In our new media age, with terabytes of information flying around the internet on websites, libraries, electronic journals and social media networks, a problem for many researchers is not necessarily in the sourcing of information, but in the sifting through and making sense of it. Managing your information – and your sources – successfully, will help you keep track of it all so it’s right at your fingertips whenever you need it.
Keep source material in order
There are several free software packages available specifically to help academics to organise their sources, therefore making it easier to cite other documents in their own work. One example is Mendeley (www.mendeley.com), which allows users to import PDFs, annotate where necessary and highlight text of interest. Once imported, text is fully searchable and you can browse your files by author, title, publisher or journal. Then, with a plug-in for Word, it’s possible to create bibliographies automatically formatted to your own required style.
Other popular reference management tools include Endnote (www.endnote.com), Qiqqa (www.qiqqa.com) and Zotero (www.zotero.org). It’s worth trying a couple out before settling on one, but your choice may be dictated by what’s being used by anyone you work closely with, for ease of sharing. In fact, some reference management packages facilitate and support online communities, which can help establish your name as a researcher in your given field.
Keep up with latest developments
Websites, blogs and social media sites can be useful sources of news and latest developments in your field, and you may need a system in place to keep up with them. Many websites and blogs operate RSS feeds to which you can subscribe and be updated whenever that site changes. You can subscribe via your computer’s web browser, email software or a web-based service such as Google Reader (www.google.com/reader). The advantage of the latter is that your feeds can be viewed from any computer or mobile device you might also be using. Twitter (www.twitter.com) is another way of keeping abreast of the latest developments in niche fields – and by following the right people, you can keep up with people’s responses to them as well.
Keep your own files in order
Managing your own documents and keeping track of different versions of them can be a challenge. A strict filing system on your computer will help. If you’re collaborating on a document, tools such as ‘Track changes’ in Word can help keep track of everyone's input. Numbering the various versions of your documents can also help keep track of what the latest one is.
Keep backing up
As with anyone whose work is stored on a computer – back up is essential. It’s possible to pick up an external hard drive with hundreds of gigabytes of storage for less than £100. That said, many digital media companies are offering free storage ‘in the cloud’ which can be accessed from anywhere with internet connection, and from any computer. Microsoft’s SkyDrive (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-GB/skydrive/home), for example, offers 25GB of free storage space in the cloud. If your files aren’t too large or numerous, cloud storage could prove to be an economical and effective solution. And once you’ve backed up, make sure it continues to do so at regular intervals – ideally every day.