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Bibliographic Software

There are may kinds and prices of bibliographic software, and any you would want to use as a doctoral student needs to be able to group and subgroup your reading.  Reading academic material is often not easy, especially when you may have been out of the university environment for a while. Unlike reading for pleasure, reading academic material forces us to read and take notice of more components than just the content. From the viewpoint of the doctoral student who may be investigating this material as a potential for their dissertation and review of literature, several components need to be investigated all at once. This article discusses bibliographic software and what you should consider collecting in it from the very beginning. 

There are two basic types of academic articles: essays for explanatory works and research articles. In an essay or explanatory writing such as textbooks, an author discusses their ideas which have been developed over the course of time and through a variety of experiences. For most universities expert opinions, in order to be appropriate

for a review of literature or as a basis for doctoral dissertation, essays need to be written by acknowledged experts in the field and peer reviewed. Research articles, on the other hand, are the outcomes of credible research techniques applied to a topic that give the article the expertise it needs for publication.

Universities require that articles used in reviews of literature come from peer reviewed sources. Research journals are an excellent example of this, while magazines that frequently focus on a particular field or topic may not be. Books, by some publishing houses will always be peer reviewed, while others may not. Books that fall under the peer-reviewed category generally have extensive references, glossaries, and often footnotes explaining particular ideas in greater detail. It is usually the case that the reviewers will be thanked by the author and the publishing house somewhere in the introduction or preface to the book.

You might consider five or six stages to your development of your bibliographic references and the development of your library as it relates to your dissertation or thesis:

  1. Do a background search from text books, course work and magazines from your industry.
  2. Develop a mind map of your topic using the same sources while branching out to a few peer reviewed books or journals to establish sub-topics of potential interest.
  3. Drill down into the parts of your topic that capture your interest or are most relevant to your context by adding research literature. Set these up in your bibliographic software as groups or topics and pull the appropriate references into them.
  4. Complete a detailed search across journals, books, electronic articles, government and educational databases, etc. Capture the readings that catch your interest and be sure to note why and on what pages key points are made.
  5. Consider the methodological implications of your ideas. Make note of interesting approaches to research in one of the lower fields in the database.

You will also want to note what keywords you used to find the article you are reading. Some universities require that you disclose these search words when you write the methodology chapter. Make note of these in your bibliographic software as well - so that, if delayed, you can go back and not waste time trying to remember what made for the fruitful searches.

It is also useful to write a few lines in your reference software about how you intend to use the article, what topic areas it pertains to, and/or identify its most interesting characteristics. Use of reference software, such as bibliographic software, coupled with the depth of the notes you take and the focus to which you capture all the elements in your references will make a difference in how much time you need to take at the end, tracking down details you no longer remember. Be sure to write citations for everything you read. Many students find that quotes and citations have been lost in the final hours when they could not track them back to their original source. Good habits in this regard are everything!