When I say “all your writing,” I mean it: save everything, from short responses to full-blown research papers. Eventually, you will most likely be asked to produce a writing sample (for a Professor, for a job application, the list goes on). Having all of your work organized in one location will make your life so much easier when that day comes!
I make sure to save all of my work two ways: in print form and on the computer. You should explore different systems to figure out what works best for you, but here’s how I organize things in case you want to use my method as inspiration:
I create a folder for the semester (e.g. “Spring Semester 2010”) and then add folders within it for each class I am taking during that semester.
I then subdivide the class folders according to assignments.
Each individual assignment (in this case, the final paper for my Hinduism/Islam class) generally has a few documents associated with it. I always include a brainstorming/outline document, where I dump all of my thoughts about what I am going to write. When appropriate, I also include a quotations document, where I collect any quotations (with page numbers!) that I might use. In the above example, I collected all of my notes on the readings in a separate “Notes” folder. I always save my bibliography as a separate document. Additionally, I make sure to save each draft of my work separately. If you are constantly making changes to the same document, by the time you get to the final draft you’ve lost everything you wrote at the beginning. I find it helpful to save copies of each stage of my work because it’s incredibly insightful to look back on a first draft and see how your thought process transformed. Also, I often find that I want to reincorporate discarded pieces of my earlier drafts, so it’s helpful to know I always have those pieces on hand.
Because computers can be finicky (and always at the worst possible times), I highly recommend backing up your work. There are tons of resources you can use: an external disk drive, GoogleDocs, Wesfiles, etc. Expect a post in the near future providing more details.
Finally, in addition to the digital files, I like to keep a printed record of my work for the semester. In particular, it is invaluable to save graded papers with your Professors’ comments. First of all, you might be asked to produce such a paper when applying for various jobs, fellowships, etc. Moreover, keeping a record of what Professors have to say about your work can help guide you to improve.
I store my old work in an accordion folder (you can find some examples here, here, and here) with a different individual folder for each class. Whenever I need to check an old grade or look up old comments, I just pull the accordion folder out from under my bed.
Again, this is what works best for me personally. Play around with your options until you find a system that works best for you! And let me know in the comments if you think of something particularly insightful (some way to color-code everything, perhaps?). I’m always on the lookout for more efficient organization strategies!