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Literature Review Challenge

Welcome to Day 4 of the Literature Review Challenge (Graduate Student Focus)!

Following up on our talk of organizing literature, today we turn to citation managers, which can save you time and make citing and writing more fun! (Ok, less stressful?)


One approach to organizing the literature you find is to use a citation manager. Why, you may ask? Because, a citation manager can help you:

  • Collect and organize resources for papers and projects (whether for a course paper, thesis, dissertation, grant project, conference paper, publication, or collaborative project);
  • Keep your thoughts and ideas connected to the resources you collect (you can annotate each resource in your collection);
  • Create lists of citations in your citation style of choice (it's like Easy Bib, but way better!);
  • Facilitate collaborative writing;
  • Cite while you write (easily insert citations into the body of your text and automatically generate a reference list at the end of your paper!);
  • And more...

Citation managers work with subject databases, search engines, Google Scholar, and the like.

Your Challenge: Set Up an Account in a Citation Manager, Install the Web Grab-It Feature, and Install Cite While You Write

1. Set up an account in a citation manager. There are numerous options out there (see this comparison chart). People often like to use what their advisor or research team or other collaborative partners are using. Play around with one (or more!) to see what works best for you. Fogler Library supports Zotero and Mendeley, so those will be our focus.

2. Begin creating/organizing folders and pulling in literature. Consider what you're working on, and what folders or categories of literature would make sense to create. This will all depend on your needs and what suits your style. For example, you might create folders based on: research topic(s) you're exploring, genre (e.g., literature review, theory, research, quantitative, or qualitative), section of an essay (e.g., introduction, literature review, methodology, discussion, dissertation/thesis chapter), or project (e.g., conference paper, grant project, or publication).

  • Install the web grab-it feature in order to collect resources anywhere on the internet!
  • Send literature to Zotero from library databases.
    • Visit a database of interest (e.g., an EBSCO or ProQuest database, OneSearch, Web of Science, JSTOR). Or, for this practice run, try PubMed. 
    • Run your search, click on the Zotero extension icon in your browser (when there are multiple items in a results list, the icon will look like a folder), select the items you want to save, and select the Zotero folder where you want to save them.
  • Mendeley's web importer works the same way, in theory. But, it does not play as well with databases that have item types other than articles. However, an easy workaround is that you can save as many items as you like in a database, go to your saved items list, export the items as an RIS file, and upload that file to Mendeley - that way, you'll be set!
  • Send literature to Zotero or Mendeley from Google Scholar. Run your search, and click the star below each item of interest.
    Then, click on (star) My Library at the top right of the page to see the list of results you have starred. 
    As before, click on your Zotero or Mendeley extension to select each item you want to save, and designate the folder where you want to save it. Woohoo!
  • Do you have citations that you want to include in your Zotero or Mendeley libraries and you aren't finding them online? You can manually add citations to either citation manager. Check out the quick start guides in #1 of this list for instructions.

3. Install the Cite While You Write plug-in and try it out! This can be a timesaver because it connects your citation manager to the document you're writing. You're then able to easily insert in-text citations and create automatic reference lists while you're writing your paper(s).

Already Have a Citation Manager? (And, BONUS Challenge!)

Take your citation management skills to the next level!

  1. Add specialized citation styles in your field or for a journal you're publishing in, in Zotero, or in Mendeley.
  2. Create a group in Zotero, or in Mendeley. Groups make it easy to share/add/edit resources among people with an invested interest in the material, like a research team, collaborative writing group, advisor/mentor, university or community partner, class cohort, or a grant project team. You can make groups public or private in Zotero, depending on your need! Note that Mendeley allows for private groups only.
  3. Take notes within Zotero or Mendeley to keep track of why you were interested in the items you imported in the first place. Here's how to do that in Zotero, and in Mendeley!

Have questions or want additional assistance?

Nicely done! One more day to go, and it's the most fun!

For our final challenge, we'll look at a free tool designed to help you avoid link rot in your reference list. Curious about what link rot is? Join us tomorrow!

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