Many thanks again to everybody who participated in my survey!
The survey is now closed so I randomly picked a winner for the Amazon gift card… And it’s Alice who won!
It was so very interesting to read about your most pressing struggles regarding the literature review.
As for today, we’re going to explore the multiple problems to which your reference management software could be the solution…
And none of them actually include referencing!
(Although, yes, of course, you should use it for referencing too!)
Storing the full-text
Where do you store the full-text of articles you read?
In piles of printed paper all around your office?
In the “download” folder of you work PC?
You don’t actually save it, just hunt for it all around the Internet again and again?
If any of those options is you, you might want to give it a bit of a change…
I find that storing the full-text of articles I’m reading in my reference management software has several advantages:
- I actually know where everything is!
I use the reference management software in a centralized manner: everything I read goes in there.
I automatically transfer any PDFs I get my hands on in there so I’m sure it won’t stay inaccessible on my laptop or in a random folder on my PC at work.
Speaking of which…
- I can access it from anywhere because I synchronise it with its online version.
This is crucial if you work with more than one computer!
And it’s a bit safer than having all your eggs in one (breakable) piece of hardware…
- Everything is neat and tidy, because I organise my references logically in folders.
All reference management software I have encountered allows you to organise your references in “folders” or in “groups”.
Or you will soon be drowned under the sheer volume of documents!
- Some software allows you to actually search through the full-text.
Which is very handy when you’re looking for that one very important quote that was in one of those numerous papers you read last month…
Storing your notes in a searchable way
How about the notes you take while reading papers?
Do you keep them in random Word documents spread over your different computers?
Do you write them down in paper notebooks and then have hard time finding them again later on?
The advantages of storing your notes in your reference management software are more or less the same as for storing the full-text:
- You know where they are.
- You can access them from anywhere.
- It makes them searchable.
Being able to access your notes easily is of course quite important.
But to me, the most important part is making them searchable.
Any piece of text you store with your reference management software should be able to be searched by the software’s search engine.
In one easy click, you can search everything you have ever read AND everything you have ever written about what you read…
No more desperate scrambling for that important “illumination” you had last week while reading that important paper.
No more spending hours looking for that one quote you had dutifully copied to use in your next paper.
You’re now free to use the time and brain space saved for actually useful tasks!
I would add that, if you’re still an adept of writing everything down by hand, some software will allow you to upload images to attach to a reference.
So it could be a good idea to scan (or take a picture) of your notes to store them there.
They won’t be searchable, but at least you will be able to access them easily!
Some software actually allow you to annotate PDFs right on the spot!
You can highlight important passages and add notes directly on the full-text.
And, once again, you will be able to search your annotations very easily with the software search engine.
PDF annotation has really changed the way I read academic papers.
I used to read them on paper exclusively (and print loads and loads of pages…) because I love to underline everything and make notes in the margins.
But PDF annotations allow me to do exactly that, right on my computer!
Which is really handy because:
- I type much faster than I write, so note taking is now much faster.
- I used to then type up my notes afterwards for safekeeping and easy copy-pasting — this step is not needed anymore. More time saved!
- It allows you to find the quotes you highlighted very easily later on if you want to copy paste them in a paper…
So now I’m converted!
All in all, my message is: your reference management software can be a great way to centralize all the work you do around the literature.
You can store the results of literature searches, make sure you don’t loose the full-text, digitize your notes, and have everything on hand for when writing time comes…
Have I convinced you?
If you’re still unsure which reference management software you should be using, have a look at this article.
And let me know: how do you deal with full-text saving and note-taking? Do you like to use reference management software for this too? Tell me all about your own way to do this in the comments!