While research is underpinned by how much time one spends scouring
source databases, both online and offline, it may be not enough to
collect those references if you can’t manage them successfully. This
post is going to introduce the subject matter of referencing.
In this post, I will be talking of the nightmare of every student and
researcher: namely organisation of references. Each of us has his or
her own way of:
- Finding sources that may be relevant to his or her subject matter;
- Distilling relevant material from hundreds of texts we handle;
- Setting up a database of authorities for use later on.
If you find yourself being stressed by this, it may be time to
consider using a reference manager to organise your authorities while
you focus on reading and writing that great assignment or paper before
What is a Reference Manager?
A reference manager is a program that you use to organise your
authorities. And by authorities, this simply means sources you use
to prepare for your assignment.
A Good reference manager has to help you distinguish between primary
and secondary sources, and to
- Navigate each source;
- Add new ones;
- Delete; and
- Update them.
Almost all reference managers today can help you format your
reference to an appropriate citation style such as APA, or
Types of Sources
A source simply is the type of a document from which you get your
information. Sources are important in helping you avoid plagiarism,
which is perhaps one of the serious offences in the academia.
Below are some of the sources you will come across when working as a
researcher, that your reference manager can help you with:
- These are monographs or texts that could have been written
by either one or more authors.
- Book Section
- A book chapter in a book. Book sections are common
in books with many contributors on a topic.
- A paper presented in a conference and collected in a
- Journal Article
- Popular for breaking new grounds in research,
these are often found in technical journals.
- A product of an organisation that presents important
- Could be a Master’s or Doctoral thesis. Though it is an
unpublished work, a thesis is important as it uncovers new
ground in a field.
Example of reference managers
There are many reference managers today. However, I will only talk of
those which I once worked with and still continue to use as of today.
Except for the last two, Mendeley and Zotero function in the same way: they
both come with a desktop client, an online community and browser
JabRef and BibDesk are standalone programs. However, they can
interface with other reference managers to exchange data.
Advantages of Reference Managers
The major advantage of reference managers has to do not only with how
you add entries to a database, categorise those entries, but also with
Today’s reference managers such as Zotero and Mendeley are
- You create an account online;
- You get a desktop client for managing your sources offline;
- You get a browser add-on for capturing citations while researching; and
- All your references are synced across devices.
Thus, you do not need to worry about system crashes or loss of PC:
once you get any new device, you log in and get your references on a
This means that reference managers work like backup services such as
Dropbox and Google Drive, where data is in the cloud.
These cloud services have got active forums where you get connected to
people who share similar interests with you. This way, you can get
recommendations and related references for a research paper you will be
Setbacks of Reference Managers
The main setback has to do with setting up the desktop clients. Some
of these clients are not fully accessible, especially on Windows (as
of today in August 2020).
This, however, is offset by the fact that you can choose to manage
your references online and download them when you need to work on a
paper. As how this can be done, we will get into detail in the post
on working with your
sources in Microsoft Word.
A reference manager is a necessary tool if you have to stay on top of
your game in research: you focus on researching and writing, and
leaving the dirty work of organising such references to a reference
In the next post, I will talk of how to use Zotero as a reference
manager. Until then, stay safe and thanks for reading this post!