best thing i've learned so far

Without a doubt, the coolest thing I've learned at school so far is RefWorks.

RefWorks is an application you can use to create citations and bibliographies, and it's available (free) to all University of Toronto students. It's quite amazing. The RefWorks website describes the software this way:
RefWorks -- an online research management, writing and collaboration tool -- is designed to help researchers easily gather, manage, store and share all types of information, as well as generate citations and bibliographies.

If you need to manage information for any reason -- whether it be for writing, research or collaboration -- RefWorks is the perfect tool.

Wmtc readers who are university professors or more recent graduates probably know all about this, but to me it's an incredible revelation.

To understand why I am so enthusiastic, journey back with me to Ye Olden Days, when we typed a little numeral 1 - manually moving the roller on our typewriters to make it superscript.

Then, if we were lucky, we collected all those notes and - painstakingly following the preferred citation method - typed them all up on an endnote page.

If we were less lucky, our teachers were sticklers for footnotes, meaning notes at the foot of the page. In those cases we had to calculate how much space the footnote would use at the bottom of each page, stop typing the body of the text, type the footnote, and continue the body text on the next page. And if the footnote itself had to continue to the next page? Oy.

My mother did her Master's thesis this way; I remember because I helped her. That was what prompted the purchase of our family's first electric typewriter, which I later took with me to university. And this was the way I wrote papers all through my university years.

Some years later, when I started using a computer, and discovered the footnote function (first on WordPerfect, later on Word), I could fully appreciate how wonderful that was.

But RefWorks! RefWorks is an entirely different dimension of wonderful. For those who are as innocent of citation management software as I was last week, here's how it works.

First I created an account through U of T. If you're working through any online database, most include a RefWorks button. One click, and the cite goes into your account. You can create folders, organized by course, or paper, or subject, and put cites in more than one folder for easy cross-referencing.

No more index cards, no more endless lists of sources, no more panic and frustration when you're going into your final draft and you have no idea where a quote came from. One click.

If you're working from printed material and don't want to find the online source or there is none, you can input the basic information yourself into a RefWorks form.

You choose which citation style you want. RefWorks has hundreds of styles, and you can use different styles for different papers.

And there's a plug-in for your word-processing software, so your web-based RefWorks account and your paper can talk to each other. As you're working, you click "cite" on the plug-in, and RefWorks inserts a cite placeholder in your text.

When you're ready, it generates a bibliography or endnote page, using whatever style you choose.

This is an unbelievable time-saver and headache-saver.

I wasn't able to attend any of the iSchool workshops on how to use RefWorks, so I used an online tutorial. It was beautifully clear and straightforward, and divided into well-labeled sections, so I could focus on what I needed.

I know this officially makes me an Olde Phart, but wow. So far, this is without a doubt the best thing I've learned at school.

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