To work up our material, there are a bunch of things we researchers routinely do with our notes, including

  • Sorting
  • Selecting
  • Renaming


Sorting is a special operation and activity of mind. In the asparagus fields, there are those who harvest and those who sort, and each faces their own unique problem, uses special tools, and works in certain ways. Harvesters gather everything, are adept at finding and cutting, while sorters organize by qualities. The result are boxes sorted for specific markets to better gain the best price from each.

  • Using shortcuts, sort the titles by interest and accessibility: move the titles that interest you and think the most important to the top and put the less interesting and more difficult texts to the bottom

In this way, you will have broken your problem down into smaller, bite-sized pieces, put them into a meaningful order for the moment, and done so in a way that you can open up, close, rename, and move around as you read, revise, reflect, etc.


If, for example, you were to set your goal as identifying the 2-3 most unique aspects of each article, your next task is to sort the keywords in sub-sub-heads underneath each sub-head by interest and accessibility as well

  • By limiting your goal to 2-3 elements of each, you can explore some of each in turn, and at your own pace, knowing that you can come back to any as you see fit
  • By listing your sources and topics, you’ll quickly recognize what your sources have in common, which likely will be much, so you can concentrate on understanding what might be different and so address the survey’s purpose: to compare and contrast different approaches to your problem
  • You are looking for the distinguishing features of an article and approach, its key insight or principle

This approach may appear at first superficial, because you are skipping so many details, but it is fact the opposite: you are looking for what is especially useful, and that involves analysis and so is on fact not superficial at all.

Renaming Sub-Heads

Among the most important things you can do after having surveyed your sources is rename the major sub-heads: replacing the article title with the names of topics or issues

  • A library card catalog sorts by name or title, but any discussion of issues in business starts with the issues and the titles and authors of sources are secondary: you are looking for what might deliver value, not who said it
  • Renaming sub-heads is about finding or creating relevant high-level generalizations as you would use them when discussing things with others: choose names that help organize and clarify thought and are memorable
  • When you replace titles with topics, you are transforming what others have to say: you are reframing, putting into your context, suggesting how different something might be interpreted and understood
  • Unless you simply copy and claim their work as your own, which is plagiarism and neither legal nor smart nor fun, recombining and transforming is all you can do, and that's an opportunity, because, by choice or accident, you see things differently and in different combinations. So if you start off by exploring the combinations of others in a self-conscious way, you'll soon recognize your own unique way.