Cite Your Sources – Part 2

Written by Lynn.

Last week we talked about tracking and citing your sources when doing research, something witches should be doing regularly. In that post, we covered why this idea is so important. Today, in honor of World Intellectual Property Day, we are going to talk about how to make the process of documenting your sources as pain free as possible.

When you were taught about bibliographies in school, you were taught how to document your sources using approved templates. These templates were made with specific goals in mind to make retracing another person’s steps as easy as possible. As a sort of homework assignment at the end of part one, I asked you to making note of what you thought most important to track with your sources. Much like shopping for a house or a car, you want to know what sorts of things you are looking for before you go looking at the options. So, if you haven’t already, note a few things, then let’s dive in.

Focus on why you are tracking sources to help cement it as an important part of the process.

Option 1: Zotero

Zotero might be a good choice for you if you keep you prefer digital note taking and digital sources. Zotero is an app that helps you track your sources, take notes, and more. If you are on the web, you can use a plugin for your browser to immediately add a source to your list. If it is a physical source? Zotero can grab bibliographic data from other places so you can import the full citation easily.  All your information is synced across devices, so it doesn’t matter where you are, so long as you have internet. On top of that, Zotero is open source and nonprofit, so they don’t want your money and they have no financial interest in your information. I’ve used it before, and it is wonderful.

I will mention that it doesn’t help much with physical note taking, as you’d have to handle “in line citations” yourself. For digital notes, though, I suggest giving this a shot.

Option 2: WorldCat

If you like print media but digital note taking, try this one. WorldCat’s whole idea is to be an online catalogue of everything. You can use it to search for sources, get the exact citation you need, and even see what local libraries have the book on their shelves. Its focus is primarily on physical media (books, DVDs, CDs) but also has some article coverage. Once you find the book you are looking for, you can add it to a private list and add some notes regarding the source. This is a great way to note what you thought of a source and what you got from it. WorldCat is a great way to keep track of your sources as well as finding them.

The one downside with this one is it does require you to find a way to mark in your notes what source you used, which means “in line citations” might be a pain. I would recommend a system like “list number, item number” to keep it simple.

A quick note that Zotero and WorldCat work well together, as you can get citations off WorldCat and put them into Zotero. You are not restricted to picking just one!

Option 3: A Reading Journal

Don’t want to force your data to fit into an app’s pre-established system? Make yourself a reading journal. Whether this is a spreadsheet, a database, a computer document, or a good old-fashioned notebook, you will not find anything more tailored to your needs than the thing you make yourself.

The great thing about this is you can make your own system for citing sources. For example, let’s say that I’ve been keeping a reading log and want to note that my information on rosemary comes from a specific book I listed in that reading journal. All I need to do is determine what entry that book is in my journal, then put that number beside the notes.

I will say this system can be tedious as you will have to write down a lot of information for each item in the journal. If you have little time, I suggest taking a picture of the book you wanted to add to your list, preserving the information till you have time to log it properly.

The Universal Sticking Point

Regardless of method, you will need to work to make it a part of your research process. Noting your sources can be a pain unless it is a habit. I don’t expect you to be perfect with it, and you shouldn’t hold yourself to a perfect standard either. Instead, focus on why you are doing it when making citations to help cement it in your routine as an important part of the process.

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