Monday, 5 September 2011

Week12, Thing 21: Reference Management, part 1

Sounds like a very fancy thing, doesn't it?
Obviously, as a librarian, there's nothing I like more than seeing a well-ordered, beautifully-formatted list of references but I don't necessarily enjoy the sweat and tears involved in producing such a list. That's where reference management software comes in.

It's worth knowing about some different programs in order to help students or researchers who might find them useful for essays or dissertations but it's also worth thinking about projects within the library for which such tools might come in handy. We've used them in the Parker Library to organise a bibliography of works citing our manuscripts. And we're planning to set up another database of works produced by Fellows and alumni of the College.

I'm going to look at three different programs that you might want to try: RefWorks, Endnote and Zotero.

But first some basic points common to all of them.

There are three elements to using the software: input, organisation and output.

1. Input: These days this is rarely about manually typing entries into fields of a database. It's more likely that you'll want to import references directly from
  • bibliographic databases such as Scopus or Web of Knowledge
  • online sources such as Google Scholar
  • a .txt file, perhaps from a saved search
  • a library catalogue
  • an RSS feed
  • another reference management tool
These references might be of many different types - not just the bibliographical details for books, articles, reviews and abstracts, but also webpages, audio files, news stories.

2. Organisation: You'll want to store the references in folders, tag, index or search them.

3. Output: There are two main types of output: in-text citations, footnotes or endnotes and stand-alone bibliographies. Generally the reference management software interacts with your word-processing program and saves you having to type in the full references. What's particularly useful for academic writers is that you can instruct the software to output the information according to a particular stylesheet. This can save enormous amounts of time and make copy- editors at journals and publishers very happy.

The keys to success with reference management software are selecting the right one for your needs, getting to know the features that you'll need and then making sure you use it. It does take a little time at first to find your way around but it will save you oodles of time in the long run...

Tomorrow I'll have a look at the questions you need to ask yourself before choosing a program and run through some of the main features of the three frontrunners: RefWorks, Zotero and Endnote.

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