23 Research Things – Thing 21

We’re in the final week of this programme, and today’s Thing deals with managing citations. This is a topic about which I know a fair bit, as I run regular group training sessions on reference management software, as well as providing one-to-one support for library users with problems involving referencing.

Thing 21 focuses on a single reference manager, Zotero, while I also use and teach Endnote and Mendeley, but all do roughly the same thing: provide a single place to gather references from disparate sources, organise these references according to a user’s preferences, share the references with collaborators, and use the references when adding citations and a bibliography to a written document. I did not use a reference manager while writing my undergrad dissertation, M.Phil dissertation, PhD thesis, or numerous essays, talks or publications, and I regret this a lot. I regretted it most during the week I spent painstakingly copying and pasting more than five hundred footnotes in my PhD into a bibliography and making sure they were following a consistent citation style! Now, I always tell this anecdote to my students to ensure they don’t make my mistakes!

Zotero is an extremely straightforward reference manager to use because it is entirely web-based, and the method of importing references from databases, library catalogues, Google Scholar and elsewhere is the same, no matter the source or the type of reference. Other reference managers require multiple steps between selecting references to import and actually importing them, and are thus less user-friendly at the import stage. Zotero also allows the user to import webpages as references, which is not possible in Endnote or Mendeley.

Today’s Thing also mentions setting up a profile with ORCiD. Luckily, I already did this some time ago, and now have a profile populated with education and employment history, as well as all my publications. For someone like me, who has published in two wildly different fields (the obscure area of the humanities in which I did my PhD, and the much less obscure science subject in which I now provide training and research support), ORCiD is extremely welcome, as it provides a way to link all my divergent research together. Otherwise, most people looking at my list of publications would think that they were the work of two different researchers. I highly recommend that all researchers get an account with ORCiD, especially as it is not tied to your institution, meaning that it provides a permanent platform on which to list and promote your research. If your institution doesn’t provide you with a good Web presence (for example, some universities don’t provide webpages for PhD students), or if you have moved between several institutions, or if you are researching from outside academia as an independent scholar, ORCiD provides a stable, professional-looking platform for your online presence. And unlike for-profit social media sites such as Academia.edu or Researchgate, you will not run into issues with copyright of your listed articles, since the norm on ORCiD is to provide DOIs and links to databases/repositories, rather than PDFs of publications, meaning that only those who have the correct institutional logins will be able to access your publications.

I strongly encourage all researchers who are writing and publishing their research outputs to start using a reference manager (it doesn’t have to be Zotero), and set up an account with ORCiD, as I believe both will make the writing, publishing, and promotion of their work a whole lot easier.


About thelibrarianerrant

I'm a senior library assistant in one of the faculty libraries of the University of Cambridge. My posts here are in a personal capacity, and are on any topics relating to library and information services.
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2 Responses to 23 Research Things – Thing 21

  1. Good advice here, especially with regards Zotero (other management tools are available!). I didn’t use such tools when studying and I also regret missing out.


    • Oh, I’m well aware of the other tools – my personal favourite is Endnote, but it has the disadvantage of being expensive (rather than free), and potentially confusing in terms of import filters and the like, whereas Zotero is very straightforward. However, I do like Endnote’s ‘find full text’ feature, which does the hard work of searching for PDFs and attaching them for you, rather than requiring the user to manually download and attach PDFs to each record. A lot of researchers seem to fall into using one reference manager or another, based on the preferences of their PI, supervisor, or colleagues, but I think it would be better if all had the opportunity to try several different tools before committing to one or the other.

      I’m glad (or sorry) to hear that I’m not the only one who avoided reference managers while studying, only to realise the mistake later on!


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