Dissertation Help: Why PhD Students Should Use Reference Software

By | July 11, 2022

Dissertation processes break down when students can’t find their reading or are poorly organized. Lack of initial organization leads to wasted time throughout the dissertation process, and time is your most valuable asset throughout graduate school. This article covers the initial organization of dissertation reading and writing, focusing on the common question, “Why should I use reference software?” While EndNote is the software I use and therefore know best, any software could work as long as it allows you to do three things: first, it helps you capture and organize your notes, and second, it makes it possible you to cite and create a reference list as you write, and third, to easily change reference styles. All three attributes of good reference software, along with brief pointers on how they will help you in your dissertation process, are covered in this article.

Capture and organize notes

Aspiring graduate students rarely understand the importance of capturing every little bit of their thoughts in a database from the start. The notes you make now about the ideas you have as you read will be invaluable later. If you don’t start a reference library early in your process, you’ll eventually need to back up and capture ideas that you’ve lost. As a high school student, I grew up in the days when you took notes on slips of paper. We were trained to write down the full reference and then capture any idea that we found interesting and could use in our writing in the future. The same idea applies today in reference software like EndNote. You do more than record this reference and what you read, you capture your ideas about it.

Since you are using a database, you will have fields, some of which you may need and some of which you may not need for any particular type of reference. Be sure to fill out every required field each time you read an article that you find worth mentioning. Depending on the library, this can be done by electronic transfer from your library database directly into your EndNote file. You may also consider simply entering the required information as many times as it is faster than electronic transmission. Never leave a reference without making notes about your article ideas in the database fields below. Why did you read this article? What did you find important about it? Which ideas do you not want to forget? Make sure all of these questions are answered before you close the documentation of your reading.

Quoting and referencing when writing

Academic work requires that we acknowledge the other authors whose work we have read and who have influenced the ideas we write about. This is not the same as quoting verbatim. I suggest that you get into the habit of writing what you think from your own point of view, and then return to your reference list at the end of each paragraph and acknowledge whose work contributed to what you just wrote. If you use EndNote, and hopefully other high-quality reference software, you can highlight the authors’ references you want to cite and easily incorporate those group citations into your writing. The reference software should also start a reference list at the same time and keep it in alphabetical order for you. This step alone will save you many hours of work. If you have an author who wrote multiple things in the same year, the software will even go back and add the required a. or b. after these quotes.

It may happen that your references change a little. For example, you might find that you misspelled an author’s name, or you somehow had to update some of the fields in the reference. Instead of having to go through every document you’ve ever used this citation in, you can know that the updates will come by simply updating the reference list when reopening the document. As you write academically for years, this will save you more time than you can now imagine.

Easily change reference styles

Your university requires that you use a specific reference style and constantly refer to that specific style manual. Your reference software does much of this work for you, managing the updates as these style guides change over time. Keep in mind that you will not always write in the same style as scholarly journals use different styles and you will need to adapt your writing to the needs or guidelines of the publications you are writing for. EndNote, and hopefully other reference software, will again allow you to change the style and then update the document to reflect that change.

When you start writing a dissertation, there are other specific reasons that you might want to have everything you’ve read captured in a reference software. For example, a complete database allows you to easily sort your reading into topics for your lighted review and write each topic in your own voice. The ways you can use reference software during the dissertation or thesis writing process are covered in other articles. In summary, a beginning graduate student will save many hours of time if they start early by using reference software to capture and organize their notes, cite and reference what they read as they write, and allow them to Easy to change reference styles.

Thanks to E. Alana James | #Dissertation #PhD #Students #Reference #Software

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