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Organising Your Research and References

Organising what you find

As you start to write longer assignments and reports, you may need to think about how you organise your research and references to make it easier to see what you have read, referenced and where you need to do some further research. There are several different ways to do this.

Why do I need to do this?

There are many reasons why it is important to manage your references and research:

  • To ensure that you have provided a reference for all the citations that you have used.
  • To inform readers of the scope and depth of your study.
  • To provide evidence and validation for your own argument.
  • To avoid plagiarism.
  • To save you time and avoid repetition of work.
  • To find and choose the best research.
  • To ensure that you don't lose any research. 

You may find that using a reference manager like Mendeley, Zotero, or EndNote can help you organise your references and they can be very handy if you have a lot of duplicates in your results set that you need to weed out.

If you want to know more about reference managers and how they work, have a look at the Reference Managers guide.

If you're doing level 7 (or above research) then you may also find other tools helpful.  In Health and Social Care programmes students are often advised to use the PRISMA flow diagram.  You can find out more about this on the Library help guide for Health and Social Care.

If you don't want to use a reference manager tool then you could add your references to a spreadsheet, or a Word document so that you can easily access them no matter which piece of work you're using them in.

What does screening mean?

Screening may sound a little daunting, like a medical procedure, but it's something that you're likely to need to do because it's rare to do a search for a topic and only get a few results. It's more likely, especially when you're working on longer assignments, dissertations, and theses, that you'll still have hundreds (if not thousands) of results in your final list from the database.

The databases can only base your results on what you've asked them to look for and exclude (so your keywords that have to be present; date range; population groups; language; peer reviewed etc.) so it's not unusual to have an article in your results list that does contain your key terms but the overall context of the article is not relevant to your research - so you need to 'screen' out those articles.

Whatever level of study you're engaged in, the process is the same. 

Step 1 - Look at the article title and the abstract

In those two locations you should have enough information to help you decide whether it's worth your while to read the article in full or not. The abstract should be able to confirm whether the article is based on primary research or not; what type of research was conducted and how; and what the conclusions of the research were.

The abstract is a distillation of the article's content; its purpose is to hit the high points to convince you to read it so it's a good guide as to whether it contains useful information or not. Sometimes there will be records that don't have an abstract so you will need to go through to the full text of the article in order to screen it out / in to your list of papers that you'll be discussing in your research, but most records will have an abstract either within the record itself or, sometimes in Library Plus, there'll be a link out to another database where the abstract is held.

You should be able to remove a lot of articles from your list of results in this title / abstract stage of the process.

Step 2 - Read the full-text of the articles you think are relevant

Don't be surprised when, as you read (or speed search) an article you sometimes decide it isn't relevant after all. It's okay to exclude an article at this point if the context isn't correct.