Organizing my Research

As a follow-up to my recent post about organizing my library, this post talks about the system I’ve come up with for organizing my research.

I was starting a new research project, and I realized that writing my bibliography and managing my citations manually wasn’t going to be good enough. I needed a reference manager of some sort. My librarian suggested I try Mendeley, and it has become the core of my reference-management workflow.

Whenever I read a new work academically, I put it into Mendeley first and then I use the notes field in Mendeley to keep notes on the work. I use the Mendeley Desktop client for almost all my interactions with Mendeley; it’s available for Linux, Windows and Mac OS X, so it should work for most users. I haven’t used the PDF annotation feature much, but when I have I’ve found it pretty cool.

I split my references up into folders for each project, to better organize them.

I write my papers using LaTeX and manage bibliographies with BibTeX-format files. In the Mendeley Options dialog, I have enabled automatic BibTeX syncing, creating one BibTeX file per collection. I save these files to ~/texmf/bibtex/bib, which is a global location for BibTeX files. I can then say \bibliography{collectionName} in any LaTeX file on my system and have it automatically import the citations from that Mendeley collection. Then I can use \autocite, \printbibliography and any other commands one would usually use to manage citations in LaTeX. One caveat is that your collection names cannot contain spaces; BibTeX doesn’t support that.

Beyond that, when Mendeley syncs the BibTeX files, it also syncs the notes I’ve put in the notes field of each entry. This is really cool. I can then use a LaTeX file like this to generate a PDF annotated bibliography (in MLA format) of a particular collection.

For web pages, I have Zotero installed inside Firefox, and I import pages into that. I have Mendeley configured to automatically import citations from Zotero.

Finally, I’ve put Scholarley on my phone and set it to sync my Mendeley library so that I can look at my citations on the go. Unfortunately, I can’t add works or take notes through the client (so no research on the bus), but I hope that will come out soon.

Matthew Wigginton Conway
Matthew Wigginton Conway
PhD Candidate in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University

I am PhD Candidate in Geography at Arizona State University, where I research how zoning codes influence transport outcomes.