to understand their intention. The professor might tell you their reason or provide reading questions to direct you. You can also infer the purpose from headings and groupings in the syllabus and from how the professor has approached prior readings in past lectures. Looking ahead to how you might use the text in future assignments or projects will also help you decide how much time to spend and what to focus on.

This graphic shows how to approach determining the purpose of a class reading. First try to determine the instructor's intention, or why they assigned a text. Then look at the course context for clues. Finally, look for ways the reading might be applied in the course.

Reading for Research

For independent research, you will first need to decide if a text is even worth reading. Plan ahead by knowing what you need, like background information, theoretical underpinnings, similar arguments to engage with critically, or images and data. Check the source's date and author(s) to determine its relevance and authority. Keep your research goals in mind and try to stay focused on your immediate goals. If you discover a text that interests you but is not for this project, make a note to come back to it later. However, a source that excites your interest and changes your research goals or argument can be worth following now so long as you still have time to make that change. 

This graphic shows how to approach determining the purpose of reading for independent research. First decide how the source could relevant to you. Next, think about how the source relates to your research goals. Finally, follow your interests.


Once you decide that a source is worth your time, you will apply your choice of reading strategy based on the type of information the text contains and how you plan to use it. For instance, if you want to use a graphic or obtain biographical information, a quick search would be enough. If you want to challenge the author’s argument, you will need to read more rigorously and slowly.