Citation Tools for the win!

One tool that our students in research-heavy classes really love is the open-source freely available citation management software available at Zotero.org. Zotero gives you a platform to organize and save your research from library databases or websites, and it can automatically generate citations and bibliographies directly inside Microsoft Word. This saves students a ton of time – when I show this tool to the 3rd year nursing students, they all cry that they wish they had known about it in their first year. You still need to know how a proper citation in the required style should look to avoid any mistakes, but Zotero does much of the work for you. I really appreciate that this tool makes it easy for students to complete this crucial yet often cumbersome exercise.

It’s also great for collaboration on group projects or with colleagues, as you can share access to your libraries of saved research. If anyone is interested in trying it out, let me know, I’ve written up a step-by-step installation guide!
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One of the things the students I work with often have difficulty with is selecting good subject terms to pull relevant search results while looking for articles in electronic databases. In the age of Google, we are so used to looking for information by asking questions. Unfortunately, asking a database a question in a similar form to how we would ask Siri for directions to the nearest Starbucks will probably not produce very relevant search results. This is because most electronic databases use specific subject terms and subject tags to organize and filter content. Typing in extraneous words will connect us to irrelevant results.

Additionally, while searching the databases, students also often don’t notice the use of subject tags on the articles. In many databases, clicking on a hyperlinked subject tag in an article record will pull up a list of other articles that have been tagged with the same subject. This can really help when someone is struggling to find enough relevant articles for their research paper.

To help them understand how to pick out good subject terms and encourage them to click on and explore the subject tags, I often compare forming a research question to using hashtags on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Most students are familiar enough with the use of hashtags to know that if you make a mistake typing in a hashtag, you won’t pull up the relevant posts. Making a mistake while typing in a subject term is like making a typo in the hashtag on your social media posts, i.e. selecting #fluffythecat instead of #floofythecat will not bring you to pictures of the same cat.

This analogy not only emphasizes that grammar and spelling are important but also makes them think about which keywords are the most closely related to their research questions, helping to formulate their research strategy. Most importantly, it demonstrates how easy peasy selecting keywords can be, and makes database searching less intimidating.