I’ve used Google Docs to write articles for academic journals, and it’s a great tool for all kinds of research-based writing, especially when combined with Google Scholar, the search engine for scholarly publications. Here are five things I’ve learned along the way.
One. I don’t use reference managers like Endnote, Mendeley or Paperpile, because I do all my bookmarking and referencing through Google Scholar’s My Library. At the bottom-left corner of every Google Scholar search result is a little star:
Click on that, and if you’re logged into Google, the reference ends up in My Library, your personal reference manager. To go to My Library, click the star on the top-right corner of Google Scholar’s search results page:
Two. Instead of folders, I use My Library’s labels feature to tag papers that belong together, e.g. for a project. Unlike browser bookmarks, you can do a full-text search of publications within specific labels or all of My Library.
In My Library, tick the box to the left of each article you’d like to add a label to:
After ticking the box(es), click the label icon below the search window. You’ll get a pop-up with a list of labels to tick, and/or an option to create labels:
Three. As I’m writing an article, whenever I cite a reference, I immediately add it to my bibliography (in alphabetical order), since I’m probably looking at the citation in Google Scholar anyway. This is quicker than leaving the bibliography till the end, and googling all the citations over again.
In Google Scholar, click on the double quotes at the bottom-left of the reference. You’ll get a pop-up of the citation, formatted five different ways (MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard, Vancouver):
Simply copy and paste your choice into the bibliography. By the time you’ve finished writing, you’ll have a complete bibliography! The citations aren’t always perfect, sometimes you’ll need to add some missing info. But that applies to pretty much any auto-citation tool.
Four. I use Google Doc’s highlighting feature to organize my ideas. Google Docs has a very rich selection of highlight colors.
In my notes, I have a list of topics in the top-left corner, and I highlight each in a different color (image below). I then use the corresponding colors to highlight quotes/ideas in my notes that relate to each topic. When I paste a quote into my notes, I use the quick citation technique above to add the full reference to the end of the quote(s).
I also make sure to add the quotes’ page numbers in square brackets (because there’s nothing more fun that hunting for the page number and/or source of a quote you hadn’t bothered to cite in your notes). I can also use the bold and underline tools (just to the left of the highlight icon) to further emphasize any key points.
Five. For any PDFs I download, I make sure to format the file names according to author and publication title, and organize them in folders that correspond to the My Library labels. I usually just type the author and title, but you can also copy and paste using the quick citation method above.
I make sure to back up all my work, including PDF downloads, into a thumb drive or external disk. To back up from Google Docs, click File in the top-left corner of the document window, then hover your mouse over Download to see a list of format options to click. I usually download in Word and PDF. You can also export your My Library data by clicking the export icon to the left of the label icon.