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Organizing Your Research

This guide will provide you with some strategies and tools for organizing your notes, readings, references, and more!

Getting Started

Citation managers (or reference managers) are software that help you keep up with a database of references that you want to use in your research and writing processes.

They can also create automatic references or bibliographies at the end of your papers, saving you from the tedious work of typing and formatting your references by hand! Our staff recommends Mendeley, Zotero, and EndNote Web, which are all free programs that you can use on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS, & Android).

To get started with using citation managers, check out the LibGuide on Citation Managers linked below; it will get you thinking about which citation manager is most suitable for your needs, and it also contains helpful tutorials for beginners to citation managers.

If you are already a power user of citation managers, great! The section below contains some real-life examples and tips of how graduate students can use these tools more effectively.

Example: Using Mendeley for Organization

Many people only use Mendeley or Zotero to help them automatically create bibliographies in their Word documents. Both tools, however, are much more powerful than this one use. This software allows you to attach tags, keywords, and notes to each reference entry. You can also organize your entries into different folders, which can be helpful if you want to keep track of which readings you will use for each chapter of your thesis or dissertation. 

Tip 1: Sort your references

 Organize references into folders dedicated to each class, dissertation chapter, or writing project.

You can drag-and-drop each reference into as many folders as you want.

Organize files into folder


Tip 2: Use tags and keywords

Add tags and keywords to each file to make searching easier.

Tags and keywords


Tip 3: Read, annotate and take notes within Mendeley itself

You can read, annotate, and save your notes within the citation manager, allowing you to avoid digging through different folders on your desktop to find them.

Develop a color-coding system for annotation, such as yellow for main ideas or blue for quotes you want to save.

With each reference file, you can save both general notes and sticky notes attached to specific pages.

Collaborate using citation managers

If you're working on a writing project with other people, it is especially helpful to use citation managers to share relevant references and notes with everyone else in the group. Everyone can make and view comments on the same file, eliminating the inbox clutter of multiple versions of the same article. Open groups are also great ways to discover other scholars who share the same interests as you and what they are citing.

Mendeley's guide to groups:

Zotero's guide to groups:

Tip: This collaborative capability is why you should also consider which citation manager your colleagues are using when deciding which one to settle on.