Discussions on the art and craft of research

Month: November 2016

Manage Your Citations with RefWorks to Save Time and Keep Organized

Per the request of seniors writing honors theses this year, the librarians offered an advanced workshop on citation style. In the workshop, we took a close look at how the three main style guides (APA, Chicago, and MLA) handle translated sources, and we did some exercises with the additional tools in RefWorks (the citation manager of choice available to all at Connecticut College):

  • Save references on the Web
  • Cite in Microsoft Word
  • Cite in Google Docs

Pros & Cons of Citation Managers

It is important to be clear up front about the advantages/disadvantages of using a citation manager. Now that we can export citations for virtually everything in a library catalog or database, as well as anything listed in Google Scholar, citation managers promise to substantially cut down the number of keystrokes required to compose a list of citations. As the number of citations grows, we are quickly talking about hours of typing labor that can be saved by using a citation manager. Organizationally, it’s a tremendous help to keep all citations stored in one place. The major drawback is that all sorts of typographical errors creep into the citations, whether from the exporting source such as a database, or from within RefWorks itself. It does not take long, however, to recognize the pattern of typos that occur. Just keep an eye on them and make sure to edit them as you go along, or at the end of a project.

Citing Translated Sources

For translated sources, the main style guides do not have a whole lot to say. But they provide just enough guidance that we should be able to document non-English language sources clearly and consistently. That guidance is reflected on these slides, which spell out the main rules for translated sources:


Click here to view slides on style guidelines for translated sources

New Tools in RefWorks

In the new RefWorks interface, click on the three dots located on the top white ribbon to access the tools.

Click here for the Tools in RefWorks

Screenshot of RefWorks

The “Save references on the Web” tool can be dragged to your browser and used to capture information from Web pages for composing a citation. It works perfectly on a site like PubMed, which must have really good metadata; less so on the New York Times and other sites, but worth a shot.

The “Cite in Microsoft Word” tool needs to be downloaded and installed according to your operating system and version of MS Word. While there can be as much as a two-hour learning curve in getting this tool up and running, it ultimately promises to be a major time saver. With this tool activated, one can seamlessly insert formatted citations into a Word document, whether parenthetical or footnotes, as well as inserting a bibliography or list of works cited. If at a later date you need to change the citation style of your paper, you can do so with the click of a button, and watch your entire document reformat to the designated citation style.

The “Cite in Google Docs” tool is an Add-on that’s easy to implement. If you need footnotes instead of parenthetical citations, simply manually insert the footnote in Google Docs, then select a reference from the RefWorks sidebar.


As far as citations go, we know there are a thousand exceptions and a million quirky sources that don’t seem to fit the rules laid out in style guides. That’s why we encourage anyone with questions to contact one of our librarians for assistance.

Additional Resources

The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) has long provided a very useful overview of the main rules from the three major citation styles. It’s easy to cross-check what you’re doing with the rules laid out on Purdue OWL.

Our own succinct Citation Guide for Print & Electronic Sources provides links to RefWorks and other leading citation managers, as well as to the major style guides, which are all available at the Reference Desk in Shain Library, and to additional online help.

Additional support from RefWorks:

—Andrew Lopez





On Fake News and Research Skills

In light of the emergence of fake news as one of the key stories following the 2016 presidential election, it’s worth (re-)considering the importance of evaluating information to any research process—whether that process involves writing a paper or gathering information about a candidate for office.

Although developing evaluation skills has always been integral to any research process, it’s arguably even more urgently needed now. That’s because libraries are no longer the sole gatekeepers of information, and it’s now possible to simply do a quick search on the web, find something that appears to relate to the topic at hand, and either forward  to someone else, or incorporate it into a paper or other piece of research.

As has been widely reported, a great deal of the fake news now circulates on social media networks. In this New York Times op-ed written by Zeynep Tufekci, a professor of library and information science at the University of North Carolina, the author takes Facebook to task for becoming a platform for misinformation campaigns (the pope endorses Donald Trump! An FBI agent who leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails found dead!).

Part of the problem, Tufekci argues, is Facebook’s algorithmic system, which promotes updates based on whether users find them “comforting.” But research isn’t supposed to be comforting; neither, correspondingly, is the moral and ethical work of citizenship. And helping students learn the moral and ethical work of citizenship is—or should be—in large part why we teach research skills on a college campus.

There have been signs that Facebook is taking steps to limit the fake news stories that are shared on its servers, but researchers—that is, those doing a paper or those simply gathering information to make an informed choice on an election—need to ask themselves a set of questions about every source they’re using, no matter how much the source may support one’s thesis or existing worldview, and no matter how much that source has been useful in the past.

First, who is responsible for the piece? A name isn’t enough; one needs to ask about the author’s credentials or authority to have written something on a particular topic. If it’s a news story, does it come from a reputable service—one that checks its facts, verifies its sources and provides multiple perspectives? Some of the fake Facebook posts came from the “Denver Guardian,” which sounds great until one realizes that no such news source exists. (Go ahead, Google it.)

Second, when was the piece written? In this election season, I saw articles forwarded and shared on social media that had been created months and even years earlier, making it seem as though they had just appeared. But facts and situations can change quickly, and in many research or fact-finding situations, it’s important to have current information, or at least to be aware of when an article appeared so that its date of creation can factor into one’s judgment about it.

Why was the piece written? To report the news, or to advance knowledge in a particular field? To get someone elected to an office? To spread fear, or to propagandize an issue? To make money? This question is often entangled with who wrote the story, but it’s equally important. (To think about the ways in which who wrote a piece can be bound up with why he or she wrote it, I suggest checking out this self-exculpatory New York Times op-ed written by someone who works for WikiLeaks.)

How and where did the author(s) get their information? In scholarly writing, this is precisely why citations must be provided—so that authors cannot simply assert something without some kind of backup. We need to be able to believe what authors are saying; it’s equally important to be able to verify their sources.

I’ve been trying to share the above questions with the first-year seminars with whom I’ve worked this past semester. We’ve looked at sources we found on the web and tried to think about evaluating them based on the above questions, rather than applying such abstract, blanket maxims such as “sites that come from a .edu or .org address are okay.” That’s not necessarily true; it’s always necessary to look closer at each article or book.

One of the first-year seminars I worked with was entitled “Performing Citizenship.” It was striking to me that the course focus and our work with evaluating sources were in particular alignment—and, similarly, that the task of critically evaluating research information and that of truly becoming an informed, participating citizen are one and the same. Whenever we undertake or assign research—and learn or teach the requisite skills to perform this research—we would do well to keep the responsibilities and imperatives of citizenship in full view.

— Fred Folmer

Announcing the 2017 Library Research Prize

We’re pleased to announce the 2017 Connecticut College Prize for Undergraduate Library Research, which will be awarded for the second time during the spring 2017.

A group of librarians worked to launch the $500 prize during the 2015-16 academic year; it’s the first award at Connecticut College that’s specifically designed to honor excellence in the research process. Entrants will be judged by a committee of librarians and faculty members on their ability to develop search strategies, use complex tools and techniques, and evaluate and synthesize resources in a project.

We encourage all students to submit an entry for the prize — and, similarly, all faculty to encourage students to do so. All currently enrolled undergraduate students are eligible. The deadline for submission is 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017.

To be considered for the award, you’ll need to submit the following to the prize’s Moodle site, accessed here:

  • An application form, to be completed in the prize’s Moodle site;
  • A Faculty Support Form (using the standardized form found on the library prize website);
  • An essay of up to 600 words describing research strategies (closely following the guidelines found on the library prize website); and
  • A draft or final version of the project for which the research was done.
  • A bibliography.

To be eligible, the work must have been completed for a credit course (not an honors project) in spring 2016, fall 2016, or spring 2017. The prize’s Moodle site can also be accessed via the prize’s website at

For more information, email Good luck, and we look forward to reading your entries!

Going Public: Student Digital Scholarship and Copyright

In late October, I had the opportunity to attend the Bucknell Digital Scholarship Conference in Lewisburg, Pa. The idea of digital scholarship has of late been a strong and consistent trend in academia, with libraries providing key support; here at Connecticut College, the creation of the Digital Scholarship & Curriculum Center and the hiring of a librarian focused on digital scholarship have been emblematic of this development.

At the conference, there were several presentations, from institutions that included Bucknell, Lafayette and Gettysburg, that featured undergraduate students who had worked on digital projects of various kinds. One thing that several student presenters discussed, I thought, deserved special mention: the complications that can arise when making student work public by publishing it on the web, particularly regarding copyright.

In the existing paradigmatic model of undergraduate scholarship, students write papers that are read by a single professor, and then discarded or archived by the student as he or she desires. Copyright claims don’t apply to this model, because what the student writes is entirely written and consumed within a very limited educational context. Per Chapter One, Section 110 of the U.S. Copyright Code, “the performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution” cannot be an infringement of copyright. (Fair Use, which outlines certain rights held by users regardless of context, may also apply; the TEACH Act, signed into law in 2002, extends Section 110 protections to online and distance-education activities.)

But at the Bucknell Conference, students described work that would not necessarily apply under any of these copyright protections. This work, created to be displayed on online publishing platforms such as Omeka, WordPress or Scalar, is increasingly available for public consumption, and this raises possible copyright issues for works and images that are incorporated into these projects. We’ve seen this trend here at Connecticut College too; for example, students from a history class digitized and displayed pages from a journal of a Connecticut man who sailed to China; another class digitized images from 19th-century Japanese books. (You can look at these exhibits here, or read more about those classes in the online version of the fall 2015 edition of Inside Information.)

In the latter examples, the digitized journal entries and images were in the public domain, and not subject to copyright claims. But if one is publishing a copyrighted work, it often can fall outside of the parameters of Fair Use and require permission, particularly if the use of the image is illustrative and not part of the analysis.

And so going forward, student research that’s presented in public will have to take such things into account, and students, librarians and faculty alike will find themselves needing to consider copyright as part and parcel of their research process. Here is a quick overview of the questions that need to be asked when doing this research, although I hasten to add that more could be said about each one of these items (and we hope to do exactly that in upcoming posts to this blog).

  1. Is it copyrighted? Works published before 1923 are firmly in the public domain and not subject to copyright, but for many works, it’s much more complicated. One needs to ask whether the work was actually published, whether the author is still alive (or when he or she died), and whether there was a copyright notice, among other factors. It’s a lot to sift through, so I suggest using this website from Cornell’s Copyright Information Center to help you decide.
  2. Does it fall under Fair Use? Fair Use is a protection afforded to those wishing to use or transform a copyrighted work in certain legally prescribed ways. When deciding whether Fair Use applies, courts weigh four factors: the nature of the use of the work; the nature of the work (e.g., whether it is artistic or factual); the amount and substance of the work used; and the effect of the use on the marketplace. You can read more about Fair Use here, on a page provided by Stanford University Libraries. For specific information about Fair Use and visual works, check out this page from the College Art Association.
  3. How do I get permission? While the specifics can get complicated, basically you need to 1) figure out who owns the copyright, and 2) ask them for permission. For works found on the web, see if there’s a way to contact the site owner and ask. (Brown University Library has a page with some helpful hints for this process.) For those not found on the web, some additional research may be involved. I suggest asking a librarian to ease frustration.
  4. How do I find images or other works that are not copyrighted? One great way to do this is to search for images published to the web under a Creative Commons license, which signify to a potential user that the image can be reused. This Creative Commons Search page allows you to look for works that can be used for commercial purposes; modified or adapted; or both. From here, you can search within such popular sites as Flickr and Google Images.

Here at Connecticut College, we have a very handy guide on copyright that covers all of the above; I heartily suggest referring to it when you have a question. You can also find a great list of resources at this page from Brown University Library.

— Fred Folmer

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