Books. Journal articles. Essays. Conference papers. Websites. The job of the student and academic is to swim through and manage a sea of reference material. And the waves of information and material has increased. Lucky for us, technology has indeed kept up with this need. Word processors are better than ever. Computers are faster. More is available online. In this post I want to introduce you to the one type of app that I think every academic and student can utilize to help manage academic literature: the reference manager.
There are quite a number of reference managers out there, all of them quite good. You may have heard of Endnote, or Mendeley, or Zotero. But you're not quite sure what they do. In this post, I will explain exactly what a Reference Manager does. Once I do, you will immediately see the value. In a subsequent post, I will briefly list and describe some of the reference managers out there.
Here is the six main things a reference manager does for you:
- One place to keep all of your info. Previous to the advent of the reference manager, a well organized academic kept a massive text document of all of their books, essays, journal articles, etc. Within the document they would make sure it was properly formatted for the bibliographic style of their discipline. A reference manager provides a convenient place where all of this citation-type of information (i.e. metadata) can be stored. The prevalence of Reference Managers has made the collection of this information exceedingly easy. You rarely need to type in the information manually anymore.
- Organize the info with groups, folders, tags, keywords, etc. Building off of one consolidated place to store this citation information, a Reference Manager now allows you to add your own data to this information. Tags/keywords can help you to quickly find information on particular subjects, and groups/folders can help further organize into categories, projects, etc.
- Keep PDFs with its Info. The majority of journal articles are now online and many of us choose to download a PDF copy of the articles. In addition, it is easier than ever to create a PDF scan of book chapters, or create a PDF copy of a webpage. A Reference Manager allows you to keep a PDF of an article together with its information. No need to have complicated folder structure, or go searching through your documents folder.
- Take Your Reading Notes in One Spot. Back in the days when all I read were print books, notes on the back pages or sticky notes were the norm. But even then, this style of note-taking was limited and stuck on my shelf. Now, with so much material being consumed on our computer screen, Reference Manager's have made it easy to take notes and highlight information right alongside our PDFs. Your notes are now attached right to your citation information. Many Reference Managers also provide a way directly within the app to take notes and highlight a PDF directly.
- All of This Stuff Above – Search It! Now we're getting to the "power" of the Reference Manager. Not only has it provided you with a convenient place to store and organize your citation data and documents, but all of this information is now searchable. Your library's usefulness has been super-charged!
- Automatically Generate Your Footnotes & Bibliography. Read that sentence one more time, and let it sink in – REFERENCE MANAGERS WILL WRITE YOUR FOOTNOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR YOU! I remember well the day I was sitting in the study room, frantically trying to properly footnote all of my citations in a major paper, and my OT prof Glenn Wooden walked by. Perhaps seeing my agitation, he asked what I was doing. Once I told him, he said, "you know there is software that can do that for you, right?" This actually marked a huge turning point for me. I wasn't tech savvy before that moment - now I'm a tech ninja! And it was because I realized how using computer apps could actually make my life easier. Every Reference Manager works with word processors (like MS Word) so that with a few clicks of the button, you will be properly citing your sources and creating perfectly formatted footnotes and bibliographies. You manage the data and make sure it is in your Reference Manager correctly, and let it worry about the formatting.
There are your six main reasons you should be using a Reference Manager. Perhaps there are other great reasons I haven't thought of – if so, let me know in the comments. If you aren't using a Reference Manager yet – now is the time!
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