Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Post 35: Falling in Love with Write and Cite

Beginning in September, there were a few new members in my thesis completion group (I'd joined earlier in the summer). One of the members, N— is just starting her second year of her MA after a hiatus, and the group got to talking about 'writing and citing' programs that make life so much easier!!

Having been in this MA for 2 and a bit years now, it's remarkable how easy it is to forget some of the smaller things that I've grown so dependent on, and grateful for! And my write and cite program is one of them.

So, what are these things, and what do they do?

Gone are the days of printing every single paper and journal article, and marking it up with a highlighter and sticky notes with a memo for the gist of the paper. These days, there's a slough of programs that will help you to organize your library of papers (and save trees by keeping them digital), highlight important sections of them, keep notes attached to them, and stores all the meta data that's important for compiling bibliographies when you're ready to hit 'finalize'.

Some are free programs, others have a one-time fee, others simply manage and store your bibliographic information, and others still do the whole paper and notes and highlights she-bang.
It is well worth doing a bit of research to find out what program would work best for you, and will meet your needs.

More wonderfully bright leaves from across campus on a lovely autumn day!
I have gone with Papers, produced by Mekentosj. Papers stores and curates the full journal articles, has a built-in search engine that connects through the internet to check several databases (and works with my uni-library to access papers available through all the licensing agreements and such here), allows me to neatly store and file groups of related papers, allows me to annotate and highlight them and make notes on particular sections. Because it has a built-in search function, I can also look for article separate to the built-in search (say, off my library's homepage), download those articles, drag and drop them into the program, and 9 times out of 10 it will find and match the article and automatically in-fill all of the bibliographic info.

With the student discount it had a one-time fee of about 50$ (on the website it's in Euros), but I regularly and hassle-free receive updates (eg. I'm now on Papers2), and it's fantastic!

The one drawback of this program is it's ability to handle grey literature (government reports and technical summaries, etc.) I find that I edit almost every entry for those. But, that's not a terrible thing: at least I will know if I've missed any key papers because I've handled them so much!

Other programs that I've heard really good things about include Mendeley, which is very similar in functionality to Papers, and has a social function built in to share work and collaborate with colleagues (though I haven't tried that) and Zotero, which is a free version and styles itself as a personal research assistant.

So many arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) berries this year! This tree's absolutely loaded with them!
And while they have a very curious flavour, they are edible, but best kept in the 'emergency food' category!


This is the fun part: Papers has a call function, where I can summon my articles library from my word processor, as I'm writing. In my case, I hit the option button twice, and then a little search window opens inside my writing composition program (I use Scrivener). If I remember the name of one of the authors of the paper, or a key word from the title, I type that in, and Papers gives me a list of articles that match that paper. I click on the one I had in mind, and am presented with 2 options: to include a formatted citation right there, or an unformatted citation. I slot either of them in and keep writing!

If you choose unformatted citations, when you are done writing your paper, you can tell Papers to format all of the citations in whatever style you want: APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. It's amazing, and such a time saver!!! It populates a complete, organized bibliography at the end of the paper, and all of the in-text citations are correct as well. it's worth having a look through to make sure the program has all the information right, because I've caught a few mistakes (as in the case of the grey literature info for a few reports), but those are easily fixed.

In short, write and cite programs like Papers save time and hassle (once you've learned how to use them), are extremely flexible with form, and ensure that you haven't missed a paper! I am so grateful for this program, as well as my supervisor who strongly recommended I look into one at the beginning of this degree! :)

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