Reference Management Resolutions

Get your sources under control in 2019

Spenser Sembrat on Unsplash

Did you make resolutions last year that you never saw through?

Everything will be different this year! We’ve given you nine resolutions you’re sure to be able to fulfill and that will really help your academic writing: 


  1. Pick a program
    If you don’t yet work with a reference management program, use the first days of the year to find one. Referencing software is not a one-size-fits-all solution. You’ll need to consider what’s important for your workflow and weigh each program’s pros and cons accordingly. Take a look at the website for the programs in your shortlist and download trial versions. By testing out a few programs, you’ll quickly get a feel for which program will work best for you. Not sure what features you should even be comparing? Independent comparisons, such as this one from the TU Munich, can help.

    Learn more about your program
    If you do already have a reference management program, set aside some time to learn what else it can do. It’s all too easy to continue doing something because it works, but your tool of choice might just offer some time-saving steps that you never knew about. Set aside a couple hour to check out your software’s help materials, tutorials, and videos, and it will likely save you a lot of time in 2019.

  2. Organize your computer
    Free your desktop from random files and get rid of unnecessary sub-sub-sub-folders. Import all of your sources into your reference management software to keep them in one central place.

  3. Prepare for your perfect bibliography
    When your reference management program generates a list of references, it will only be as good as the information that was entered in it. If some information was added automatically from databases or library catalogs, it’s good to double-check that everything looks okay. For example, some databases might export both the subtitle and title to the title field or list authors in all caps. We recommend getting into the habit of giving reference information a quick check after every import.  
    What about if you imported PDFs that didn’t have any metadata? Don’t just import and leave them! Add at least the author, year and title right away so that you can easily find your source in your project later on.

  4. Don’t forget to read
    When you get excited about a new project it’s easy to hoard away lots of new articles in your reference management program. Make sure to also regularly set aside time to read your articles. To make sure you remember to do so, create a task for yourself at a time when you won’t likely be interrupted by other matters, for example, late Friday afternoon. Make a ritual out of it: brew a cup of tea, curl up on the couch, and engage in active reading strategies so that you stay engaged with the text.

  5. Keep track of your thoughts
    While you’re reading you’ll often have new ideas or suddenly see how one text fits with another. It’s easy to think that you’ll remember your thoughts later on, but then fifteen minutes go by, and you’ve already forgotten. This year, note down ideas during your reading sessions. The best place to do so is in your reference management program. Nearly every program offers a notes field. If you’re working with
    Citavi, you can even differentiate between your own thoughts and direct quotations, summaries, etc.
  6. A little upkeep goes a long way
    The software you use is one of your main tools for your academic work. Just as a carpenter needs to oil and sharpen his tools, you also should regularly take a look at the programs you use for writing. Check for updates for your computer, your word processor, and your reference management program. Then, install them. Think of the waiting time as a small break, and use it to make a hot chocolate, stand up and stretch or watch a few cute cat videos – whatever helps you relax.

  7. Try to avoid department-specific citation styles
    Most reference management programs offer thousands of citation styles. Yet some university departments still insist on creating their own guidelines. If yours is one of them, check whether you can use a well-knowl citation style, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago instead and make the case that a departmental switch would save everyone time.

  8. Share your system with others
    Once you’ve found a system you like, share it with others along with the tips you’ve discovered. We see a lot of Twitter users under the hashtag #phdchat who are looking for information on what reference management program to use and how to improve their workflows. The good feeling you get from helping others will reinforce your new habits and is a reward in and of itself.


What are your New Year’s Resolutions for your academic writing this year? Share your plans with us on Facebook. 


Created by: Jana Behrendt – Published on: 1/1/2019
Tags: Workflow Knowledge organization

About Jana Behrendt

Jana Behrendt, a librarian by training, is deeply interested in everything related to personal information management. However, she does not read as much as you would expect from a librarian. She loves hiking in the Swiss Alps – as long as she doesn’t have to look down.

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