Organizing Your Research

Writing a dissertation requires managing hundreds of citations and sources. Careful organization will save you countless hours rummaging through your research, but the million dollar question many students ask is “how do I do that?”

To answer this question, we asked NCU students, faculty and alumni -- via Facebook and LinkedIn -- how they keep track of their research. Their recommendations: Mendeley, Zotero, EndNote, Evernote, and of course, RefWorks:

  • Mendeley organizes documents and references, suggests related research, shows readership statistics and allows collaboration with groups. The basic version is free, but premium features can be added for a cost.

“I have been using Mendeley… it is great for being able to access material from different devices such as my iPad.” Denise Parker (Ed.D., Educational Technology & E-Learning, candidate)

“I use Mendeley as my main repository for articles and citations…I find that this is the perfect way to keep track of my materials.” Alan Jackson (D.B.A., candidate)

  • Zotero is available as a Firefox plugin or as a standalone application. By creating an account, you are able to sync your research information with other computers and an online library that is accessible from any computer connected to the Internet. Zotero is capable of identifying bibliographic information on web pages and, with a click, automatically saves it.  In many cases, Zotero will automatically capture citation information.  Items saved in your library are searchable. You can identify duplicates and insert citations directly into your research paper using a word processor plugin. There is a $20/year charge for 2G of server-based storage, but up to 300MB of storage is free.

“Zotero.” Susan Stillman, Ed.D. (NCU faculty)

  • EndNote groups citations into libraries with the file extension *.enl and a corresponding *.data folder. Access to certain searchable library catalogs and free databases are included in the software. EndNote offers automatic citation formatting with a list of 2,000 different styles. You can purchase EndNote for $113.95.

 “I'm a big fan of EndNote. It allows for organization and filtering by name of the author, title, year, etc. It allows you to take notes right through the program or you can attach your own notes to each article. For each reference I pull in I attach the PDF file, a notes page and a bibliography at the minimum.” Christopher Boulter (Ph.D., Psychology, candidate)

  • Evernote allows students and researchers to collect information from anywhere and save it in one single place: from notes, web clips, files, images and more, on any device. They offer MAC and Windows versions. Evernote offers free and premium accounts.

“I used and continue to use Evernote. Great for annotated bibliographies that are easily searchable - and by always using proper APA format, I only have to type the full citation once. The other times are just copy and paste.” Wayne Perry, Ph.D. (Director of Clinical Training, School of Marriage and Family Sciences, NCU)

"I tried EndNote and just didn't find it to be a good fit for me (no specific issues, just felt a bit too structured). I ended up keeping references and notes in Evernote, which I could use from anywhere including on my phone and iPad. I saved PDFs into a system of folders set up by topic, and often used the Spotlight search feature on my Mac to search within these for authors or keywords." Russell Walker (Ph.D., Business Administration, 2012)

  • RefWorks is a research management, writing and collaboration tool offered through the NCU Library’s institutional subscription. NCU began offering RefWorks in 2009. Workshops and tutorials on RefWorks may be accessed from the Library Workshop Videos or Quick Tutorial Videos pages.  Or, check for the availability of live training on RefWorks by visiting the Library Workshops Schedule page.

“RefWorks is a good tool for organizing research within the Library and is commonly available among databases making it easy to export citations directly into a RefWorks account. Within RefWorks you can organize citations into folders for easy reference and quickly produce an APA formatted reference list as well as create in-text citations within a document. Although we highly recommend students still consult the APA manual for confirmation.” Ed Salazar, M.A. (NCU Librarian)

 “When I wrote my dissertation, I used RefWorks. While there is a learning curve, it also provides the greatest amount of flexibility in the longer term. However, today I generally use Zotero for scholarly/academic work. While there is a free version, it is worth the $20 per year charge for the security of having a cloud-based backup of your reference database and notes.” Frank Cervone (Ph.D., Business Administration, 2007)

“RefWorks has developed a tool called Write-N-Cite, which not only converts Word's XML file and synchronizes it to the online references, but allows in-text citation and reference list building in APA 6th ed. format. I highly recommend Write-N-Cite, because then your citation database isn't limited to your device. There are drawbacks with this setup, as you must edit and organize your citations through RefWorks online.” David Czuba (Ed.D., Leadership in Higher Education, candidate)

*Originally published in Higher Degrees Fall 2013.