Using a Chart
There are a few different methods that you can use to organize your notes. One method involves making a chart. Your chart might be one that covers an entire wall, or one that only covers a standard-sized piece of paper, depending on the amount of notes you took. The main point is to allow enough room to divide your notes into distinct sections. Then, when you write the paper from your notes, you simply look at one section of your chart at a time.
How to Use a Chart
You need a chart big enough to hold all your notes. If you first spread your notes out, you can make an estimate as to how big the chart has to be. On this chart, write headings for each of your sections. Then place your notes under the appropriate headings. You can do this in one of two ways. You can rewrite all of your notes onto the chart in the proper sections, or simply glue the notes onto the chart. Gluing is easiest if you used index cards, but it is still possible if you wrote your notes on regular sheets of paper. Because you only wrote on one side of the paper, you can cut out each note and glue it to your chart. It can be helpful to draw a thick line between sections so that when you begin writing the first draft, there is no confusion about where a note belongs.
Can I use a chart to record my notes right from the beginning?
Yes, but you would need to have some prior knowledge of where the research would take you. You would need to either set up sections ahead of time, or pick out what they would be as you research. This is tricky, but it can be done.
If you took all of your notes on the computer, it is still possible to use the chart concept. Simply print your notes, cut out each one, and glue them onto the chart. This can be preferable to organizing your notes on the computer because it is easier to see the entire project at once. Students who are more visually oriented often have difficulty with organization if they can only see what is shown on one computer screen at a time.
Pros and Cons
Using a chart has its advantages and disadvantages. Writing the actual paper can be quite a straightforward process with a chart in front of you. You have all the similar ideas for one section right there. You can see what other sections you have, so you can set up the paper to progress from one section to the next. It is also easy to stay on topic if you have a constant reminder of what the other sections will cover. Following the chart ensures that you won't begin discussing something that belongs in another section.
On the down side, creating a chart is a time-consuming process, particularly if you recopy all of your notes. Even if you glue the index cards or cut-out notes onto your chart, it still takes many hours to organize your notes this way. It also takes up a lot of space, not only to create the chart in the first place but also to lay out the chart so you can use it to write your paper.