During your research you will collect large amounts of information. In ‘Information Literacy Education for PhD Students – a case study’ (Pilerot, 2004), PhD students described how difficult it was to conceptualise, organise, structure and generally manage their research information.
Elicitation techniques can help you to conceptualise and then add structure to your personal collection of information. For example, you could try brainstorming and using the results to create meaningful categories by which to organise your personal information collection.
Bibliographic software packages and desktop search engines can also help you organise your information collection.
Bibliographic software packages
As you will process a large amount of information during your research activities it is worth investing in a bibliographic software package. Bibliographic software can be used to sort references, annotate them, manage quotations or create reading lists.
There are several software packages on the market. Some are listed below.
- Reference Manager
You may want to try Mendeley Desktop, a software package that gathers document details from PDFs to allow users to search, organise and cite effortlessly. It is good for importing exisitng Bibtex, RIS and EndNote XML libraries as they are supported by EndNote, Reference Manager and RefWorks. A free download of Mendeley is available from the website.
Using bibliographic software
Bibliographic software can be used for more than just storing and presenting references. If you spend some time learning the functionality of the package you have, it will be of more use to you.
Consider entering quotations of relevance in the notes field. You may want to have multiple entries for an item, one for each quotation you are interested in. If you also add subject keywords, you can then sort your database to identify useful quotations on a specific subject. It is worth keeping a list of the terms you use, so you can be consistent about how you apply them.
You could also use the notes field to add your comments on a particular reference, which could help you to assess its usefulness to future research you might be doing. You may find that to view this information in a printed bibliography you have to choose the correct bibliographic style, or indeed alter an existing bibliographic style. Instructions on how to do this will vary according to which bibliographic package you are using, so consult the help files if you wish to explore this functionality.
Desktop search engines
The search engines that work on your own computer’s desktop are useful tools for retrieving information held in a variety of formats (e.g. email, word files, recently viewed web pages). For instance: