Introduction to Tagging

Developing a System to Cross-Reference Articles

What is tagging?

Tagging is the term I use for assigning text tags, to literature, articles, and resources, that you may want to cite in your dissertation. Think of tags as keywords YOU assign to an article to help you cross reference it so you remember to use it later. I strongly suggest you do an abstract review in order to gain an overall picture of your topic, and to clearly determine the literature gap. At this phase in the process you’re not reading the article, only the abstract and maybe skimming portions of the article if the abstract is too vague. It is during the abstract review that you should assign tags. Using tags is a way to flag research, so you can group related articles on the same topic together. Tags are at the heart of an effective cross-referencing system.

Why should I tag the literature I read?

Have you ever gone to write a paper and thought, “Oh…I read a study that would provide evidence of this point I’m trying to make! Which article was it? Where is it? Augh!” Assigning tags to specific articles will prevent this problem. There are two purposes for developing a tagging system. First, a tagging system will keep your search for literature focused and aligned with the purposes of your paper. If you develop your tags before beginning to research, your tagging system will keep you from compiling, reading, and organizing tons of articles you’ll never use. Second, a tagging system will provide a way to compile the articles into groups aligned with specific sections of your dissertation. This way, when you are ready to dig deeply into a specific section of your paper, all the resources are organized and waiting for you. Bottom line? Tagging will save you time.

How do I develop my own tags?

Tagging is personal, so use what makes sense to you. You don’t want too many, but having too few won’t be helpful either. However, it is best to start with the end in mind. If you know what has to be in the final draft of the paper, you should gear all your research efforts to those benchmarks. Look at rubrics, checklists, and paper headings for potential tagging help.

Develop Tags that align with dissertation topic.

Here are some methods you may want to consider when assigning tags to your articles.

  1. Align tags to the chapter they fit into: mych1, mych2, mych3. (Very broad)
  2. Align tags to the APA Level 1 Headings of your paper. This requires that you know the levels, particularly the headings within the literature review portion of chapter 2. I suggest working through these with your mentor early so you have a clear view of where you are going.
  3. Align tags to the LibSubQ’s. Knowing the exact questions you need to answer in each part of the final dissertation is another way to organize tags. (See NoteTaking post for more about LibSubQs)

Here’s a further explanation of how you might use APA Level 1 Headings as tags in your paper. Essentially we’re talking about the main ideas in your Table of Contents or TOC. I would shorten the heading and put “my” in front.  For example, if you are using a bibliography software program and use “problem” as a tag/keyword, anytime the word “problem” appeared, it will be pulled up when you search. However, if your tag is “myProb” this is not a word that will come up in a generic search. This will ensure your search is narrowed to ONLY the articles YOU have identified as potentially helping you describe the problem in your study. Here are additional tags you might use for the chapters of your dissertation proposal.

Chapter 1 APA Level 1 Headings Possible Shortened Tags
Problem Statement

Purpose of the Study

Research Questions

Conceptual Framework

Nature of the Study



Scope and Delimitations













Chapter 2 APA Level 1 Headings Possible Shortened Tags
Conceptual Framework

Topic 1

Topic 2



[specific to your topic]

Chapter 3 APA Level 1 Headings Possible Shortened Tags
Research Design and Rationale

Role of the Researcher

Participant Selection


Procedures for Recruitment, Participation, and Data Collection

Data Analysis Plan

Evidence of Trustworthiness

Ethical Procedures









In the next post, I explain how to assign tags and how to link tags to research articles within a digital system, so the tags become a reliable cross-referencing tool. Read Tagging Part 2 (Coming soon!)


Abstract Review

Note Taking for the Literature Review

Walden’s Dissertation Template

PhD Dissertation Template with Qual Headings: Contains all the Level 1 (and some level 2) headings that are required for the qualitative PhD dissertation. Once in place you can right-click the table of contents (TOC) and it will automatically update with the correct page numbers.


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