Organising your information
It is one thing to take effective notes, but you also need to organise this mass of information you have gathered from your reading so that it helps you to:
(a) identify patterns and relationships between the various sources; and
(b) retrieve the information you need easily - and for this, you need to index it.
Grouping your notes
To do this you need to reflect on the themes and arguments emerging from your critical reading. This can provide the basis of organisation and start to pull together what may seem at first a disparate set of notes, into a coherent whole. Once you have established a framework for grouping your information, develop some overviews, which summarise the key themes and approaches of different authors. This can help when you come to writing up the review.
Separate from your notes themselves, you should also keep an index of the sources you have consulted. Each entry should contain the following information:
• full reference details of the source (author, date, title, publisher);
• a very brief summary of the key points/ideas/themes, etc.;
• perhaps, two or three key quotes (with page numbers);
• a note on its potential value in relation to different themes/ ideas, etc.
It is useful to think about how to organise your index right at the beginning, even though your original framework is likely to change as your review continues and your understanding of the subject area develops. For example, it is perhaps best to have a master index, and then sub-indexes organised around the main themes and ideas you have identified. Entries will need to be cross-referenced to ensure that you bring out the appropriate connections.
There are two main approaches to indexing:
• using a card system - in which case you will need to be very concise in the information you record; or
• using a computer database - in which case there is the possibility of linking the index to separate word processing files containing the notes themselves (and this can help in actually writing the material up).