Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Managing Your Research with RefWorks

Remember doing research with note cards?  When I started college in 2000, note cards were the standard way of organizing sources for a research paper.  I remember going through stacks of note cards while researching in the library, writing down a citation and paraphrase or quote on each card so that I would not forget what information I planned to use from which source.  Research methods have changed a lot since then.  Some people may still choose to use note cards, but I wrote multiple papers in law school without a single note card.  Instead, I moved my research management onto the computer.

Features like folders in Westlaw and Lexis make managing sources easy.  You can quickly save a case or a law review article, highlight sections you plan to reference in your paper, and add annotations to note the importance of a source.  But these features are limited to use on a single platform.  You cannot add a document from HeinOnline, Lexis, or elsewhere to a Westlaw folder.  This limitation is a problem if your research takes you outside of a single platform.  For instance, you may want to use articles from both Westlaw and Bloomberg, as well as print treatises from the library.  Of you may have a project that requires research outside of legal literature entirely.  When I was in law school, I wrote a paper on plagiarism in legal writing.  While my primary focus was the legal profession, I also looked at other disciplines, such as literature, business, and psychology, to see how each one viewed plagiarism.  In order to keep track of all my sources, I needed something more than Westlaw and Lexis folders.

I managed the research for my paper using a bibliographic management program.  There are several bibliographic management programs available.  In law school, I used Zotero, but in this post, I am going to talk about RefWorks at Western New England University.  Students, faculty, and staff have access to RefWorks through the D'Amour Library's tools and resources.

RefWorks is a program that allows you to store, organize, and share your citations.  When you locate a source, you enter the bibliographic information (title, author, etc.) into RefWorks.  You can include notes about the source, and for electronic sources, you can either link to the source or upload a copy.  Uploading a copy is convenient because it keeps all of your sources accessible from one location, but space on RefWorks is limited to 100MB per user, so you may not be able to upload every document.

Once you enter the information about your source into RefWorks, you can save it to one or more folders.  This allows you to organize your sources into various catagories.  For instance, I use the folders to separate sources into ones that I am citing in my paper, ones that I am only citing in a bibliography, and ones that I do not intend to cite (so that I can keep track of everything I have looked at).   Folders also allow you to share your sources with other RefWorks users.  You can choose any folder and share it with other RefWorks users at Western New England University.  RefWorks let you chose what information about a source to share, so you can share the bibliographic information without sharing your annotations.

When you are ready to cite a source in a footnote or bibliography, RefWorks offers another feature that can save time.  RefWorks will create citations for your sources based on the bibliographic information you entered.  RefWorks supports a large number of citation styles, including the Bluebook.  So RefWorks can create a bibliography or footnotes for you in Bluebook style.  The results are not perfect; you will still need to check the results against the Bluebook.  But checking RefWork's citations is often faster than creating citations from scratch.  I think the automatic citation feature is worth a second look.

From start to finish, RefWorks can save you time and frustration with a research project.  Give it a try.  You can create an account and jump right in, or you can view trainings available on the RefWorks website.  This Thursday, you can also attend a live training session at the D'Amour Library. Join Josh Becker, D’Amour Library Information Literacy Librarian, for a RefWorks workshop on Thursday, September 26, 2013 from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. in the Digital Learning Center on the second floor (Room 215) of D’Amour Library.  Coffee, tea, and cookies will be provided.

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