After I’ve done some interviews and gathered up some electronic documents, all carefully footnoted, I take a break from gathering to do some mid-process processing of the material I’ve gathered so far. How soon I do this after I start my research, and how often I do this, depends largely on the expected length of my document — sooner and more often for shorter docs.
For this stage, I make a new document in the top level of project’s folder, and I give it the lofty name “Jewels.” Here is where I put the quotes and facts from all my interviews and documents notes that I think I will actually use in the piece. Here, for example, is “Wal-Mart jewels” that I made while researching “God and Satan in Bentonville,” the piece I wrote about Wal-Mart for Playboy in 2003. (For some reason, I don’t have that story on my “Articles” page — I’ll do my best to fix that soon — but on this page is a link to a story that the New York Times, of all papers, wrote about it.)
By the time you’re done reading all the interviews and documents you have to date, you should be able to fill up a few single-spaced pages Now, when you’re writing, you’ll be looking at just a few dense pages instead of splashing around in all your notes, feverishly looking for that quote about the cordwood. Again, footnote every individual jewel on the page so that the footnoting is all done when you’re writing your piece/proposal/book chapter.