Friday, November 4, 2011

Bibliographies and collaboration

I recently finished writing a proposal with a collaborator. We both used EndNote X5 and EndNote Web to share our bibliographies. Problems I found:
  1. Upload from desktop to web is slow. Since updating in-text citations depends on the web, this making checking newly entered citations or fixing broken citations painful.
  2. The web version discards trailing spaces, while the desktop version does not. This making hacking an entry to make it pretty work in preview but not in the final document.
  3. Deleting a reference on the desktop doesn't delete the corresponding reference on the web. The reverse is probably also true, but untested.
  4. A Word doc builds a traveling library, which a simple "update citations" does not update. Instead, the best approach is to unformat all citations, quit Word, restart, then reformat. However, this can lead to a number of ambiguous citations. In particular, EndNote will perform a case-insensitive match against any string in any entry; it also gets lost if there are duplicate entries.
My final conclusion is that the EndNote Web process is a poor one.

We also chose to collaborate using Google Docs, which worked very well. EndNote usage was another matter. In particular, the temporary citation process: ctrl+c an entry in EndNote desktop and ctrl-v to another application (Google Docs) produces a citation in the form {Author's last name, year #num}. However, EndNote doesn't trust its #num as a unique identifier and will find anything with a matching last name / year entry. So, using this will cause problems, since the text (last name, year, obscure number) doesn't help humans identify the paper either. In fact, EndNote will match any {Author's last name, field} formatted item.

Therefore, a much better approach is to pick a more unique field, such as the title: {Author's last name, title}. If this isn't unique, then a {last name, label} where the label is a unique string. Of course, to check uniqueness requires a update citations, which is slow for EndNote Web. The full process is then: look at an entry to cite, manually create a {Author's last name, title} entry, download the paper, update citations, make sure all citations auto-resolve, then fix any problems.

So, what's a better process? Some ideas:
  1. Continue to use EndNote Web:
    1. Improve speed: upload only citations, not attachments, to EndNote Web. Create a new library for each new paper and only upload from that smaller library.
    2. Periodically delete all refs in EndNote Web then reupload to remove any deletions made on the desktop.
    3. Deal with any eaten trailing spaces by sighing in frustration.
  2. Move to EndNote on the PC.
    1. You can't share a file with a collaborator over the network / Dropbox / whatever.
    2. The alternative: get a copy or compressed copy of your collaborator's library and use that.
  3. Try another program. Both Zotero and WizFolio seem to be better at these things.
    1. Zotero supports temporary citations much like EndNote.
    2. WizFolio supports an older version of Google Docs, but not a temporary citation workaround I can see.

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