Citavi: a professional science organizer

  • Tutorial
imageEveryone whose activity is connected with the study of large volumes of literature and writing their own texts, sooner or later faces the need to systematize a rapidly growing library and even more rapidly accumulating notes and sketches. To solve this problem, there are dozens of solutions: bibliographic managers, knowledge managers, personal information managers. Having tried over the past few years, perhaps, all the existing solutions in this area (at least for Windows), I can say that each of them offers its own set of remarkable features, but a universal option in which they would all be combined, alas, could not be detected for a long time.

For a long time in my "rating" the free " Zotero " was in the lead”: Nothing superfluous and extremely convenient to use - but mainly as a bibliographic manager. Working with notes is a convenient addition to the bibliography rather than a stand-alone tool. “ Mendeley ” was somewhat behind him - mainly due to the lack of the possibility of completely local use (in “Zotero”, synchronization with the server can simply be turned off). Before this favorite was “ Biblioscape ” - even despite some significant (in my opinion) flaws and the almost complete absence of updates. I still think that this project could become the best in its niche if work on it was carried out more actively.
One of my recent discoveries is the Swiss Citavi program.”, Which claims to be not just a bibliographic manager, but just a full-fledged manager of knowledge, a medium for writing“ turnkey ”scientific work at all stages - collecting information, creating quote cards, recording your own thoughts, creating the structure of future text and distribution on it all the materials and, finally, the information of all the developments in a finished text file with an automatically generated bibliographic list. And, in general, these promises are fully justified.

About the program

Citavi is a bibliographic manager and knowledge organizer for Microsoft Windows, developed by the Swiss company Swiss Academic Software (Wädenswil, Switzerland). Widely distributed in Germany, where it is used under university licenses in most universities. Today (2012-10-31) is available in German, English, French, Polish and Italian.
It helps to organize scientific activity in three areas: compiling a catalog of books, organizing quotations and thoughts for a particular project, as well as task planning. Allows you to embed bibliographic references and citations in Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Writer and a number of TeX editors. Retrieves bibliographic metadata from ISBN, DOI, barcodes, PDFs. Integrates with special plugins in Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome browsers, as well as in Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat.


but). Category System

One of the main, in my opinion, advantages of Citavi is that it allows you to fully reproduce the structure of future scientific work in the structure of categories. An interesting feature of the internal logic of “Citavi” is a unified system of categories, both for bibliographic records and for notes. Thus, in each category, all materials related to it are accumulated: articles or books, quotes, notes, attached files that can be filtered and grouped according to many different criteria. Moreover, each bibliographic card, note or quote can be assigned to any number of categories.

b) Work with sources

Information on bibliographic sources is entered into cards with many fields. The work is not fast, but it pays for itself a hundredfold time spent on it with the subsequent use of stored materials. In addition, in many cases, manual input of information will not be needed.

in). Literature Search

The possibilities of adding bibliographic information are, in general, standard - to one degree or another, they are all represented in modern bibliographic managers. You can import the bibliographic database from other programs (EndNote, RefWorks, etc.), from web resources and BibTeX formats, as well as export the database to all kinds of formats. You can import a folder with PDF files, and Citavi will automatically create a card for everyone by attaching a link to this file to it - unless, of course, the pdf file contains the corresponding metadata. It is also possible to extract data from a barcode - using a smartphone with a barcode scanner installed. Users of Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome can install the “Citavi picker” - a plugin that automatically saves data about a web page or pdf document in a file cabinet. And finally
It is also possible to search the catalogs of more than 4000 libraries, which determines which publications are already in your library and highlights them with color, and also allows you to automatically create bibliographic cards for found works. Unfortunately, the list contains only one Russian-language library - the Russian State Library. Somewhat saddening is the fact that the program searches for metadata only by the ISBN or DOI of a given material - unlike, for example, Zotero, which extracts metadata directly from RDF (if there is one, of course). However, the presence of RDF data on Russian-language resources is also an infrequent phenomenon. By the way, data is perfectly retrieved from Google Books, just like with Amazon and a number of other resources.

d). Work with quotes

It is very convenient to create quotes: when viewing files attached to bibliographic cards or links to web pages in FireFox, Google Chrome or Internet Explorer, just select the desired text fragment and click the “Quote” button so that a quote is created from the selected fragment and attached to the parent bibliographic record. Now, wherever this quote is used, it will be accompanied by a bibliographic reference to the appropriate source.

e). Organizing notes and files

As has already been noted, both modes of the program — with bibliographic sources and notes — are tied to a single system of categories. Citavi allows you to create not only text notes, but also notes with attached files. At the same time, pdf files, MS Office, and a number of graphic formats can be viewed directly inside the program in the corresponding panel.

e). Built-in browser and file viewer

The program has a built-in browser and file viewer and MS Office, which can be opened in an additional panel simultaneously with the panels of the library structure or instead of it. This gives a very convenient opportunity to instantly view the selected document without opening additional programs. In addition, in this window all the tools for working with quotes described above are available: the desired text fragment can be selected right here and saved with a single click as a quote, which is automatically attached to the active document.

g). Create bibliographic lists

“Citavi” automatically creates a list of bibliographic references for all sources used in the document in accordance with the requirements of the Higher Attestation Commission or a specific scientific publication. To do this, you can use one of the 1300 built-in styles (which you can edit) or create your own. To create and edit styles, use the Style Manager, in which the whole process is carried out by simply dragging and dropping blocks - bibliographic recording elements and editing the form of their display. The editing process can be controlled thanks to the presence of a preview window in the style manager.

h). Lists

Another convenient opportunity is to create lists of publishers, authors, periodicals, libraries, organizations. If you immediately take it as a rule, for example, not just enter the name of the author, but immediately enter at least basic information about him into the list of authors, an impressive database of authors will soon form with publications of each, which is indispensable for in-depth study of any topic.

and). Search and filter

The custom search system allows you to search for anything in any type of information (sources, notes, lists of authors and publishers, etc.) by all imaginable parameters, as well as to quickly filter entries.

to). Task manager

Another option is the task manager. A minimum of possibilities, but everything is in instant access. An important feature is the creation of tasks both for work in general and for specific bibliographic records indicating the type of action: read, buy this book, consult for such and such a chapter, etc.


The free version of the program has a limit on the number of entries: no more than 100 bibliographic entries (the number of notes is not limited). If this limit is exceeded, the database remains read-only. Moreover, any number of new databases can be created - also no more than 100 entries in each.
According to the price list, the cost of a full license for personal use is 80 €. True, in the penultimate step of payment, this figure in the invoice was crossed out, and instead a price of 65 € was offered. In Europe, the development company is actively concluding cooperation agreements with universities, students and staff of which are able to use the program for free. Students can also take part in the drawing of free licenses by filling out a questionnaire and briefly describing their scientific work.

Work algorithm

The algorithm for working with “Citavi” may be as follows:
  • Create a system of categories. The developers recommend creating separate databases for each project, but, in my opinion, it is more advisable to use a single database for all the work. Otherwise, duplication of bibliographic records is inevitable, many of which, of course, will be in demand in more than one project. Thus, the top level of the category structure will be formed by the names of projects, within each of which a hierarchical structure will be built in accordance with the points of the plan of this work.
  • In the process of searching for literature, enter data on books and articles in the appropriate categories, optionally attaching links to web sources or saved files to the created cards (it is advisable to use the pdf format).
  • In the process of reading the materials found, create quotes from the most important fragments and comments on the materials considered, also distributing them into suitable categories (not necessarily the same as the resource card itself).
  • After that (and more often in parallel), you can begin to write individual pieces of text (these are notes that are not attached to bibliographic records, like quotes), also categorizing them.
  • Tasks and future plans arising in the course of work should be entered into the task planner.
  • Upon completion of the work (or at any of the intermediate stages), export all the developments to Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Writer or one of the TeX editors, create a bibliographic list using a suitable (ready-made or your own) style.

This, of course, is the maximum program. It may be more convenient for someone (especially at first) to use Citavi as a simple bibliographic manager, creating their work directly in a text editor and inserting links to sources from Citavi. So, today I use “Citavi” for a thorough study of documents and the creation of a library “for centuries”, which contains carefully selected materials. Here, notes, quotes, sketches of future or current works are made. In parallel with this, when I need to quickly bookmark a web page or article, I still use “Zotero”. True, with the condition: periodically iterate over such quick bookmarks, deleting the no longer relevant and exporting the necessary ones to “Citavi”. Microsoft Word is now used exclusively for the final editing of texts, as a result, finally managed to get rid of many unfinished or duplicate files. Citavi also “moved” part of the tasks from the organizer, which is directly related only to specific scientific projects.

Why is such a program needed?

You need to understand that programs like Citavi are not just useful utilities, but rather an environment that dictates its requirements for organizing the entire work process. At first, this is unusual and even tiring, as many things have to be started to be done in a new way. In this connection, a reasonable question arises: is the result of such efforts worth it?
If we always worked on only one project (and, preferably, small and consisting of a single section) and started the next only after its completion, the usefulness of such programs would probably come down only to the convenience of compiling bibliographic lists in accordance with various standards . But if, for example, you are writing a dissertation, at the same time preparing one or several articles, a dozen more ideas are in the queue, plus you’ve already hatched the idea of ​​a literary novel for a long time, sometimes you read not only scientific literature, but here you have an extremely good idea , which, you are sure, will come in handy after six months in this future article ... In such a situation, the issue of preserving and, most importantly, systematizing this entire flow of information becomes truly vital.
Yes, at first glance, something is perceived as a flaw: some slowness (unlike, for example, the lightning-fast “Zotero”), a rather painstaking process of creating records. But, on the other hand, this probably should be a serious scientific work: not thoughtlessly throwing links to the Favorites, but thoughtful study, categorization and citation of the sources found. Thus, a culture of working with information is formed - a habit that is worth developing, and which will inevitably affect the quality of the texts created. In a word, if you make friends with this program, you will probably get the best knowledge manager that I know of today.

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