The more you read, and the more information you find when doing research for your course, the more there will be for you to keep track of. Using a good reference management system is a start, but you need to store the paper and online documents that you find.
If you start to build up a collection of print documents, organise these in one place, such as in a storage box, or box file. Keeping a pile on your bedroom floor seems like a good idea in your first year, but by the time you reach your final year, and have moved 3 times, that pile won’t be very accessible.
However it’s very likely that the majority of your documents will be electronic. You still need to organise them. There are a number of good ways of doing this:
- Reference management software will allow you to save pdf documents with the bibliographic information you enter
- Reference management software can also save the SFX link to articles, so that you don’t need to save a separate copy of an article, but just export information to the software (RefWorks does this automatically for example)
- If you save copies on your PC, keep them organised in folders relating to subject, and label the filenames sensibly (author and year might be a good start)
- Save documents to a memory stick or your personal hard drive
Get into the habit of organising the documents you read – whatever system you use needs to make sense to you, but don’t make it too complicated. If you’re in your 4th year writing a final year project, you don’t want to waste time trying to find documents from your first year.
Get to know the reference management software you decide to use. It is developing all the time, and often includes ways of helping you to organise and access information. For example, you could use the notes field in RefWorks to record if a reference to a book is a book from the library, or a copy you borrowed from a friend. Or you may find you can access information from your RefWorks account on your mobile phone which means you don’t have to be using a PC or laptop to check a reference you need.