Sunday, 4 September 2011

Thing 14 - Reference management tools (and how to manage your dissertation references)

In my previous job I provided reference management training for staff and students on EndNote, which was our institution's chosen reference management software. Although our main focus was on EndNote, we also explored other options, both paid for and free. I have previously tried each of the featured tools from CPD23 - Zotero, Mendeley and CiteULike. I'm particularly interested in the development of Mendeley - I love the watched folder feature and they are involved in some really interesting projects to integrate with other systems (of particular relevance to academic libraries).

Whilst I was doing my dissertation, I chose to use EndNote to manage my references (the desktop software, not EndNote Web).

My EndNote library
I had some interesting discussions on Twitter about how I did this so I thought I'd take the opportunity to outline the process I used:
  1. Save all documents (reports, articles etc.) in one folder (I used Dropbox so that I had access from anywhere) using a standard file structure (I used the author's surname and the year of publication e.g. Alcock_2011). As a side note - I've just discovered that Mendeley can rename files for you which I may have to check out.
  2. Add an EndNote record for each reference to your EndNote library immediately after saving and attach a copy of the document to the record - you can either create the record manually, or export the records from many databases (but make sure you double check the details if exporting).
  3. Add the record to a 'To read' folder so that you can keep track of your reading.
  4. After reading the document add research notes to the EndNote record including quotes (along with their page number) if you come across some you may wish to use, add any relevant keywords (to help later retrieval), remove from your 'To read' folder and add to any other relevant folders if you wish (you might want to set up subject groups).
  5. Set up groups within EndNote for references from each chapter of the dissertation (you can probably do this with Smart Groups using tags in the records but I just did it manually by dragging and dropping).
  6. Have a catch all bibliography group which contains all references from each chapter (just select all references from each chapter's group and drag and drop onto the catch all group to ensure they're all in there). 
My reference groups within EndNote
Using this method means you can: 
  • Access your articles from anywhere (from your filestore in Dropbox or directly from your EndNote library which you may also choose to save in Dropbox if you're working at multiple computers that have EndNote software installed)
  • Use EndNote's search functionality to find articles based not only on their author or title but also the content (even better if you export the records from databases as this often includes the abstract and subject headings so you'll have those in addition to your own research notes in there)
  • Amend the reference style as necessary for all your records at once (there are plenty of styles already in EndNote but it's also pretty straight forward to create your own or edit an existing one if your department uses a slight variation of a common style)
  • Create reference lists for each chapter (useful when sending chapter drafts to your supervisor)
  • Create a full bibliography for the dissertation

After writing my first full draft of my dissertation, I had to completely change the structure from a traditional scientific approach (Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology, Results, Discussion, Conclusion) to a thematic approach. There was a lot of moving content around and adding/deleting references as appropriate to the new structure. I was so glad that I had everything in EndNote so it was just a case of dragging and dropping into my new chapter groupings.

I'm sure you could use a similar system for any of the reference management tools, but I chose to use EndNote due to familiarity and the fact that I was a little wary of relying on a relatively new or cloud-based system in case of problems. I know everyone has a slightly different system, but I hope some of this is useful  - I was certainly glad I didn't have to spend hours manually organising and writing references as I was finishing my dissertation.

1 comment:

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