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Guide to Research and Writing for the Academic Study of Religion

Staying Organized

Staying organized while researching will help you avoid unintentional plagiarism. Effective organization means not only knowing where you have put things but more importantly, where you got things. Knowing how to take notes can help you avoid plagiarism. The following are general guidelines for note-taking. From them, develop a system that you can maintain and understand easily, whether that means using different colours, highlighters, or different symbols. Your system may evolve over time but try to keep it consistent for each project. If you change your system part way through, you may become more confused than ever!

  • Keep a research log. Record what databases you used, what keywords you used to search, and the call numbers or URL’s of your sources. This will keep you from searching databases multiple times with the same keywords and will allow you to further refine your search without revisiting old ground.
  • As soon as you have a source that you find useful, copy down complete bibliographic information. This will vary depending on the source and will be covered in later units but always includes at least author, title, and date. If you thoroughly record bibliographic information it will give you a head start on your Works Cited page.
  • When you are taking notes, always record what source and what page the note was taken from. If you have many sources by the same author and/or with similar titles, developing a code system may help you keep them straight. In this case, make sure you keep a key to decode your system! Otherwise, simply the author’s last name or a key word from the title is sufficient.
  • In your notes, indicate what is a direct quotation, what is paraphrasing, and what are your own ideas. A very simple system is to place quotation marks immediately around all quotations taken directly from the book, (para) before any paraphrasing, normal writing for summaries of material, and an asterisk to mark your own thoughts and speculations.


For instance, if you were researching the religious ethics of Martin Luther King Jr and used the system described above, your notes might look something like this:



Library Collection Search – Keyword: religious ethics – field: search everything

Comparative Religious Ethics: A Narrative Approachby Darrell J. Fasching & Dell Dechant  BJ1188 .F37 2001

published in Oxford and Massachusetts, 2001 by Blackwell Publishers.

Fasching211 – correlation of white and black with sacred and profane as context for King

Fasching211 – (para) the movement was extraordinary as King used the Gandhian principles of non-violence and civil disobedience.

Fasching213 – King studied Gandhi while in Seminary

*maybe develop link between Gandhian ethics and those of King?

Academic Search Premier – Keyword: Martin Luther King Jr. and Justice – field: default

“An analysis of the Conception of Love and Its Influence on Justice in the Thought of Martin Luther King Jr.” – Preston N. Williams. The Journal of Religious Ethics. 15-31. Fall 1990, Vol 18 Issue 2.

Williams15 – is looking at American social justice

Williams15-17 – background moral philosophy *check here later when I need the background material

Williams18 – “King believed with St. Augustine that a true state or republic is determined by its people’s love, and that without love or loyalty the state would deteriorate and finally collapse.”

Williams18 – King believed we are interdependent and interrelated

 TIP - It is very important to have enough bibliographic information for each note to be able to trace it later.