One of the first pieces of advice I received before starting my PhD was to start using reference management software straightaway. In fact, this is a piece of advice that almost every PhD student that I have spoken to has given me, and it’s obvious why!
I actually started using reference management software from the first day of my PhD, and I regret not using it for my undergraduate thesis as it has proven to be an invaluable tool. It allows me to import, edit, categorise and export references, as well as annotate the PDFs associated with those references.
There are many great pieces of software out there such as RefWorks, Zotero and Mendeley (a particular favourite amongst PGRs). However, I settled on EndNote for no other reason than it being the software that my supervisors use. Personally, I would say that this is the best way to decide upon which tool you are going to use as it means that you and your supervisors can easily share your reference libraries (my supervisor sent me one of his libraries at the beginning of my PhD meaning that I didn’t have to start my literature search from scratch!).
Considering that I am currently working on my literature review, I have hundreds of references that need to be managed. Importing any paper that looks relevant into EndNote as soon as I find it has been very useful as it means that I’m not wasting my time trying to relocate a paper online. I could talk about how amazing EndNote is for days, but here are just a few of the features that I have found to be particularly useful:
- Groups: EndNote allows you to group references into categories. I have found it useful to sort my papers into categories of ‘important’ and ‘wider reading’ to allow me to focus my reading and prioritise my time on the more relevant literature. I’ll then further categorise the ‘important’ literature into specific topics to help me locate papers more easily.
- Rating system: EndNote allows you to rate papers in your bibliography via a star-based rating system. So, if I think a paper is very well written, if it has been cited in many journals, and if I think the authors’ conclusions are believable, I might give it 5 stars. On the other hand, if I read a paper and it doesn’t seem like the conclusions are based on solid evidence, I’ll give it a low rating. This allows me to pick out the good from the bad at a glance which can come in very handy.
- Annotating PDFs: Another great thing about EndNote is that it allows me to highlight and add notes to the PDFs that are associated with the references. I love this feature as it means that I don’t have to use another piece of software to do this, everything is all in one place which just makes things that little bit easier!
- Export references and format bibliographies: EndNote allows you to export references into a document and automatically generates the bibliography. It also allows you to format and reformat the bibliography to your desired style. So if you realise half way through writing up an academic paper that you’ve be using the wrong style of referencing, you can instantly reformat everything – gone are the day where you have to spend hours painstakingly editing every single reference!
The only downside of EndNote is that, unlike software like Mendeley, it is not free. My office at the British Geological Survey does have a license for the software so this is not an issue for me. However, it is obviously something that others needs to consider when choosing their software.
As I progress through my PhD, I’m hoping that my knowledge of EndNote will develop as I’m sure there are some useful aspects of the tool that I am not yet familiar with!