Students Staff
University of Essex

November 24, 2017

Referencing made easy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — sgswaine @ 12:23 pm


Cmplaya. (2016) Card catalog room at the Frick Art Reference Library taken during Open House New York 2016. Available at: (Accessed: 24 November 2017).

Referencing made easy

Whether you like it or not, referencing is one of the essential parts of academic life. It can also be daunting as recording the details accurately and citing correctly require constant attention to detail. Incorrect references can be incredibly annoying and you can waste a lot of time locating the correct resource. Reference Management Software (RMS) won’t take away ALL the burden of referencing, but it can save you a lot of time and work.

What is RMS?

RMS can also be referred to as citation management software, citation manager, and bibliographic management software. Whatever the name is, it’s important to note that it’s not a citation builder or citation generator, which many of you may have used, like the ‘cite’ function in Google Scholar or JSTOR. A citation generator provides you with a one-off, ready-made reference, whereas RMS will help you to collect, store, manage, generate and share references.

Why use RMS?

1. Collect

RMS allows you to export one or many references in one go from databases or to collect an individual reference with one click using a browser extension. A word of advice – it’s important to choose a good source when possible. The quality of the reference depends on metadata, and some sources have better metadata than others. For example, citations from Google Scholar often don’t have a place of publication for books or page numbers for articles. This means you’ll need to find these details from other sources and manually add them to the reference. It’s much easier if you make a habit of using sources with good quality metadata.

2. Manage

There are a lot of functions available in RMS to help you manage your references. You can create folders and smart groups/searches, and you can add your own keywords, tags and notes. You can check for duplicates to avoid saving the same references. You can also attach files to the references and annotate PDFs.

3. Generate

All the major RMS packages offer a plugin for word processing software that allows you to insert your citations into your document and automatically create a bibliography. The usability varies so it’s worth doing a little research on how each one performs eg Endnote’s ‘Cite While You Write™’ allows you to generate in-text citations using the formula {author, year} so you don’t have to use a mouse.

4. Share

The sharing feature is relatively new but gaining popularity quickly. Some people use this to share references with people who share the same interest and others use as a teaching platform. One of my colleagues, for example, has been involved with a systematic literature review. The project is cross-continental, so it is essential to be able to share references at ease.

What RMS to use?

There are a lot of different software packages available on the market. The university officially supports Endnote and the library can also offer a general advice on using Zotero and Mendeley. Other software packages include Citavi, Paperpile, BibText, and RefWorks. The question is, which one should you choose? There are all sorts of things you need to think about. For example:

  • Is it free or do you need to pay for it?
  • What level of support is available?
  • How much storage is provided?
  • Which browser does it work with?
  • What kind of resources do you usually work with?
  • What information do you need to collect?
  • What features are most important to you?
  • Do you need to collaborate and share your libraries?

Keep in mind that no package is perfect. So you should choose based on what you need from RMS. You may prefer a package over another because it has a nifty function, but keep in mind that others are likely to develop similar functions to keep up. If you’re not sure which one to choose, we’ve put together a comparison-chart for EndNote, Zotero and Mendeley, or you can find a more detailed RMS comparison chart on Wikipedia. We suggest you just try one, and remember that if you don’t like it, it’s relatively easy to move references from one package to another.

Classroom training (via Proficio*)

29/11/17    09:30-12:30 – Getting started with EndNote
15/12/17    09:30-12:30 – Getting started with EndNote
11/01/18    13:00-14:00 – Introduction to Reference Management Software
22/01/18    09:30-12:30 – Getting started with EndNote

* All sessions are free, you just need to register with Proficio, then book on a course.

Online training