Managing research: Your personal library, online

As a university professor, I not only teach — I also need to keep up-to-date with the literature in my field. This is so much easier now than it was when I was a graduate student long ago — now I can download PDFs of relevant articles and catalog them in folders on my hard drive, so they’re always available to me. Using Apple’s Preview program, I can highlight text in the PDF, so I never need to print anything (the trees of the world say thank you).

I’ve been using Zotero (free!) to manage citations for about three years now. My three favorite things about it are “Add item by identifier,” which lets me paste in only the DOI and (in most cases) instantly receive all the material needed for a complete reference list entry for the article; the ability to add multiple tags to any item; and the ability to generate a reference list of selected items in any format I choose (APA, Chicago, etc.). The last one is so awesome — I recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm! (Zotero does this really well.)

Today I found a recommendation for a different (also free) citation tool called Mendeley. Like Zotero, it links to the PDFs on your hard drive and exports reference lists.

Since I am already used to Zotero — which, by the way, has a standalone version, as well as browser plugins for Firefox, Chrome and Safari — I just read up on Mendeley and decided not to give it a test run. If you have not tried either one yet, here is some comparison information:

If you have been using EndNote or some other paid citation-management software, you can easily export all your saved cites into either Zotero or Mendeley.

Another tool I use to keep up with the latest scholarly publications is the free e-mail alerts provided by most of the communications journals (see, for example, Sage, which includes Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly; Routledge (Taylor & Francis); or Wiley sign-up pages for e-mail alerts). These are great because it only takes a minute to scan the list of contents in the email (one e-mail per journal issue), and each article includes a direct link, so you can download it immediately to save for reading later.

It’s easy to unsubscribe from any journal’s e-mail alerts; usually the unsubscribe information appears at the end of each e-mail.

Introducing these tools to new graduate students can help them get started with good research habits.

3 Comments on “Managing research: Your personal library, online

  1. Mindy,

    This is a really helpful post as I’ve just started serious work on a book (*slight plug as I crowd-fund* The story of Melville Jacoby, the first Time reporter to die in the line of duty). I’ve realized that while I know how to find the individual pieces of a project, to interview sources and to write, the organizational aspect of the huge numbers of primary and secondary sources is a challenge. I’ve been trying to figure out how to wrangle, mostly to avoid retracing the same steps over and over again. Tools like this are also helpful to more clearly identify what I don’t have and how to strategically plan the next phases of my research. I suspect such tools have also been used for longer investigative or or multi-part feature pieces.

    I’m curious if you or any of your readers have ever used Scrivener to organize or compile research? I know a few people who use it for novels and other more creative projects, as I have. I’m considering it being a central place for my book because it can tie together PDFs, web pages, images and text and do some in-document linking.

    But my question in the case of any of these options is what people’s suggestions are for workflow. I realize I have these great tools at my disposal, but I need much more organization with how I use them and how to take all the various notes and documents I have sprawled across my hard drive, among my bookmarks and in meat space and tie them together more effectively. Any thoughts on how you use Zotero or anything else workflow wise?

  2. Bill, I would suggest you take a look at Evernote. It’s an awesome organizational tool; it’s free; and it syncs across all your devices, phones, computers, Web. It’s not a bibliography tool, but the ability to create topic-specific notebooks (as collections of related “notes”) really works for me.

    Read what Jeremy Caplan wrote about Evernote, at Poynter.

  3. Thanks Mindy,

    You know, I was an early Evernote user when I was finishing grad school at USC Annenberg and then a little bit after that. But after using it for awhile I didn’t find it particularly helpful (at least that’s how I remember it). I’ve never really seen it’s utility, but I’ll read Jeremy’s post to see if I can be convinced. Perhaps the program has evolved, too.


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