Nov 05 2016

Getting Organised – Referencing

September marked the half way point of my PhD. So, as it is time to get things organised and focus on writing, I have decided to write a series of posts about my workflow. This is partly to help me clarify and streamline my processes, but also in case it is of use to anyone else.

My first post is about referencing. Referencing is one of those things you have to do, but is all too easy to leave to the last minute as, quite frankly, it is boring. I have spent many sleepless nights trying to sort out a bibliography started way too late, especially when I was doing my undergraduate degree and there was no laptop to help. Luckily there are lots of tools available now which can make this task relatively painless.

Reference Management
One of the absolute essentials, for me at least, is a reference management tool. I use Mendeley, partly because I have been using it since my MA, but mostly because it is free and has desktop and web versions which sync. This means I am confident that my library of references is safe and backed up (I also back up to an external hard drive, because you can never have too many back up copies – yes I am slightly paranoid about losing my work).

References can be added simply by dragging a pdf file into the document list, or manually. The authors’ names appear on the left hand side and the details of a selected document appear on the right hand side, which allows you to check the details and correct them if needed.You can view your references as a table or as citations, and you can choose from a number of different referencing styles. There is also a notes section, but to be honest I never use this. If PDF files are saved into Mendeley you can open and read them in the desktop or via the web and iPhone versions – great for reading on the go.

However, where Mendeley really comes into its own is organising your library of references. Over the course of my MA and PhD studies I have amassed a huge library of references, over 600 and still growing. I have created a Thesis folder in Mendeley, with a sub-folder for each chapter. Each reference I use in a particular chapter will be added to the appropriate folder, this will reduce the references I have to check to smaller chunks, and the folder can also be used as a reading list for each chapter.

So, references are organised and checked for accuracy, but this still doesn’t solve the dreary task of creating a bibliography. The solution I found combines LaTex (which I will write about in my next post) and a BibTex file created from my Mendeley library.

Creating a BibTex File
To create a BibTex file from your library, you need to go to the preferences tab. Go to the BibTex tab and tick ‘Enable BibTex syncing’.

Mendeley Preferences Tab

Mendeley Preferences Tab

There are three options, I go with ‘Create one BibTex file for my whole library’ so I don’t have to worry whether my references are in a particular folder. Browse and select where you want the file to be saved, then click ‘Apply’ and ‘Save’. And that is it, as you add to your Mendeley library your BibTex file is automatically updated to add your new references.

Citation Keys
The other thing you need to do is make sure ‘citation key’ is ticked under ‘Document Details’. When you select a document you will see that in the details on the right a citation key has been created (circled in red here),

Mendeley Desktop with Citation Key circled

Mendeley Desktop with Citation Key circled

the default is Author/Date but you can change it to whatever works best for you. This little shorthand reference to the document is the key to creating a bibliography and in text citations with minimal effort using LaTex.

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