It is important to develop a strategy for organising and storing the information you gather for your essay, which will come from different sources and be in various formats. You will need to keep track of what you find when searching, so that you can pursue interesting sources later, keep careful records of the sources you have used and manage and store the information (whether your own notes, or copies of the original as photocopies or electronic files) so that you can locate it again.
Keeping track of your information
For each source you use, note all of the information you need for your bibliography, including author, title, date, place of publication and page numbers. This information will be slightly different for different types of source, such as books or journal articles. You may find it helpful to create a pro forma for this purpose, which you can fill in for each source.
Reference management software such as Zotero or Endnote is very useful if you like to use your computer while studying. These programmes can be used to store notes as well as the full reference information. They also automatically insert references and bibliographies into your essays. Training sessions are available from the English Faculty Library and Computing Services.
Strategies to try
Academic Libraries strictly prohibit highlighting or writing in the margins of borrowed books because it damages the book and your notes will be distracting to other students. If you feel it would be helpful to highlight or make notes alongside the text, you may wish to photocopy some sections of the books you are using. Don't forget the copyright regulations though - you may copy up to one chapter or 5% of a book or one article from a print journal for your own personal study. For set texts that you know you will need to work with for a while, you may prefer to buy your own copy. Make sure that identifying information is clearly attached to or included on the copy, especially if it is an extract from a larger work, so you know what it is and can reference it accurately.
Think about how you will locate and use your notes so that you can store them appropriately. You might want to keep all your notes on a topic together, in which case a notebook on a topic might be the best solution, or you may wish to store them together with other materials on the topic such as photocopies of articles and lecture notes, in which case a folder with loose leaves or a box file would be better. Think also about how you physically use notes that you have made - whether you like to be able to reorganise things on your desk or have several things in front of you at once. Make sure that any information you will need for referencing is accurately recorded with the notes.
Similar principles apply to producing different drafts of your work. You need to ensure that your draft does not get lost, and that it is clear which version you are working on, whether you use a notebook or loose leaves.
Managing electronic files
Making notes and copies
Some students prefer to make notes directly onto their computer rather than with a pen and paper. You can also annotate and highlight electronic copies of articles and ebooks, or scan pages from a book, eliminating the need to photocopy or print them out. You will need a system for filing this information using your computer desktop and folders, so that you can distinguish between current assignments and previous work, and find things again when you need them. Think carefully about how you name your files when you save them, so you can identify quickly what you are looking for, and search for them at a later date if necessary.
When using web pages, you could use the bookmark facility on your web browser to organise what you have found and ensure that you can find it again. You can use folders in the same way as on your desktop to make sure that the sources are organised and clear.
Backing up is essential to avoid losing data, which may represent hours or days of work. Save your work frequently, and save an additional copy elsewhere. At the very least, you should make sure that you store your work on an external device such as a data stick, external hard drive or CD ROM. Make sure you keep these items separately from your computer equipment, so that they are not lost or stolen along with your computer.
You could also use your College’s filestore on their network, email work to yourself, or use software such as Dropbox to store your documents remotely. Dropbox will also allow you to access your documents when you're working on a different computer to the one you usually use. When making copies, make sure that you do not get confused between the different versions, as you may lose work if you forget which is the most current or make changes to different versions.
These principles apply also to the drafts of your work. Make sure you can locate them easily, and are able to distinguish between different drafts. You could change the name of your file when you save a different draft by adding a number, eg Shakespeare1, Shakespeare2 etc. It is worth keeping previous drafts rather than overwriting on the same file, as you may wish to reintroduce material you change, or keep it for revision purposes.