Research Skills Central

Course materials for teachers of information literacy

Referencing without tears

Paperwork (from MS free clipart)“It’s amazing the different referencing systems that students are using.”

“You mean Harvard and Vancouver?”

“No, I mean Zotero and Mendeley”

(Helen Beetham, ‘Strange encounters: academic learning and digital know-how‘, ALDinHE 2012 conference keynote)

‘Referencing without tears’ is not designed to tell students about citation styles and how to put the comma in the right part of your Harvard reference. This is for two reasons: firstly, almost every faculty and department in Cambridge uses a different citation style; and secondly, I can’t think of a faster way to lose my students’ interest! Instead, this class focuses on the idea of ‘outsourcing’ some parts of the information management process in order to spend your time and mental energy on doing the research.

I give a quick overview and demo of four types of reference management software:

  • EndNote
  • EndNoteWeb
  • Zotero
  • Mendeley

– and talk about each one in terms of the kind of workflow it best supports. I describe these in terms of animal typology – a wonderful idea nicked from Matt Borg of Sheffield Hallam. In these terms EndNote, which is installed on one machine only and requires a fairly systematic approach, is good for the ‘worker ant’ researcher: someone who performs the same kinds of action in an organised way, perhaps at the same time of day and in the same place. In contrast, Zotero is great for ‘squirrel’ researchers (like me), who might stumble across useful material anywhere and need to be able to save it on whatever device they have handy.

I think it’s immensely important to give students a range of options when it comes to digital tools. Everyone works differently, and there’s a danger that if in our classes we privilege one tool or program students will try to make their workflow fit the tool – not the other way around.  I’ve even designed a worksheet (below) to help students think about the kind of material they work with and their own preferences for storing it.


Slides (November 2013)

What’s your workflow?‘ worksheet (January 2013)

Reference management software overview (1-page handout, January 2013)

Creative Commons Licence
Referencing Without Tears by Emma Coonan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

3 comments on “Referencing without tears

  1. Jenny
    January 13, 2021

    The links to the material don’t seem to work. Do they need updating or is there an issue with my browser/access rights?

  2. librariangoddess
    January 14, 2021

    Hi Jenny, unfortunately I no longer have access to the materials myself! I left CUL at the end of 2013 and they got erased or migrated to a different server after that, and I ended up being too busy in my new role to hunt them all down again. I also wasn’t too sure about the IP rights. However, they’re probably so out of date now they wouldn’t be too helpful : (

    • Jenny
      January 14, 2021

      That’s a shame. Thanks for getting back to me though 🙂

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