14: reference management tools

October 30, 2015 – 8:43 am

Reference management systems enable you to save, store and manage your bibliographies while you’re searching for information across databases and web based resources. A reference management tool can also insert in-text citations as you write up your research, thus automatically building your reference lists. Use these time saving tools as personal libraries and even as sites of collaboration with other researchers. In this week’s post we look at four particular tools: EndNote, Zotero, RefWorks and Mendeley.

The Library has subscriptions to EndNote and RefWorks.


EndNote is a desktop program that allows you to store, file and search bibliographic references, PDFs and images. It has a unique ‘Cite While You Write’ functionality that inserts citations and bibliographies into your written work.

Your EndNote Library is a fully searchable database that you can annotate with research notes, which is great for literature reviews. You can link PDFs of articles to the relevant EndNote reference and also annotate these PDFs stored in your library. One of EndNote’s major strengths is its stability; it rarely fails. It has a cloud based back-up system in Endnote Online.

Endnote X7 imports PDFs and citation information directly from a folder on your desktop: great when you are finding articles through social media or other ‘non-traditional’ sources.

Well established: it’s up to version 17. Steep learning curve – but once learnt and set up for your purposes can be very easy to use.
Wide user-base in the academic community: more opportunity for peer support. Limited portability and sharing: EndNote is also now available with limited functionality as a web-based version (EndNote Online).
Well supported: Thomson Reuters (You Tube, Google).
Customisation: an expansive range of editing output styles, document types.


Zotero is a free, open-source program (there are premium options available for a subscription fee), that can be used to create, store and organise references into folders. You can attach PDFs and other files to references in your library and insert citations into Word, Google Docs and Open Office. References can be tagged and sorted to allow advanced searching.

Versions of Zotero

  • Zotero for Firefox is a browser extension enabling you to capture and organise references without leaving Firefox. A plugin is needed to insert citations into Word documents.
  • Zotero Standalone is a separate program downloaded to your computer and can integrate with Firefox, Chrome or Safari. Word plugins are included.

An advantage of Zotero is that you can export lists of articles (and PDFs) or books from many major databases and websites with just a few clicks. It’s also useful for exporting references from less traditional resources like websites and wikis. In addition to the standard import/export tools, you can also attach files or notes to references, sync multiple computers with your account, add items by ISBN or DOI, and assign collections or tags to your items to help you organise them. Zotero also offers mobile apps.

You can also set up a Zotero web account to sync your library from any location. Zotero takes advantage of its syncing and online capabilities to offer social networking; you can create groups – either public (open to all) or private (invite only) – and share your reference lists with others.

Zotero: Useful resources and Quick start guide

Tight browser integration. Only works with Firefox, Chrome and Safari.
Free, open source, and actively developed. Cannot automatically format citations in Author (Year) style.
Functionality can be extended with add-ons.


RefWorks is a cloud-based application that allows you to store, organise, search and retrieve bibliographic references in a web-hosted account. Like other reference management tools, it works with Word to insert citations and create a bibliography.

Refworks: Useful resources

As long as you have an internet connection, you can access your references from anywhere without the need to move your reference library from different computers. You can’t access the user interface offline
Safe from loss or damage to a PC or laptop (as the references are stored in the cloud). If you’re offline, any new citations and references added to RefWorks cannot be inserted into Word if the programs aren’t synchronised.
Easy to use, and generally simpler and more intuitive than its rival, EndNote.
As it’s online, references can be shared easily with other RefWorks accounts


Mendeley is a free application comprising two components – Mendeley Web and Mendeley Desktop – that allow you to generate citations and bibliographies in Microsoft Word, OpenOffice and LaTex. You can add and organise PDFs in your library from your computer, as well as import PDFs from other reference management tools such as EndNote, Papers or Zotero. PDFs can be read and annotated using sticky notes and highlighting tools.

Mendeley’s strength lies in its networking and collaboration functionality (mentioned in Thing 6). Researchers can collaborate securely online to share papers, notes and annotations with peers and can network and discover papers, people and public groups. Users can form groups that can be either public or private. Public groups are open for new members to join and share resources and communicate with each other.

As with most contemporary reference tools, Mendeley can sync your library via the web, iPhone or iPad. Like Zotero, Mendeley offers a free version as well as the option to pay for premium features. Take a look at its getting started videos to get a feel for how it works.

Mendeley offers some great tools beyond the basics. If you are starting with a great deal of files you want to organise (rather than researching from scratch), you can pull data from your computer into Mendeley. You can also use Mendeley’s PDF editor to annotate your PDF articles. Like Zotero, you can sync your account across various computers and the cloud. There’s also an iPad/iPhone app.

Mendeley: Useful resources.

Free (2 GB storage). PDF specific.
Extensive social networking features. Strong science community presence, but not humanities.
Crowd-sourced research catalogue of over 100 million papers. Syncing between desktop app and Mendeley web can be slow.
Easy to edit citations in Word. Beware copyright issues when sharing copyrighted PDFs.
Can access Mendeley library across various platforms.

Further Comparisons

Question for Thing 14:

Are you using a reference management program? If so, which one do you prefer and why? Any recommendations for other programs?

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  1. 14 Responses to “14: reference management tools”

  2. I am one a happy user of endnote (shocking). I first learnt endnote version 6 as an undergrad and now use version 17 desktop/web/ipad app. I find it stable for referencing. I also use Zotero with a group of people and we have a shared library – but it is less stable, crashes the browser sometimes, people in the group don’t always ‘catalogue’ references consistently etc However I still find it an effective (and collaborative) way of managing references.

    By Tatum on Nov 6, 2015

  3. Wow 6 to 17…they update once a year don’t they? Thanks for feedback on Zotero (from a non-Zotero-user)

    By ACULibrary on Nov 6, 2015

  4. I am another happy EndNote user, although I agree with the ‘CONs’ point about it being a steep learning curve. In a time-poor environment that is not a plus.

    I have also used RefWorks and find it straight-forward and easy to use – although I haven’t used the write-n-cite function lately.

    By Colleen on Nov 9, 2015

  5. I don’t use any reference management programs. I had an EndNote lesson with Colleen some time back, and was impressed, but I didn’t end up using it.
    If I were a research student I’d be very happy with EndNote. Because I’m a reader of fine print, I’d possibly worry about the EndNote conditions of use which tell me that I have to stop using it when I leave ACU or when the agreement expires. Would it then be possible for me to convert my EndNote Library to another format and use it with Zotero, for example?

    By Gertrud on Nov 12, 2015

  6. Counting on my fingers, I’ve been using endnote for about 16 years. So, i think the program doesn’t update every year but perhaps when there are OS upgrade and new iterations of Word/Pages.
    Gertrud you might be pleased to know that nearly all of the referencing programs have a range of import/export options. However, you do loose the ways in which you have organised your references, such as starring, tagging, and sometimes/most times your attachments (pdf) become unattached….

    By Tatum on Nov 19, 2015

  7. I love EndNote, but I’m happy to support users with RefWorks, Mendeley or Zotero. I still think EndNote is the most powerful, but it doesn’t suit all users. It is good for users who are comfortable with IT and understand folder structures and file types.

    By Tracy Bruce on Nov 25, 2015

  8. Thanks for you comments all…I think this *thing* speaks to the converted…you are all EndNote power users from the looks of it (with the exception of Gertrude, who I know is a power macro person!)

    By ACULibrary on Dec 22, 2015

  9. I have thought about using EndNote for a paper I was writing but in the end decided against it because I leave everything to the last minute and didn’t want a problem the night before!
    I have used Zotero with an academic who raves about it, I guess she didn’t experience any crashes.
    I have to say I am probably a ProCite person myself because that is what I used when working on a book project and knew the ins and outs of it, but again, that was ages ago!

    By Nica on Jan 5, 2016

  10. yes well you need a reason to use reference management software for a start!

    By ACULibrary on Jan 6, 2016

  11. I have had quite a bit of experience teaching and supporting Endnote. One limitation with the basic Thomson pacakge is that not all disciplines’ requirements are supported – thus many years of downloading AGLC and a legal reference template for the Law subject area. Also most of the Law databases don’t automatically download – thus copying and pasting references in. However having said that I feel a tool like this is invaluable for postgraduate research and academics. I dabbled with the ipad version of Endnote but found it very limiting. The library sharing aspect of Zotero makes it popular with researchers. I would definitely recoomend they use one of these tools.

    By Lesley Adukonu on Jan 12, 2016

  12. Not being in the law area at all I had no idea of the limitations of EndNote for law…so thanks!

    By ACULibrary on Feb 5, 2016

  13. I have had training for Refworks twice and the word functioning didnt work. So i have not used RefWorks or recommended it to anyone. I have provided training in Endnote, but I am not hugely confident in my Endnot knowledge. I have had quite a good explore of Zotaro because the use and talk about it a lot here at North Sydney Business School, I like Zotaro, but the add on for Endnote in Word is far superior to either Zotaro or Refworks so in general i recomend Endnote to students and staff. I have looked at Mendely as well. It is a good tool.

    By sally kudrna on Jan 15, 2016

  14. There certainly seems to be an emphasis on EndNote at ACU, even with undergraduates in certain subjects- health sciences for instance. It’s good to know about other options/tools and their strengths and limitations.

    By ACULibrary on Feb 5, 2016

  15. Researchers cannot get away without using a reference management software can they? So, I guess we as information professionals would be guiding and assisting them in setting up a Library for themselves. In my experience of 4 tertiary institutions, EndNote is certainly the most popular for postgraduates and researchers At UC we promoted RefWorks for UGs and EndNote for PGs as both were supported there. ANU supported EndNote only so if students wanted to download the software as a member of the ANU they were supported with EndNote only. All the referencing IL sessions were on EndNote only in that environment. Though the other platforms are free in some cases, we would assist where possible but formally only supported EndNote. having said that this was the role of the equivalent of LLs and I see that this is how it works at Signadou. The LLs provide this supporting role for HDRs and researchers here. I have completed a training course on EndNote but I have to say it is not intuitive and have learned you need to keep in touch with it to keep up to date on what you are looking for. I also know that at ANU the Law Librarians offered EndNote sessions for Law students for the reasons mentioned by Lesley as the law citation process had to be set up in EndNote. My understanding is that ACU is also becoming a strong EndNote supporter into the future with a stronger emphasis on this software than others in terms of assistance by Library staff.

    By Helena on Jan 25, 2016

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