I’m doing a research project right now for a faculty member, and I’ve finally found the research software that I’ve wanted since my high school history teacher taught me to take great notes (good) on note cards (bad). The software is Zotero.
Zotero lets me take notes in a structured way, tying each note to a specific bibliography entry, and then tagging the notes, so that when writing, I can quickly look at all the notes on ‘background, or ‘history’, or ‘philosophy’, or whatever I’m writing on right now, regardless of what source they came from. The bibliography entries are pulled straight from the university’s library system, so I know they are accurate, and the whole thing is a browser plugin, so importing an item from the university library into Zotero is one click. And export into nicely formatted reports that I can hand over to my faculty member for his review is braindead easy too. (More structured data dumps are available too.) It looks to have about a bazillion more features, but these are the ones I’ve been craving for a decade or so now, and I’m so excited to actually find and use them that I’m just about bubbling over with joy.
Bad news for lawyers is that bluebook is too insanely complicated, so we can’t actually get good citation support from Zotero yet (though some may be in the pipeline). But for anyone else doing research (or for lawyers doing research for non-law-journal publication) that feature is probably a godsend too. And the UI is irritating to me in one or two places in ways that I can’t quite put my finger on yet- nothing big (and the intro videos are quite good at explaining how to use it) but somehow feels suboptimal for how I’m using it. Still… happyhappyjoyjoy.
Yes, I’m a research dork. So sue me. And in the meantime, if you’re doing serious research, go forth and play with Zotero.
(And it is both gratis and libre software. Win.)