Organizing references and bibliographies

Research papers are the backbone of most every course of study at university and also important in many workplaces. Keeping these projects organized can be tricky, but will significantly help the paper’s reader comprehension and also save the writer time.

Providing a list of references for your project shows that you have done research on the topic. It provides a way for others to easily find the materials you examined. Proper citations also give credit to those who had the original idea and those who did additional research on the topic.

As you are gathering information, it can be difficult to know which details are important to record. Do you need to provide the date a pamphlet was published? What about the date you accessed a website? How do you keep all of this information organized?

EasyBib and CiteThisForMe are two great (and free) websites that let you effortlessly create properly formatted references. You can save projects into folders, easily collaborate with coworkers or classmates, and share references with the public. (I made one for this post so you can see how it works.) The sites are nice for projects such as a presentation at work, a workshop to promote your small business, or a college class you’re taking to upgrade your skills.

If you’re a full-time student or researcher, you may wish to use more powerful reference management software. According to Wikipedia (which you wouldn’t want to cite in a research paper, but is great for this specific purpose), there are over 30 different reference management software applications available. The choice of software should be based on several factors:

  • Style: Humanities and Sciences use different citation styles and within these domains there are also different styles. Companies also have specific needs and might have style preferences. Be sure you know the standard to ensure you select a program that has the correct style for your work.
  • Cost: Some programs are free but have limitations on number of citations or amount of storage space. Some have small monthly or yearly fees. Choose the lowest cost for your basic needs with the ability to upgrade later if required. Also, if you’re a student, talk to your professors or the librarians at your college/university to see if may have free access for a specific program with your student account.
  • Operating system: Be sure the software you want will install on your type of operating system (Mac, PC, etc.). You may wish to select a program that can be used on a mobile device (tablet or smartphone).
  • Availability: Do you need to access your references from anywhere? Will there be an Internet connection everywhere you do research? Does the information need to sync across various computers?
  • Database Connection: Some programs will connect directly to various databases, such as the MEDLINE (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online) database that would be helpful to students and professionals in medical fields.
  • Ease of use: It is important that the system you pick is easy to use. Is it simple to transfer citations from the program to your favourite word processor? Is it easy to collaborate with other students/coworkers and share citations on group projects? Explore two or three options and see how they work for you.

Regardless of the reference management application you choose, providing organized citations to your work will establish expertise and credibility to your project. Using bibliography/reference software will also help you to get all the information you need for your citations, keep you organized, save you time locating the information if you need to review it a second or third time, help other project members access the same information you did, and, ultimately, let your reader know how to get to the information. You’ll save yourself and everyone else time and energy.

8 Comments for “Organizing references and bibliographies”

  1. posted by Meg on

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Mendeley or Zotero for anyone above high school?

  2. posted by Susannah on

    “… which you wouldn’t want to site in a research paper…”

    That should be “cite”.


  3. posted by Dan on

    Thanks for the Zotero mention. Does what I’m looking for and it’s free.

  4. posted by PJ Doland on

    Fixed the typo. Thanks for the heads-up.

  5. posted by Fran on

    Pandoc, BibTex, and Google Scholar. Bam.

  6. posted by Mehmet on

    EndNote and Citavi would be some more professional choices, if anyone is interested. I’m using Citavi and so far I have had no problems besides not having a Mac version.
    The comparison on Wikipedia is a great aid by selecting the right software for your long-term scientific efforts.

  7. posted by Anna on

    As a copy editor with many years of experience, I must emphasize this part of your advice:

    “Humanities and Sciences use different citation styles and within these domains there are also different styles. Companies also have specific needs and might have style preferences. Be sure you know the standard to ensure you select a program that has the correct style for your work.”

    This statement does not say enough: “Companies also have specific needs and might have style preferences.” Let me assure you that they DO have style preferences (“might” is too weak a word). Each publishing company has its own preferred style. Even professional journals put out by the same company may differ from one another in style because of the preferences (or prejudices, or sacred cows) of the editor-in-chief or some influential member of the editorial board.

    The moral: when you have tucked all your references safely away in a database, you may think your efforts are finished. They are not. Once your work is accepted for publication, you must consult the information for authors provided by the publisher or journal, go through all your references, and revise the style to match exactly the examples shown. The copy editor can and will do this for you, but you show your professionalism (and minimize the chances for error) by presenting your references in the preferred style.

  8. posted by Naomi on

    I usually tell my students to check out, since it’s free and easy to use. You just have to copy & paste your citations elsewhere (like onto your references/works cited page that you need anyway!)

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