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The Index Card System: A Perfect Way to Organize your Science Research

May 20, 2024 2 min read

The index card system is a perfect way to organize your research for any science report or research paper.

In high school, one of my teachers taught me a method for using index cards in the research phase of writing reports. Through my college years, it developed into what I now affectionately refer to as the index card system.

In a nutshell, this method uses index cards for recording facts, and then organizes these cards into a straightforward outline that the students can draw from when writing their paper.

I don’t hold the market on this system, as I’m sure I’m not the first to use index cards to prepare for a research report or paper. However, I thought I would take a moment to share this simple technique for organizing research with you.

The Index Card System: A Perfect Way to Organize your Science Research

The index card system is a perfect way to organize your research for any science report or research paper.


The students will need to begin their research project by selecting a topic for research. Once they have that, they need to choose several categories into which their information will fall. These will help them organize their index cards and help them know how to determine what information is important to their project and what is not.

For example, if the student is researching for a science fair project where his question is, “Which soil is best for house plants to be grown in?” He could come up with the following research categories: 

  • Soil Components
  • Plant Growth
  • Plant Structure
  • Types of Soil

Once they have chosen their categories, have them assign a number for each one. Then, hand them a stack of index cards.


Now the students can delve into the available material on their chosen subject.

As they uncover bits of relevant data, they can write one fact in their own words on an index card. They should number each card at the top left with the category in which it fits. Then, they should assign a letter for each reference they use and write that in the right-hand top corner of each card.

Index Card System for Researching from Elemental Science

This way, after they organize and sort their cards, they will know which references they need to include in their bibliography. So, their index cards would look like the ones below:

Sample Index Card for Researching from Elemental Science


Once the students have finished their research, they need to organize the cards to prepare for writing their report. They can sort their cards into piles using the research categories, which are in the top left-hand corner.

Then, have them read through each of the facts to determine the most relevant pieces of information from each pile. You may need to help them as they decide which ones pertain to their project and which do not.

This process will leave them with an informal outline that can serve as the basis for their report.

The Final Product

The index card system can work for any type of research project that your students have been assigned. Whether your student is just gathering facts for a science fair project or writing a research report, they will find the index card system to be an indispensable tool.

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