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Managing References

An introduction to reference management programs and software.

Things to consider

Some things to consider when choosing a program:

  • Is the program compatible with my operating system and word processing package?
  • Do I need remote access to my reference collection?
  • Do I need to share my reference sets with others? What are they using?
  • Can I transfer my references to another system? Different organisations use different systems.
  • Am I willing to undertake some online tutorials or attend some training to learn how to use the software effectively?
  • Where are my references stored? (on a local drive/or specific computer or in the 'cloud' ?)
  • Is the program available on University-owned computers? (Usually not an issue for web-based tools).
  • Which tool do researchers in my discipline tend to use? Does it matter?  (Talk to people in your department.)

Comparison Table

  Endnote Mendeley Zotero Refworks            
Ease of use Harder to learn initially  Easy to use Easy to use Moderate level            
Cost Free to UniMelb users Free (for first 2GB) Free Free            
Institutional access Yes No N/A Yes            
Currently supported by the Library Yes No No No            
Library training available Yes Yes No Yes            
Open source No No Yes No            
Operating system Windows, Mac Windows, Mac, Linux Windows, Mac, Linux Windows, Mac (Write-N-Cite not yet avaialable)             
Browser N/A Internet Eplorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari Firefox only but connectors are available for others Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari,             
Work offline Desktop (yes), Web (no) Yes Yes Yes (old version)            
Maximum number of records per folder Unlimited Limited only by storage 30,000 Unlimited            
Folder levels 2 Multiple  Multiple 2            
Number of source types 45 20 33 31            
Support of special characters No Yes Yes Yes (old version)            
Link to PDFs Yes Yes Yes Yes (old version)            
Work with word processor to create formatted bibliographies, in-text citations and footnotes Yes Yes Yes Yes (old version)            
Number of referencing styles available Over 6000 Over 1000   Over 3000            
Can create a formatted list of charts, figures etc.  Yes No No No            
Collaboration features Yes Yes Yes Yes              
Sharing references Difficult Yes Yes Yes            
Mobile device applications iOS iOS No              
Export to BibTeX Yes Yes Yes Yes            
Ease of use in ShareLaTeX Possible but difficult Easy integration Easy integration              
Languages available Language setting from OS 50 available Uses language according to browser setting English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese            
Attachment storage Yes Yes Yes Yes (limited)            
Spell-check Yes No No  No            
Duplicate detection Yes Yes Yes Yes            
Field searching Yes, author Yes Yes Yes, selected            
Save search strategies  Yes, desktop No Yes Yes            
Can you edit/create styles Yes, desktop Yes Yes Yes            
Create a subject bibliography Yes, desktop Yes Yes No            
Importing citations from:              
~ library databases Yes Yes Yes Yes            
~ library catalogue Yes Yes Yes Yes            
~ from websites No Yes Yes No            

What features does it provide & how will I use it?

As there are a number of different programs available it is important to choose the one that suits you best. Whilst features may vary between the different programs available, most allow you to:

  • Store large numbers of references and associated research notes.
  • Keep consistent and accurate bibliographic records.
  • Use folders or groups to sort references.
  • Import records from library databases and catalogues.
  • Create and format in-text citations, reference lists and bibliographies in a different referencing styles.
  • Switch referencing styles automatically.
  • Search within the collection of references. 

Some products can also be used to:

  • Search for full text journal articles associated with references.
  • Store associated electronic journal articles.
  • Search library catalogues using connection files.
  • Share collections of references with others (usually web-based programs).

You should consider how you would like to use the program. Some common uses include:

  • Storage of reference information and associated notes.
  • To ‘cite as you write’ automatically generating citations and bibliographies in specific referencing styles.
  • To generate standalone or independent bibliographies.
  • To share collections of references with others.

What These Programs May Not Do…Some Cautions

A reference management program:

  • May not create a perfect bibliography or reference list according to your preferred style (or your supervisor’s or tutor’s) .
    • You still need to be familiar with the referencing style to be used.
    • Refer to Style Manuals.
    • In some programs it is possible to adjust or edit output styles.
  • Will not correct typos or errors or omissions from references manually entered or downloaded from databases.
    • You will always need to proof-read references for accuracy: punctuation, capitalisation, spelling.
  • When downloading references from databases the program may not always know what reference type you are downloading.
    • For example they cannot always distinguish a conference proceeding from a book.
    • Also some information may be inserted in the wrong format requiring editing.

Comparison Sites

There are a number of websites that provide comparisons of reference management programs: