How To Summarize and Organize Literature

It’s important to summarize and organize the literature that you read for a research project. This article contains 9 useful points for summarizing and organizing that literature.

This article is heavily based on page 74 of Kamp, et al. Writing History!: A Companion for Historians (2018). I’ve changed some of the names of the points, as well as reworded/added to some of the descriptions of the points.

Things to include:

1 – Title

2 – Keywords

3 – Research Purpose

4 – Context

5 – Argument

6 – Conclusion

7 – Historical Information

8 – Sources

9 – Citations

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1 – Title

Include the citation that you’ll be using to cite this work.

2 – Keywords

Include key words/topics/themes. A work on chronology might be tagged with keywords such as “chronology”, “timekeeping”, “dating methods”.

3 – Research Purpose

Note what the author was aiming to do by writing the work. Was their research driven by a question? A goal? What was the question/goal?

4 – Context

Take note of the context in which this work was produced. Include notes on previous works that this one builds upon, and how this new work ties into the previous ones.

5 – Argument

Take note of how the research was conducted and how the argument was formulated.

6 – Conclusion

Take note of the conclusions reached by the author.

7 – Historical Information

“Take notes of information such as dates / population figures /historical trends and changes.”

8 – Sources

Take note of the different types of sources used in the work. Different types of sources include books, journal articles, diaries, audio recordings, and other sources.

After listing out the different types, organize the work’s citations into the categories. This can help visualize how many of each type of source is used.

9 – Citations

Take note of how often each author is referenced in the work you’re reading so that you can get a picture of who is being cited the most in that work.

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