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Legal Research Survival Guide – Part 7: Organizing Your Research

Being an effective organizer is just as important as being an effective researcher—identifying and locating the law and commentary relevant to your research problem is only as useful as your ability to a) find that information again at a later date when it is needed and b) effectively communicate those findings to your principal, your client, others working on the file and most importantly, yourself.

Trust me – future-you will thank past-you for not having to cipher through pages upon post-its upon scraps of paper for the information you need. Thankfully, there are a handful of free, online note-taking services which can be really handy when trying to keep neat and organized notes. Here are three which the staff at the Library have reviewed (in no particular order):

Microsoft OneNote

  • Available on all devices (Android | iOS | Windows | Mac)
    • Can run into trouble when trying to switch to and from personal and work accounts
  • Flexible digital canvas
    • type, clip or write anywhere on the page
  • Designed to look and function as a digital notebook
    • Separate, colour-coded sections comprised of multiple, cascading pages
  • Insert screen clippings from the web straight into your notebook
  • Notes are searchable with the search function
  • Annotates notes with a decent collection of edit features
  • Integrates with Microsoft Office

Evernote

  • Accessible on all devices (Android | iOS | Windows)
  • Free plan does not have all features available
  • Designed to look and function as a digital notebook
    • Compromised of notes which can be organized with tags
  • Web Clipper web browser extension
    • Take screenshots from the web straight into your notebook
  • Add reminders, checklists and external files to your notes
  • Annotates notes with a decent collection of edit features
  • Does not integrate with Microsoft Office

Google Keep

  • Available for Android, iOS and online
  • More minimal when compared to other apps
  • Notes organized as digital sticky notes which can be colour-coded and labelled
  • Speech-to-text functionality using voice memo feature
  • Add texts, photos, lists and reminders to notes
  • Invite others to collaborate on your notes

And lastly here are some general pointers to help you stay focused, organized and able to back-track when needed:

  • Always record the search terms and search strings you used throughout your research process
  • Make sure to record citations and pinpoint references clearly and accurately
  • Record the sources that you referenced throughout your search, and star those which you had more success using
  • Be concise yet thorough—leave yourself notes as to why you included something in your notes if it’s not obvious
  • Date your pages—this will help you keep track of your progress
  • Don’t be an information hoarder! Having too much or unnecessary information in your notes can be confusing and overwhelming—cut things out as soon as it is clear it is not useful