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Managing Academic Sources

Hi Class, welcome to the week where we begin to discuss how to manage academic sources. Next week we'll cover managing non-academic sources.


This week we cover managing academic sources. That is, our concern is with -- once we have used our search skills and our databases to locate sources for some information need, e.g., how do we collect them, save them, organize them, and so forth, all for the intent to use them later? In other words, what kind of system do we personally have in place to help us manage this process?


To help us think about this part of the process, we're reading the following article:

  • Gilmour, R., & Cobus-Kuo, L. (2011). Reference management software: A comparative analysis of four products. Issues in Science and Technology.

Bibliographic Reference Managers (BRM)

The Gilmour & Cobus-Kuo (2011) article provides a nice list of BRM functions, which I'll go through in a second. We will use that list to evaluate a variety of BRMs on our own. By the way, note how I'm using the literature here. Specifically, note how I'm using the Gilmour & Cobus-Kuo article as a basis for our evaluation. Ideally, this is what the literature is for -- to help provide guidance or to use to build a case for something that we're examining.

In any case, this article helps highlight the process---what it means to begin building our own databases of scholarly sources of information.

Think about the

  • These BRM functions help us focus on the overall process and not just the search process.
  • That is, being able to search, locate, and retrieve good information is only half the battle.
  • Being able to save that information (those sources) for use in the future is also part of the challenge. (Note: this is why this course is called personal knowledge management.)
  • That is, it's inefficient to search for information at the time of need (e.g., the day before a paper is due).
  • Rather, whenever we come across something, it helps to save and begin managing it right away. There are tools that help with this.

Evaluate the process

  • Remember, think about the whole process---being good at managing information does not simply mean being good at locating and retrieving it---it also means being able to collect, save, describe, and use that information---and to do so continually.
  • Pictured here is a kind of model of this process. We:
    • We first recognize that we have a need for information.
    • Next we begin to select an appropriate database or databases to search for that information. E.g., Google, ProQuest, etc.
    • Then we search those databases and refine those searches as needed (using, for example, Boolean operators and thesauri terms).
    • We locate sources that are relevant to our information needs.
    • If we're good, we save those sources---either the complete source, like a PDF copy of an article, and/or the bibliographic record to the source.
    • If we save them in a BRM, we might describe them with tags.
    • If we are writing a paper, we might then use our BRM to help us integrate our saved sources into our papers.
    • This cycle is constant -- repeat, wash, and rinse. Repeat until done.

Bibliographic Reference Managers (BRM)

As Gilmour & Cobus-Kuo (2011) point out, reference managers should provide at least most of these abilities:

  1. Import citations from bibliographic databases and websites
  2. Gather metadata from PDF files
  3. Allow organization of citations w/in the reference manager database
  4. Allow annotations of citations
  5. Allow sharing of the reference management database
  6. Allow data interchange with other reference manager products through standard metadata formats
  7. Produce formatted citations in a variety of styles
  8. Work with word processing software to facilitate in-text citation (Gilmour & Cobus-Kuo, Introduction section).

Evaluating Bibliographic Reference Managers

  • Gilmour & Cobus-Kuo's (2011) use their list of BRM functions to evaluate a selection of BRM applications.
  • While it's been seven years since their article was published, their list of BRM functions is still useful and relevant. We can revisit the BRMs that they evaluated because, as you know, software develops and these BRMs may offer new functionality.

Select a BRM

Your Task

  • Select a BRM and pick two of the functionalities from the Gilmour & Cobus-Kuo (2011) article to evaluate it.
  • This will prepare you for the next major assignment, due on Oct. 21, where you will compare and contrast three BRMs more fully.
  • In the next couple of slides, let's watch a couple demonstration videos on Mendeley and Zotero, two of the more popular BRM software.
  • Links to their main sites:


Short video on Mendely



Short video on Zotero


More videos

  • There are lots more videos on YouTube that demonstrate both of these BRMs in greater detail and also other BRMs. Before you begin using one of these BRMs for your own use, you are encouraged to explore these videos.
  • Note that this type of software is fairly stable, but even so, some of the older videos may be out of date due to software development.


  • Think about the overall process---not just the information need or the information source, but also saving and using information for long-term or repeated use.
  • Bibliographic reference managers (BRM) help us with the saving and using part and get us thinking about the overall process.
  • We don't want to pick just any BRM---we should evaluate them first.

That's it. See you on the board.

teaching/managing-academic-sources.txt · Last modified: 2019/01/25 15:50 by seanburns