We live in an information era, yet the tools for writing and publishing seem to be reminiscent of a bygone print era. Central to academic writing is the use of bibliographic tools. Bibliographic software falls into two main camps:
Camp 1: EndNote, RefWorks.
EndNote was the first bibliographic tool to emerge on the market, and is now the most used; and also the oldest. Being such an old product, EndNote is plagued with problems:
- It must be connected with Word (itself an old product).
- It has only 53 reference types that haven’t kept pace with the information age. For example, just about everything can be sourced Online, but endnote only has a few ‘electronic’ resources.
- As a result of 2, references need to be edited, or manually written. For example, Endnote does not have: journal article forthcoming, book volume, and it has difficulty formatting when the journal article does not have an Issue, or uses a date as the Volume.
Camp 2: Zotero, Mendeley and other CSL products.
These bibliographic tools are, generally speaking, free to use, and have emerged based on the Open Source community which has indeed improved their popularity. However, these tools only have 36 reference types (what is deemed to be the main one’s used), and therefore these tools have the same problems as Camp 1. Free does not mean they will be more accurate. While they have around 6500 style sheets, less accurate does not really make up for the diversity of journal formats. It still means loss of productivity for academic writers.
New Platform: ComWriter
ComWriter has redesigned the reference types and has 120 to choose from, including a large range of legal references. By re-writing the reference structure, ComWriter has brought reference data management up-to-date to meet the needs of the modern information age (see image below):
- ComWriter is a word processor and bibliographic tool combined, so there are no interfaces to manage.
- 120 reference types provides a wide array of options, and this means data will be formatted exactly right; e.g., Handbook, Book Volume, Journal article forthcoming.
- Every reference has a Source tag nominating whether the reference is ‘Hardcopy, Online, or Database’. This allows each resource to be customized based on its source. Effectively this means there are 360 reference types.
- Journal references can be unpacked to determine if the metadata has: volume only, issue only, volume & issue, volume as a year or season, no volume or issue; and then format the reference as is appropriate saving the need to edit or write the citation manually.
- Disciplines forgotten by the other tools now have something they can rely on, with reference types such as: Performance, International material (Treaty, UN document), Archival material.
- The flexibility of this tool enables the reference template Settings to be set for each of the 120 reference types. This means the output can be further customized to enhance accuracy.
While ComWriter, a startup that is barely 3 months old, still has a way to go in terms of incorporating all the available databases (they have hooked up WorldCat and Wikipedia, with CrossRef to follow soon), the accuracy of their output across the board will make academic writing a whole lot less stressful.
It is true to say, that the emergence of online publishing will eventually replace the need for reference data that was typical of a Print era. However, online publishing, with links to reference resources, is still a few years away (change in the education and publishing industry generally moves slow).