Love Letter to Literature Software

I can’t even imaginge writing an academic text without any literature software. In particular, I am using Citavi which is also the reason why I am not changing to a Mac. The only reason!

It is especially helpful when changing citation styles – this is literally done by clicking a button. And since I am still getting the hang of Chicago Style, nevermind all the other ones, I am pretty thankful not to need to think about this. German citation styles differ as well, even between disciplines. In book studies, I got used to also including the publisher which you usually don’t do when writing German historiography, and which you once again do in English historiography. Honestly, it does make a difference if something is published by Random House and therefore aimed at a more general audience, or by an university press, therefore, I prefer to include the publisher.

Aside from citation styles and the automatic generation of the bibliography – even fancy ones which automatically separate sources from research literature -, the most important things in my literature software are all the many possibilities to sort titles. I can tag each title with keywords, categories, groups, tasks, and libraries and collections. I can add notes to it: abstracts, links to reviews, quotes, thoughts, excerpts, and so on – and I can search and sort for any of the aforementioned. So, if I want to know which books I still need to include in a chapter I am writing, I usually will search for this chapter in my categories but exclude all literature marked as “done” (”done” is my most important category – it includes books I’ve read and included as well as books which sound like they are relevant for something but actually are not). If I only want to see my sources for this chapter, I’ll combine a search for the category with a group search or even a search for a free field. I use a free field to mark if a title is a source or research literature. This allows me to also automatically group titles in the bibliography into sources and research literature.

Basically, used consequently, my Citavi is my external brain which works much better in keeping details than the brain I was born with… However, as part of my usual routine when reading, writing, or thinking, I’ll sort Citavi. If a new project for a book chapter or an edited volume or even a monograph comes up, it needs to have its own category/ies. So, I’ll sort through all my (at the moment, ca.4,000) titles and mark the relevant ones with this new category. Usually, this is where keywords come in since I try to be very generous with keywords and include temporal and geographical keywords as well as topics like “state formation”, “aristocracy”, “political thought”, or “rulership”.

Since there is always something to do when tending to your literature collection, it is also a fabulous way of procrastinating from the “real” writing – such as I am doing now when I should be getting back to my revisions. Time is running, and still so much to do…

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