I bore my family to death, despite the fact that there are misguided souls who think I’m rather interesting. Myself included. I bore my daughter, especially, by giving her advice, continually, about how to do her citations. I worked on my system for years and it’s as near perfection as current technology allows. And by golly I’m going to share it with someone, even if it’s my unsuspecting blog readership of one or two people.
Now, for reasons that fall outside the scope of this blog post, I need to write and cite an article as fast as possible. I simply don’t have the time to sit down and laboriously insert citations “by hand.” Often, the gist of my paper will have been written in longhand and typed in by Anna. I will then pull it together in Word and insert the citations. If you’ve ever seen your grades drop because you can’t sit down long enough to do decent citations, you’ll know where I’m coming from.
Here’s how it works. Everything rests on Dropbox. Download and install Dropbox from https://www.dropbox.com/. This will store up to 2 GB of data for you on the Internet for free, or an unlimited amount if you subscribe.
Next, create a Dropbox folder on every computer you own, preferably on the C: drive (because every Windows computer has a C: drive) and make that your Dropbox folder. Call the folder something like MyDropbox, anything, as long as it’s the same name on all your computers. Important: create a folder named Zotero underneath MyDropbox.
Now for the research notes. Download and install Firefox if you don’t have it already, then install Zotero as a plug-in. Now find the preferences on Zotero (their website has excellent instructions) and set Zotero’s folder as C:MyDropboxZotero. Do this on all your computers.
The following step is to install the Zotero add-in for Microsoft Word. If you’re a more evolved being and you don’t use Word (I’m soooo getting an iPad!) then this recipe is, unfortunately, not for you. Do this on all your computers.
Oh, and go to Radio Shack and get a USB bar code scanner. Next, sign up with Library Thing at http://www.librarything.com/ and sign up. Here, too, you can get a paid subscription that gives you unlimited books. Check it out.
Now you’re ready to start computerizing (or re-computerizing!) your research note system.
When you get a new book, open up Library Thing in Firefox and scan its barcode (normally on the back cover) into the Search box with your hand scanner. Kids love to do this, and you can use the Tom Sawyer method to manipulate them into doing it. As soon as Library Thing finds the book, it will show a little blue book in the URL box on the right hand side. Click on it. Your browser will now pump the book’s identifying information into Zotero. Once again, easy enough for grandchildren to do, God bless ‘em.
Use your favorite note taking system to record interesting passages. Personally I tend to write a page number and a short note on the inside front cover—that way my notes don’t flutter down into oblivion as they tend to do when written on index cards. And best of all, I can kick back in my recliner while doing it. The online downside is a often wake up with a drooled-up book on my chest, but you probably don’t need that level of information. You surely have your own system.
When you’ve finished the book, anyone can open up the book’s item in Zotero and use the “Add note” facility to add each note, preceded by the page number on which its reference is located. Voila, a computerized research note system.
Now, when you write your papers in Word, you open up the Zotero search dialog, right from within Word, find the specific citation in Zotero, add a page number, and add the citation into your Word document with one click. Saves me loads of computer time! Zotero will take care of your bibliography all by itself. Make sure you save the Word document somewhere inside your C:MyDopbox folder.
I have it now where I cite as fast as I write. No really. And I have my research notes for years to come. But the true beauty of this system is that Dropbox replicates both your Zotero database and your Word document onto the Internet, and from there back down to every other computer where you have a Dropbox folder installed. The advantage of Dropbox over backup systems is that you don’t have to go and look for files and restore them in case of a mishap—all your stuff is active and live and stays so. Again, this saves me ‘butt time’ because I don’t have to sit and manually make copies of files I may need elsewhere.
I’m not going to quake in my little boots and add escape clauses such as “. . . but this is only my system; of course you may want to do it differently” or stuff like that. This is my system, and if you can use it, I’m honored. If not, why, good for you. I’m constantly evolving, so I might catch up one day and do it like you. Besides, I am a curmudgeon, you know. I respect everybody but I don’t respond to people going through a nightmare adolescence at the age of 40.
While writing this, I was listening to "Only If…" by Enya