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Are Reference Managers Enough to Organize and Curate Different Scholarly Knowledge Resources?

I pulled my collar up, my hat down, and secured my glasses when I realized that most of the literature I downloaded is now saved on my reference manager and is easily accessible to me. Little did I know, the collation of this vast data on my traditional reference manager with limited referencing style guides, inadaptability of saving all file formats, and so on remains a challenge. I am in a conundrum of how to manage knowledge and not just references?

My worrying isn’t taking me anywhere. I need a solution. One that can make organizing scholarly research data easier than it is now. So, I run down the street to my project partner, Sharon’s apartment. I hope she has found a way of managing this abundance of information that creeps in as we talk.

Knock! Knock!

She opens the door and heads straight back to her working desk diving herself into the pool of research data she has downloaded. She looks perplexed. As she constantly drifts between understanding what literature she has downloaded and staring into the abyss, I muster my strength to ask her, “Hey, any progress on collating the data?”

(And here the rant begins!)

“Where do I even start, Gina? I know what data I need for my literature review. However, have no idea how to collate it. My reference manager is of no use here.”

“That justifies your dismal, Sharon. I thought you had figured it out.”

“Well, the advent of reference managers has eased the arduous process of referencing. However, the speed at which scholarly research is advancing, the limitations of traditional reference managers are failing to satisfy collation and referencing of information overload.” Sharon displayed her concern.

“Agreed!” said Gina and continued, “More so the speed at which they work! The slow importing of high volumes of scholarly research data is another setback.”

“Furthermore, having to remember multiple login IDs across reference managers because every reference manager is falling short of one or more features that are required for precise referencing of a plagiarism-free manuscript. So, I am bound to use 2-3 reference managers with different login IDs. It doesn’t end here, these reference managers are not even capable of accessing different file formats. Moreover, it can only import PDFs and not even visualize imported data in .jpeg or .docx.”

The clock struck 9, and it was time for us to head to the university library. Even as we reached the library, we were still in the middle of our discussion expressing our annoyance over the shortcomings of traditional reference managers.

Prof. Harriet, our supervisor met us there to take an update on our literature review. Seeing us almost lost in our conversation, he couldn’t help himself from adding to the list of drawbacks he has faced while using reference managers for over 20 years now. Pulling the nearest chair, he joins us with his set of   complaints.

He begins, “Since the days of my PhD, I have always had an issue with these reference managers not allowing features such as highlighting and annotating.”

To which Sharon added, “Well, now they do, but only in PDFs. Also, most tools do not have the feature of taking notes and highlighting important points from a research paper.”

Prof. Harriet has been in academia for years more than our age and thus has worked on several projects with so many other researchers. He had even more concerns such as the incompatibility of reference managers with Google Docs and other collaborative platforms. He told us how a researcher can only open one account on reference managers, which restricts authors from sharing their work with their co-authors and mentors for insights and review. Furthermore, it restricts plugins to other collaborative tools such as Google Docs, OneNote, etc.

“These are same problems we’ve been facing!” I expressed. “Also, reference are automatically deduplicated; all duplicate reference entries and repeating data are directly eliminated, which is not convenient for conducting systematic reviews.”

“I agree!” exclaimed Sharon and continued, “Moreover, the restriction on importing and collating references from several scholarly databases is extremely bothersome.”

To which Prof. Harriet added, “We have had access to numerous reference managers for several years, but the reference management tools at our disposal may prove substandard when it comes to collating data from several scholarly databases. Not to mention their inability to support all writing style guides.

“The tool I am using does not abbreviate journal names in accordance with professional society requirements. What adds to this, is its limited storage. How am I supposed to save hundreds of resources in a 2GB memory reference manager?”

“How do we manage our resources?” questioned Sharon.

“Researchers need a tool that goes beyond reference management—they need a knowledge manager.”

Confused and curious, Sharon and I utter in sync, “Knowledge Manager! What would that be like?”

Prof. Harriet has been pondering over this for quite some time. “The drawbacks and risks of using reference managers outweigh the time you save while using them. Hence, I think it’s the pressing priority that researchers use a dependable and comprehensive tool that does not only manage references but the intelligence of all downloaded relevant literature—The Knowledge Manager.”

This sounds promising. I thought to myself.

“We need a tool that goes beyond reference management and holistically improves a scientist’s research reporting and publishing journey.” Prof. Harriet expressed.

He continued, “We must store all relevant resources evaluated based on the results delivered by some unique features such as something like finding key insights where users can capture important aspects of an entire research paper for prioritizing which papers to read first. Furthermore, this feature could also provide a gist making it easier to take a quick recap of the read resources. Another feature that summarizes a research paper producing a concise yet informative brief of each section of a research paper will help researchers like us in accelerating our decision-making and paper prioritization process.”

Amused by these thoughts, we switched our cerebration on.

“A feature that provides a quick overview of the important characteristics of a research paper such as the title, author names, publication year, publication platform, abstract, tables, tags, and remarks will only make literature reviewing a cake walk.” said Sharon.

“What if researchers could save and organize their resources based on their search? Also, using tags will help us categorize our scholarly research data as per projects. This will ensure an instant way of organizing saved research data systematically.” I added.

Prof. Harriet passionately, “A feature to help researchers keep track of saved research data and set reminders for each status update will keep us from the breaching of deadlines and stay on top of our game always.”

“Alerts at a common space will make it easy to manage and save important updates related to your research area. I also think that as scientists, receiving suggestions related to relevant resources, based on our recent interactions with the platform will open doors to newer possibilities and future prospects of research. Additionally, a feature to help us in explore scholarly works related to specific searched results will be a valued asset.” I spoke in an unnaturally loud voice.

It was ideas pouring down the stream!

“Looks like we have found a solution!” declared Sharon as her eyes sparkled.

“So, would you want to overlook the drawbacks of present-day reference managers and write a paper that gets rejected? Or would adopt an AI-based Knowledge Manager that guarantees holistic research data management beyond references?” Prof. Harriet asked encouragingly.

“We are ditching the traditional reference managers and getting our hands on this revolutionary knowledge management tool now!” Sharon said as we left the library with high hopes.


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