‘Tech 4’ organising research notes: EndNote (revisited)

I have written here a few times about the difference social media has made to my PhD journey. It has put me in contact with interesting researchers who I otherwise wouldn’t have a chance of ‘meeting’. The most recent surprise was on Instagram, where I found the #phdsupportgroup and met my newest crowd.

In a recent publication Margarida Ferreira wrote:

foto (2)

I briefly replied on her Instagram post, but thought it was worth expanding it a bit here.

I did start writing notes just as Margarida, by hand on my PhD journal, but very shortly it felt very unproductive. Also, it felt like any needed information would take so long to be found that I would probably give up before finding it. So what was the point?

Then I decided to change the system and adopt the EndNote database for everything, from referencing to keeping notes (I have previously written about EndNote here). These were the steps I followed:

  1. Add the pdf, if available; or if it is a book and the pdf is not available, I’d open a doc file and type my notes. This would then be converted into a pdf and attached to EndNote.
  2. Highlight important parts of the texts (using the EndNote highlight tool).
  3. Make comments (also using the EndNote comment tool).

This means that all my notes, highlights and comments are safe and in the same place: an organised library. The software allows many different ways for searching words, authors, journals, titles, abstracts, pdf and so forth. Some pdfs, however, won’t allow the use of the highlight tool and search words and in these cases you can just search for words on the title or on the information you added to the reference itself. The comment tool always works though, and it is possible to assign the articles and books to groups, if you’d like to sort them by subject, for example.

When I had my PhD dissertation roughly structured I started to add notes such as “insert (Silva, 2011) here”. This ‘(Silva, 2011)’ was already a cross reference from EndNote. When I finally came to reshape the text and make the connections, the process of finding the right references became very straightforward.

In summary, I see a few advantages on using this system:

  1. You just write (or in this case type) once.
  2. Easily searchable notes and information.
  3. If you want a direct citation, it is there ready waiting for you on the pdf or on your comments.
  4. Pdf and reference are all together and found at once.

It has been working very well for me. The tricky bit is to remember to backup your EndNote library, and I cannot reinforce this enough. You need to make sure you have it all safe.

So this was my system. How have you been keeping your notes?

6 thoughts on “‘Tech 4’ organising research notes: EndNote (revisited)”

  1. How much does EndNote costs? 🙂
    Does it generate a library that just EndNote opens? If EndNote is not available (not maintained anymore) in 10 years from now, are you going to lose your notes? Just to think about…

    1. Tonico, EndNote is not free and does have a cost, although I don’t know how much it is. I chose EndNote because this is the reference manager that Lincoln Uni uses and it is free for students. Because they have all the support at the uni, it made easier while I was learning. I know many people prefer Mendeley ( exactly because it is free and you can share articles and references (in a social network style, as I understand it!). I have downloaded Mendeley and have imported all my library into that and it seemed to have worked well. I don’t know, however, how it integrates with word (EndNote is a plug-in and adds all references through the press of a button). Will probably try in the near future. 😉

  2. Yesterday, I met Leonardo and talked to him about your post… Then, we talked a bit about LaTeX. I used LaTeX in my last years in academy.. It is a text processor that exists since the seveties… And it does this crossreferences, offeres space for notes and etc in a professional way.. I have a book about it and I will show you when you arrive here in Brazil… Kssz… 🙂

  3. Nice post Silvia! I bought Endnote while doing my PhD because it was what I was advised to use it and free services like Mendeley didn’t exist then! After leaving uni, I realised that upgrading from my Endnote 4 was going to be an increasingly costly affair and recently (3 weeks back actually!) I made the painful decision to shift my references to Mendeley. While Mendeley has a neater interface, is sometimes more intuitive to use than Endnote, and is compatible with PDFs, I am still getting used to it. Just wanted to say, while Endnote is really nice, the cost factor (especially once you leave uni and access to its license) is something to be factored in.

    1. Hi Chandni, thanks for your comment.
      Yes, I have been thinking about it and have downloaded Mendeley, but I am not going to make any changes until I submit the final version after the oral… Just in case!
      So is Mendeley installed as a plug-in for Word as Endnote? Or do you use any other word processing software? I have been tempted to try Scrivener, but will also wait until I finish the thesis.
      And how is life after the PhD BTW? I have all your recent posts saved on my feedly and will read as soon as I have a chance. If all goes well, I must submit in the next couple of weeks… Fingers crossed!

      1. I use Word as well, so the first thing I checked about Mendeley was whether it had a Word plugin (ye it does!) and whether I can easily transfer all my references (err..yes, but your folders/groups won’t migrate so I had to reorganise all my refs). But it’s definitely a good idea to shift after the thesis is submitted – a referencing nightmare is the last thing you want at this stage!

        Post-PhD life is good and thankfully not as scary as recent posts on the blogosphere make it out to be (maybe because I have chosen not to get into academia). But I do miss the ‘student’ life and just hanging out with fellow-researchers.

        All the best to you! I’m sure before you know it, this phase will be done and you’ll be looking at it longingly 🙂

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