Organization & Time Management

When writing an academic paper, and in particular a long paper such as a senior thesis, it helps to be organized. There is no single solution for everybody. All of us have our own organizational styles. That said, it can be helpful to review what others have found useful.

General Tips

adapted from Erica Chenoweth

Making time for thesis work

  1. Identify your top five time-wasters; try to cut back on at least one
  2. Identify your best time of day for reading and writing


  1. Set small and achievable goals (i.e. “I will write five pages this week” or “I will write 750 words each day”).
  2. Do mundane tasks first
  3. Work in the same place
  4. Avoid distractions and use them as rewards
  5. Carry a notebook with you to write down thoughts as they come up
  6. Use waiting time to read or write down your thougths
  7. Treat your project as a part-time job

Making the most of your reading

  1. Use flags in library books and highlight articles
  2. Add the book or article into a bibliographic document or program, along with the relevant quotes or ideas from the book
  3. Cut yourself off from reading in December


  1. Make regular appointments with your advisor
  2. Establish benchmarks for progress
  3. Exchange completed work with other thesis-writers
  4. Ask for help when you need it!


  • Mortimer J. Adler’s (1940) How to Read a Book is not very short but it is valuable. One of the things he does, for instance, is distinguish between “three distinct readings”. Structural, or analytic, reading proceeds from the whole to the parts. Interpretive, or synthetic, reading, proceeds from the parts to the whole. Critical, or evaluative, reading involves judgments by the reader. There is also a newer version of this book, co-authored with Charles Van Doren, which outlines four reading styles
  • Hampshire College: “How to Read a Scientific Research Paper”
  • Matthew Cornell: “How to read a lot of books in a short time”

Project Management and Tasks

Software and Technology

Two other great resources for information about software and technology relevant to our academic work are Lifehacker and Profhacker.  A search of their blog posts can reveal some great resources, many of which are free.

Bibliographic Software. There are a lot of options out there, especially if you want to pay money. Zotero is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, cite, and share your research sources. EndNote is a citation management system designed to keep track of references in your research. It offers many different reference types, including journal articles, books, conference proceedings, maps, and theses. You can import references directly from many online databases, copy and paste from online citations, or manually type in the reference. Other reference software. There are quite a few options, many of which are specific to certain operating systems.  Wikipedia has a decent reference software comparision. Most of these are not free.  Two great Mac programs are Bookends (used by this writer) and Sente.

Note-Taking. It is a great idea to figure out a note-taking system for yourself. There are a lot of different tools for establishing such a system, from the ever-popular pen-and-paper to software solutions such as EverNote. Lifehacker has a number of posts about note-taking options, including: Best Note Taking Apps for Students.

Data Analysis. Among political scientists, STATA, SPSS, and R are the most popular software packages for statistics. R takes a little more effort to learn, but has the advantage of being free.

Project and Task Management. Completing a major research project is not a simple task. There are many different steps to getting there and it is useful to put a system in place to manage your project. Lifehacker: “Five Best Personal Project Management Tools”

updated July 12, 2017 – MN