In the Digital Age: How To Collect Research to Write A Paper — Fast

This is a fool-proof method for researching term papers — even if you’ve waited till the last minute to start. Yes, I’m talking about your kids and their homework — but I use this method to write every document I write for my clients.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve discovered that by using this process, that there is a sweet place you arrive at when writing the article sort of takes over and has a life of its own. Reaching this place of “euphoria” when writing will get rid of any writer’s block, and will actually motivate you to get out of bed to get started. More importantly — you will write with more accuracy and personality — and the result will be a paper that is far more interesting than if you’re writing one while “bored.”

I’m convinced that this process helps you somehow, magically, reach this place of euphoria every single time.

I came up with this system after writing quite extensively for a client who builds artificial intelligence platforms, and how they are being used to search databases to extract answers — faster than the human brain. (Just a side note here: one of the jobs that are threatened by AI is writing — in fact, there are some sports articles that are currently already being written by bots. But, interestingly, the company that is making the bots is paying an outside writer to write for them, rather than using their own bots: Reason: bots are useful for presenting data — but when you need insights and conclusions and inferences, humans work better.)

So, back to my method:

This method is based upon the traditional method we were taught years ago about collecting facts on notecards and sorting them. THat method still works — and you can still do it. But when you combine this method with technology, we can shave hours off the time it takes to do the research. The first thing you’ll need is a powerful web browser that gives you the ability to add

Here are the free electronic tools you’ll need:

  • A powerful web browser, Chrome or Firefox
    • Both have the ability to add extensions
    • You’ll be getting very familiar with the bookmarks manager
  • Diigo
    • A free browser extension that lets you collect and highlight online
  • Trello
    • This is your online notecard system
    • Not to be under-estimated
    • Can also be used as a to-do list, and as a general way to organize your entire life

Step 1: Researching

The first step is to learn. I learn primarily through reading other experts, websites, white papers, blogs and sometimes e-books. When I find a website that is valuable and important I save it as a bookmark.  Be smart about your bookmarks. If you save a bookmark to your toolbar, you’ll never be able to find it once you’ve saved 20 sites. A smarter way is to create individual folders by subject. Mine are by client: Each client gets a folder, and within each subfolder are article topics.

Each folder is named, which includes subfolders of each individual topic


This is very helpful when you need to check back to re-clarify a point, or when the teacher asks you where you found something — you’ll be able to find it quickly.

Step 2: Highlighting

Once I find a section I think will be relevant to remember or quote, I highlight the section with Diigo. Diigo also saves the website within your own library — this is a great backup. But Diigo also automatically highlights the important bits of information for you.

This is where the true time-saving efficiency comes in — in the old days, we might have taken the time to copy this information directly on the index card — or copy and paste it into a new document so that you can remember it. But once it’s in a document, it simply becomes part of a long list and you may never see it again.  

Instead, just keep highlighting as you go through the article — don’t stop to copy them — just let your mind stay absorbed on the content, highlighting new information as it becomes relevant, and keep moving.

Step 3: Collecting your highlights

When you’re done, just click the three horizontal lines, and a pop out window will appear that includes a list of all of your highlights. At the bottom of the highlight window are the magical words, “Copy All.”  One click — and like magic — you’ve copied all the important facts.

Step 4: Recording your highlights

Once you’ve copied them all (see, no typing involved yet! This is a huge timesaver!) move over to Trello. You’ll need to make a free account and create a new board. The board is simply the name of your paper, and within Trello, you can create unlimited lists: Each list will be created for each of the different “topics” or chapters, of your paper. 

You may not even know what your topics will be yet — this is still early in the game. So just create a few lists that you’ll know you’ll need: Introduction and Conclusion. Create more lists if you know what the topics will be — but no worries yet. This is enough to get you started.

No, go to the first card in the list — it can be any, but will be easy to remember if you just dump your highlights into the first list, “Introduction.” And paste onto the first card in the list– (you are pasting the list of highlights you copied from Diigo.)

I can see that I have made 13 highlights from this article — I know that because Trello is asking me if I would like to make 13 cards or just one card.  You will want a card for every highlight (so that you can move them individually around the board) — so I chose to create 13 cards.

Automatically, it’s done — Trello has just created index cards for me based on all that research I did.

Step 5: Sorting your cards

Now, even though we have just dumped all of the cards in the Introduction list — we know not all of them belong there. So, now you can go through each card, and make a decision about where each one should go. As you do this, you will discover what the “topics” are that you need to cover.

Trello makes it easy to do this — with you mouse, you can simply pick up a card and move it around.

Your “student” may resist this part — but this is where the magic begins. Reading through each note, and making a decision about what category you might put this card engages your brain into drawing conclusions — this step wakes the brain up — and I believe it’s’ where the magic starts to brew.

Step 6: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

Each time you do this, you’re getting smarter, your brain is getting new ideas…You may begin to rename your lists or rearrange some cards you moved earlier. This is part of the process.

A few notes: Have you noticed that you haven’t actually typed a word yet! This saves so much time and energy — you’re simply moving cards and waking your brain up.

Step 7:

Writing… Coming up in the next post!



One comment to “In the Digital Age: How To Collect Research to Write A Paper — Fast”
  1. Ok, i love this.
    Very helpful!

    As I am venturing into freelance writing work I am so new to all these — methodology and style plus clients preferences!

    Thank you for this!

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