Organizing Research, Digitally: Bibliographic Management Tools

How are we using technology to navigate the iterative, and often messy, process of academic research? One topic briefly discussed at last week’s Digital Humanities reading group dinner: bibliographic management software (also known as citation or reference management tools).

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Photo: C. Hayes

Bibliographic management software, according to NYU Libraries, allows users to “import citations from databases, websites, and library catalogs, create bibliographies in most output styles, format citations for papers, manage, categorize, and organize citations, attach PDF’s, images, etc. to citations in [a] collection, and add notes to any citation(s).” In short, these tools help writers gather, store, organize, annotate, and later retrieve saved materials.

Today, a wide variety of bibliographic management software options are available. DiRT (The Digital Research Tools Wiki, which is now part of the Bamboo DiRT project – a great resource for digital tools, in general) provides a rather comprehensive list here. Ample literature comparing the tips, tricks, pros, and cons of these different options also exists. Four of the most commonly used bibliographic management tools are EndNoteMendeleyZotero, and Refworks. UC Berkeley Libraries offers this comparison, while MIT Libraries provides this table and advice, for choosing between these four widely used options.  Miriam Posner, coordinator and core faculty, Digital Humanities Program at UCLA also offers a short list of bibliographic management tools in this post about managing research assets.

While there are learning curves associated with using bibliographic management software, for many scholars these tools have proven useful and effective in the long run. The important task is determining which option will work best for you. Most bibliographic management software adopters agree that talking to colleagues who have used one or more of these tools is helpful. So is test-driving different options.  Many bibliographic management tools are free (including Mendeley and Zotero), and others offer free trials (EndNote). At USF, Refworks accounts are available for free through Gleeson Library. Questions? Contact the library: reference@usfca.edu.

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