I remember hearing that choosing a good program to organize research material comes in handy. Cannot agree more; however, choosing a decent program did not seem easy (at least for me). Sometimes back, a former student asked me about the same issue – which program would be ideal for him? Maybe I do have an answer now but not then.
A few years ago I myself was faced with the same question but the choice available was limited. Therefore, I chose the easier way (which instead proved to be harder) and continued with what I was doing, organizing references manually (literally writing by hand all references on paper and then typing them in Word), which was quite time consuming.
With all the love for researching new ideas I was facing a dilemma again. With the increased number of readings, it was no more easy to organize the references manually. My favorite pastime (welcome to Ph.D. work) had made me increasingly overwhelmed with organizing hundreds of articles and citations that I had read and stored on my hard drive. There had to be a way of efficiently organizing this information. I was often worried about creating a bibliography at the end of a paper in APA format with zero defects. It became a challenge to write all the citations again and search for articles that I already knew about. With a range of research areas I was working on, it often became hard to keep all the data organized. I had a feeling I was not the only one.
So I decided to figure this out sooner than later. I inquired about the best research organization software that was available. Always being on the look for something new and better, I often asked colleagues what they were using. There are of course lots of research organization software or browser plug-ins out there but some may be costly and with a busy schedule, learning them can prove to be a task in itself.
So which program to choose? Endnote, Endnote Web, Zotero, Citeulike, Mendeley, RefWorks or some other software? Making a choice seemed like a great challenge and rightly so. Anyone in the same situation can be concerned about the choice of research organization software available. Once one is familiarized with the program, would a need arise to change to a different one? Would the program of choosing be compatible across different platforms (Mac & Win)? Which software is being used most commonly by most people at least in that university? Would there be at a disadvantage if the open-source program is used instead of something off the shelf? Too many questions and very little time.
In such a situation, a start can be made by specifying the needs. Ease of use and program user-friendliness is definitely on the list. Plus, something that is platform independent would be nice. In addition, If a computer crashes, you would not want to lose all your work. Therefore, a web-based software (or something that regularly backs up online) would be a good choice. The ability to take notes related to the articles, storing and linking the PDF’s, creating citations and bibliographies, all greatly add to the overall positive experience. Most importantly, if it is free that would be an added advantage.
A simple search on Google directed me to this article which somewhat make the choice easier. Another useful link I stumbled upon is this. It shows a table highlighting bibliographic management tools that have been recommended by libraries of top 10 US universities.
I had heard many good things about Zotero and it was also free! So I gave it a try and started organizing my research better. Zotero did seem to be a good software that matched my wish list to a great extent. Plus, I am a great proponent of open source programs (especially for students), so this fit in well with that ideal too.
I like many others would highly recommend using a research organization software. It is worth the time and effort to organize references and take notes. Not only does it save time later on, it also makes researching much less demanding and fun.
(Also posted on www.ideaplay.org)