When you prepare a report, PowerPoint presentation, speech, spreadsheet, or any work-related document, chances are it will include details you’ve found on the web or in other documents, answers you’ve received from colleagues, and data you’ve tracked down from other outside sources.
Suggestion: Create a separate folder just for that document, which includes all outside research you’ve gathered. The folder should include the document file itself, plus all research files — PDFs, white papers, even emails from colleagues who supplied you with answers to your research questions.
You should also create a “links” document, in which you place the links to all web pages where you found information you used in your document. You might also want to include below each link a short summary of the data/stat/quote/whatever you pulled from the website. For example, below one link you might write, “FBI 2009 stats on ATM-related robberies; used on slide 16 of my presentation.” This way, when you open the links page, you’ll know at a glance what each link contributed to your main document, and you won’t need to open up each web page again to remind yourself.
Another great thing about this method is that once you’ve created a separate folder just for the document you’re working on, you can throw all sorts of files into it that you might not otherwise even think to capture and save. For example, if you’re doing research and come across a hardcopy of a report with a statistic you want to use — but you have only the printed version and can’t find an electronic copy — maybe you’ll want to take a photo of the report’s cover, then another photo of the page showing your research findings. When you have a standalone folder for your project, decisions like this become easy. Just photograph what’s relevant, dump it into the folder, and you can always refer back to it or prove your findings later if necessary. If your project requires you interview a colleague, you might ask permission to record the call, then drop that audio file into your document folder.
Remember: There’s always a possibility that you will need to refer to those original research sources later — for an update to your PowerPoint presentation, for example, or because a co-worker asks you where you found a specific statistic. If you’ve captured it all at the time you were working on your original document and placed it in your document’s folder, you won’t have to hunt it down later.
That’s how I do it, anyway. How about you? Any suggestions or clever tricks you’ve found for keeping track of all that research? Please share.