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Keeping Track of your Search Results

Managing your sources and references


Once you have found some sources which you think you can use in your research, you need a way of keeping track of these. You don't want to waste time searching for something you vaguely remember seeing somewhere or trawling through your browser history. You need to be well organised. You need to build up a database of sources so that you can:

  • Find the resource quickly by author, topic, date, etc.;
  • Have a full accurate bibliographic reference for each resource for insertion into the bibliography See the glossary definition of your report, in the style you are required to use;
  • Generate an in-text citation for each resource you wish to quote or paraphrase in the required referencing style See the glossary definition;
  • Easily generate a bibliography in the required style.
  • Have access to this database wherever you are working.

Reference Management Tools

The following a is list of reference management tools for you to choose from:

  • Zotero: User friendly open source software.
    • For: Easy to use. Free. Can sync across devices. Works with Word, Interoffice and Google Docs.
    • Against: Not completely web-based; you'll need to download Zotero to each of your devices.
    • Advice: It's easy to get straight to work using Zotero once you've downloaded the program. If you just need to create a bibliography or a citation, use ZoteroBib. Set up syncing with a user-name and password so that you can work from different devices and also to make sure you don't lose your data if your computer crashes or is lost. You'll have to pay for cloud space above a certain limit.
    • Go to: https://www.zotero.org.
  • Mendeley: User friendly Bibliography Management App.
    • For: Easy to use. Free. Syncs across devices. Works with Word and LibreOffice.
    • Against: Requires sign-in. Requires extra plug-ins for citations and importing content.
    • Advice: Install the plug-ins. You'll have to pay for storage space above a certain limit.
    • Go to: https://www.mendeley.com/.
  • BibDesk: A bibliography manager for Macs.
    • For: Free. Private (it resides solely on your machine).
    • Against: Clunky. Old-school interface. Takes time to learn how to use.
    • Advice: If you're strong on computer skills, this is a perfectly usable option.
    • Go to: https://bibdesk.sourceforge.io.
  • JabRef:Open Source Search Tool and Bibliography Management App.
    • For: Free. Private (it resides solely on your machine). Good search facility (e.g. access Google Scholar within the app). Works on Windows, Mac and Linux. Uses the BibTex bibliography format.
    • Against: Old-school interface.
    • Advice: Takes a little time to learn but worth the effort.
    • Go to: http://www.jabref.org.
  • CTFM (Cite This For Me): An on-line tool for creating bibliographies.
    • For: On-line. Access from anywhere.
    • Against: You need to pay to access tools which are free elsewhere (such as download to Word).
    • Advice: If you are willing to pay, it's a simple tool to use.
    • Go to: https://www.citethisforme.com/.
  • Cite Them Right: Resources by Macmillan
    • For: Lots of good advice about citing and managing bibliographies.
    • Against: Only available through an institutional licence (your university may provide you with access: ask).
    • Advice: Use it if you have access through your institution.
    • Go to: https://www.citethemrightonline.com/.
  • RefWorks: Resources by Proquest
    • For: Plenty of material showing you how to use this tool.
    • Against: Only available through an institutional licence (your university may provide you with access: ask).
    • Advice: Use it if you have access through your institution.
    • Go to: https://www.refworks.com.
  • EndNote: Commercial bibliography manager and search tool.
    • For: Comprehensive tool for researching, sharing resources and managing bibliographies.
    • Against: Unsuitable for cash-strapped students unless you have access through an institutional licence.
    • Advice: Use it if you have access through your institution.
    • Go to: https://endnote.com/.

Learn to use your software

Once you have decided what bibliographic software to use, learn how to use it. Read the instructions, watch the video demonstrations, attend a workshop ... whatever it takes. You need to be comfortable using whatever tool you have chosen so that you don't waste time and you can concentrate on what matters; learning how to research and write your reports.

The software you use is not infallible and it doesn't relieve you of your responsibility to check the accuracy and style of your citations and the references in your bibliography.

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