Adapt and Evolve, Like a BOSS.

Members of the Lincoln Park Accountability Group had an interesting conversation recently about citation/reference management.  The context is that a member had just finished a book project and was feeling the headache of dealing with citations for this monster project.  Unfortunately for him, he was still using the low-tech method of citation management, which, lets be honest, has caused many a heartache for countless academics.

The low-tech way of dealing with citation management comes in a variety of flavors, but the unifying theme of all of them, is that they require active, deliberate efforts from authors to collect and organize articles necessary for literature reviews.  Whether it is a stack of papers you’ve printed out, a folder of articles that lives in your Dropbox, or a running list of abstracted points (with citation information) you have that is approximately 75 single-spaced pages long in Word, the point is, that there is an easier way IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ADAPT AND EVOLVE.

The fact is, that if you are an academic researcher not using a citation management tool, you are literally, doing things the hard way.

My guess is that most manuscript projects probably start with a collection of papers.  These are the papers that form the core of your project.  You might have hard copies of them and maybe even digital copies somewhere.  You take the citation information, find the article, download the article, save the article, perhaps with a clever name, like Bishop-Royse (2013).  Good for you, for being organized.  But wait.  Now Bishop-Royse (2013) lives in your files, but it is no where helpful in order to help you write, either by generating its own citation entry in your document or by being where you need it when you need it.

Think about your process- and how you might be hanging onto hard copies of papers that you printed when you were a grad student.  Your fancy-schmancy graduate institution had access to ALL OF THE JOURNALS, but maybe DePaul doesn’t.  So, while you have the hard copy of an article, you can’t get the digital one in order to complete your reference collection.  Worse, you have to manually enter all of that information somewhere.  With something like Zotero, you can click a button and pull all the information about the citation into a file, even if you don’t have physical/digital access to that file at the time.

The low-tech way would be to sit down with a text editor open (aka Word) and manually type the information included in the citation.  Now, keep in mind that the journals/fields haven’t all gotten together to decide what are the best ways to present this information.  Ideally, you’d include the full names of all the authors, using no abbreviations, etc.  This way, if you decide to submit this monster to another journal than its originally intended journal, you don’t have to go all the way back to the original articles and rework them.  This sometimes happen if your first manuscript requires names in the bibiolography to be abbreviated, like J. Bishop-Royse.  Unless you happen to remember that my name is Jessica, you’re going to have to go back to the either the original article or look it up online to modify your reference list to go to another journal.  You are literally doing monkey work.  A well-trained monkey of average intelligence could do this task.  dinosaur

You, my friend, with a PhD, who has important contributions to make to the world, are doing tasks that a monkey could do.

And please, don’t even get me started on the different intricacies of where things go in the citation information and how that might be different across journals/fields.  Is it author, year, title or author, title, year?

With a citation manager, you go back into your library, tell it to export in the format you need, and let it take care of putting italics where they need to go.  For something like Zotero, there are literally, hundereds of styles that you can download and install, allowing you to export in practically any format you could want.

Here is a practice export that I did for American Sociological Association (ASA) format:


With a couple of clicks, I was able to change the format to American Psychologist.


There are a lot of citation managers out there (RefWorks, Zotero, Mendeley, EndNote, Papers).  They all have, to some degree of the same kinds of features.  Rodd Myers’ post on LinkedIn is fairly extensive.  There are also ways to adopt various tools that work nicely together.  So, its great to use something like Zotero or Mendeley, even better if you use in conjunction with Dropbox or Google Drive, so you can keep the actual articles in a place that the manager has access to.

For me, the question isn’t which citation manager should you use, it is rather, why aren’t you using one yet?