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A young researcher's guide to digital tools for literature search and reference management

Kakoli Majumder | Oct 20, 2017 | 2,004 views
Digital tools for literature search and reference management

The face of research and publication is changing globally. Due to the intense competition in academia, there is immense pressure on scientists to publish at a fast pace. On the contrary, the journal publication process is slow and researchers scramble to establish scientific priority on their work to avoid getting scooped. The role of researchers is no longer restricted to conducting, writing, and publishing research; they are expected to collaborate across geographical boundaries, contribute to the research community as peer reviewers and journal editors, attend conferences to network with their peers, promote their research to the scientific and non-scientific community, and stay on top of new developments and innovations. Add to that the need to dodge predatory publishers and the numerous traps that abound in the academic publishing industry; researchers definitely have a lot to deal with!

To help researchers juggle the multiple roles they have to play, the scholarly publishing community has been coming up with a diverse range of innovations. Since 2013, numerous digital tools have made their way into the scholarly world to facilitate literature search, research writing, reference management, journal selection, collaboration, networking, data sharing, and research promotion. Besides, there are tools that facilitate open science and open data, and others that aim to make science efficient by working towards standardization. Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer, librarians at Utrecht University Library are conducting a project calledInnovations in Scholarly Communication on the numerous tools and innovations that are appearing on the academic publishing scene. Currently, they have listed over 400 tools and are investigating their usage for different activities in the research workflow.

This two-part article will take a look at some of the tools mentoned in the project that researchers can use at various stages of the research workflow. In this part, I will take you through some tools that can help you with literature search and reference management.  

Literature search

There are a host of available tools to help researchers explore the millions of articles that have been published till date. These can be search engines, curators,  or databases where a researcher can find relevant and reliable sources for a literature review and help them stay on top of the literature in their field. Some databases have special features that make this easier. Here are a few examples:

Google Scholar: This is one tool that most researchers already know about and use. It is a popular search engine that helps researchers find scholarly literature across disciplines using relevant keywords.

F1000Prime: This is yet another search engine that identifies and recommends important articles in biology and medical research publications. The tool’s USP is that articles are selected by a group of leading scientists and clinicians, who then rate them and explain their significance.

PubPeer: Researchers can use this platform to search for publications using DOI, PMID, arXiv ID, keyword, or author. Apart from searching for relevant literature, researchers can also provide feedback on articles or start a conversation anonymously.

PubChase: Using the PubMed database, this tool helps biomedical researchers search and browse through abstracts of research papers and bookmark them to a personal PubChase library. The tool generates recommendations for papers based on the articles in the user’s library.

Reference Management

Reference management tools or reference managers are software that researchers use to handle references and citations while writing. Reference managers store full-text papers along with the references and also allow users to take notes on and annotate PDFs. Most importantly, they help in formatting in-text citations and bibliographic references while composing a manuscript. Thus, if a manuscript is rejected by one journal and needs to be submitted to another, the author does not need to spend time reformatting the references and citations to suit journal requirements. This can be done at the click of a button using reference managers. Mentioned below are some of the popular reference management tools. Note that some fields may have preference for specific reference managers over others, so it would be a good idea to consult an expert from your field while choosing one.

Zotero: It helps researchers collect, organize, cite, and share their research sources. Zotero automatically downloads and saves the PDF version of articles that the user is reading and extracts all bibliographic information. When writing a paper in Microsoft Word, Open Office or Google Docs, users can easily search for and add in-text citations, which automatically appear in the bibliography. Zotero lacks the ability to annotate the PDF itself, but the author can add separate notes files, which are searchable.

Mendeley: Mendeley is a platform comprising a social network, reference manager, and article visualization tools. The reference manager allows easy saving and storing of articles, has a Microsoft Word citation tool which allows users to seamlessly add references to their documents. Unlike Zotero, it allows users to view and annotate PDFs from within the Mendeley program. The platform’s best feature is that it allows researchers to easily collaborate and share documents by creating private groups.

ReadCube: A program for discovering, managing, annotating research papers, ReadCube provides an enhanced PDF reading experience in which the static PDFs offer interactive citations, integrated authorial information, access to supplementary data, related articles and a full-screen figure browser.

EndNote: Owned by Clarivate Analytics, this software tool for publishing and managing bibliographies, citations, and references is extremely popular among researchers. Researchers can create their own reference library by adding references manually or importing them; organize and store references; create and edit citations using EndNote. EndNote can automatically format a citation into any of over 2,000 different styles that the user chooses. The tool also allows researchers to share their research and references, including full-text files and notes with other EndNote users.

In the next part of this series, I will introduce you to some tools that will help you with project management and data sharing.

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