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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.)

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: