Bibliographic Work

Tackling the risk of drowning

We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge. This sentence is mostly attributed to John Naisbitt, who coined in the 1980ies the term globalization. Edward O. Wilson expressed it in this way: We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.

During the recent months I intensified my studies and research in social informatics. This induced two changes in my working style. (a) I decided to write parts of my blog in English. This has two benefits: I train my English and the chance grows to enter a dialogue with scholars and practitioners not only in Germany but also abroad. (b) I restarted my bibliographic work in zotero.


How I use zotero

zotero is an open access and open source literature data base, "a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research" (https://www.zotero.org/ - accessed 1 June 2018). Most students and researchers use the zotero-platform to share their work. I test a different approach: regularly updated bibliographies, generated in zotero, on the particular pages of the Resources and a report as PDF available on Resources, generated in zotero, that includes further information such as abstracts, tags and notes. The notes consist of a short overview and comments. Thereby my work may be useful also for people who do not (yet) use zotero.


Ask, acquire, assess

These are the key steps in bibliographic work (German: Literaturarbeit). I use the following criteria 

  • area: The discipline or field.
  • quality: Of the resource. I take into account whether it is a website, a blog, a newspaper article or a scientific paper, a study or a book.
  • relevance: For my work related to the topic and field.
  • bibliography: List of references.
  • tags: Keywords, some are already given by the authors. Others I ad myself. As far as I can see, zotero does not offer an annotation like "area". So I use the tags by naming the area for instance as "area education".

Assessments in "quality", "relevance" and "bibliography": 5 excellent, 1 poor, not applicable (n.a.), not estimated (n.e.)


Paper Route

Bibliographic work is a corner stone of research and development. Thus students have to become acquainted with it. The best approach is case-based learning, preferably by working on a research paper, for instance on small student's research projects (German: Seminararbeit) and then on a thesis (bachelor, master, PhD).

My favourite book on this topic is Umberto Ecos "Come fa una thesa di laurea" from the 1970ies. One day Eco was asked to adapt the book and to exchange index cards with a computer data base. He answered that there would be no need. The basics of ask, acquire and assess would not change, and it would not matter whether a student reads (or does not read) a paper print or a PDF on a computer. Thus I hope that Eco's book and - if you want getting started with a shorter paper - my Paper Route and my work here on the public part of my study desk inspires students to place their bibliographic work on a firm, sustainable foundation.

Christa Weßel - Friday, 1 June 2018


Further readings

  • Eco U. Come fa una tesa di laurea: le materia umanistichie. Milano, Bompiani 1977. (EN: How to write a thesis; DE: Wie man eine wissenschaftliche Abschlussarbeit schreibt. Doktor-, Diplom- und Magisterarbeit in den Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften.)
  • Naisbitt J. Megatrends. Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. New York, NY, Warner Books 1982.
  • Weßel C. Paper Route - Ein Leitfaden zur Anfertigung einer wissenschaftlichen Arbeit. Manuskript. Aachen: RWTH Aachen, Institut für Medizinische Informatik 2004. - pdf
  • Wilson EO. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York,NY, Knopf 1998.
  • Zotero - https://www.zotero.org/ [accessed 1 Jun 2018]