Should I use software for managing my references? What is the benefit of it? I can write down the references by myself, so I'm not sure what the benefit is.
You do not need to use reference managers. However, if you use some reference managers like Mendeley then, some of the benefits are obvious:
The pdf of your article is linked to the reference itself.
You can organize references into logical groups (areas, subjects, disciplines, sub-disciplines) by utilizing folders and tags.
You can one-click save articles and organize them from your browser. This is invaluable in saving time on organizing.
You can sync across multiple devices like desktops, laptops and tablets. For instance, Mendeley has an iOS app which does this for you. I use Android so I workaround using Droideley or Scholarley.
You can read your articles inside the reference manager and then do useful things like highlighting and annotations which can then be saved as notes for future reference.
You can export to specific citation styles. This is very useful for someone doing interdisciplinary work. For instance, I have to constantly use the same or similar bibliography using APA style, ACM style, IEEE style.
They are very useful for multiple collaborative platforms. For instance, when collaborating with some computer science colleagues, I generally use LaTeX and Mendeley does a brilliant one-click job of exporting to BibTeX. When I work with social scientists, I generally use MS Word and there is a MS Word plugin for Mendeley which dynamically adds references in-line as well as the full bibliography at the end of the document.
I hope this has been partially useful to you. This is a little Mendeley focused and I am in no certain terms claiming that it is the best or the most useful. However, for me, it certainly has its advantages.
There a few advantages:
- If anything, your references listed in the manager can at the very least be a back up for your written copy.
- It is a good time management technique to list the references as you go, handwritten is fine, but with the reference manager, it is ready to be copied onto your completed manuscript - in order, with all the formatting set.
Essentially, it will save you quite a bit of time later on in your research.
This provides a good overview of the articles you've read. Furthermore it is easy to change the format of your references (for example from APA to Harvard).
If you write different articles, it is easy to use the references that you used before.
On a sidenote: Google Docs has a pretty neat feature called 'research' where you can just search for the title and the reference shows up. In that way you do not have to use a reference manager.
Personally, I would say not unless it suits you.
I'm happier with a flat .bib (i.e. bibTex, for use with LaTeX) file, just managed in notepad++. You can use the url field of a .bib to point to a local file, but I don't. Instead, what I've recently started doing is to save a pdf of the reference with a filename based on (but generally longer than) the key I use in my .bib file. I wish I'd done this sooner though! That way I can copy a file and a folder to another machine, on another OS, with no internet connection (e.g. when travelling) and everything just plain works.
I think using a reference manager is an absolute must if you have more than a couple of references and if you plan writing more than one paper/work. It is true that you can generate a reference list by yourself and insert the citations manually, but this will introduce error sooner or later. You will immediately see the benefit of a reference manager if you decide/are forced to change the reference style. A good reference manager with an appropriate Word/LibreOffice plugin will reformat the document automagically.
Collecting references, managing all the information about a publication, including abstract, your notes, keywords and tags are other options where reference managers shine. Most of them can be used as document readers and can collect comments and highlights. And all decent ones sync everything via cloud, have versions for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
There are several excellent options available. You can try Mendeley or Zotero and you will see the benefits immediately by yourself. Don't be afraid if you change your mind later, the reference databases can be rather easily transferred between them.
I am using a reference manager more than a decade and could not live without it. I started with BibTeX, moved to Zotero and later to Mendeley.
It depends. If you only want to write course assignments and then maybe a master's thesis and then leave academia, you might not need a reference management solution which will be most useful when you write multiple papers and books.
On the other hand, there is one reference management solution which is used not only (mostly) by researchers. It is being developped by a Swiss software company (I work for them) and it is hugely successful in Germany and other European countries. The first version of Citavi came out 10 years ago, but it is not yet known in the US. Citavi allows you to not only save the bibliographic information of titles you want to use in your publications, but it lets you save the quotations, your comments, summaries, and your own ideas, too. You can then organize them into the structure of your paper before you actually start writing.
The video "Citavi 5 in a nutshell" shows how it all fits together, and how Citavi can help you to be more efficient while doing research and writing.