There are many things to consider when choosing reference management software. They all do similar things, but the best choice may depend on your workflow, or particular functions, or just personal preference.
All reference management software will:
- Store references in a searchable database
- Attach PDFs and other files
- Auto-generate citations and bibliographies/ reference lists in your document
- Share collections of references with others
- Sync your references across multiple devices
What doesn't reference management software do?
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 to understand the requirements. 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 proofread 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.
Changing your reference manager
There are a number of reasons you may find that you want to change the reference manager that you are using. You can use the comparison table below to find what software has the functions and features that suit you best. Then, have a look at some guides to changing software.
Comparison of the products and features
|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||Yes - create an account then upgrade||N/A||Yes|
|Currently supported by the Library||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Library training available||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Operating system||Windows, Mac|
MAC not recommended * doesn't support OS after 10.13 (High Sierra)
Mendeley Desktop does not support macOS 11 Big Sur. If you choose to upgrade to macOS 11 Big Sur you may be unable to install or access Mendeley Desktop.
|Windows, Mac, Linux||Windows, Mac (Write-N-Cite not yet available)|
|Browser||N/A||Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari|
Firefox, Chrome, Edge.
Safari version 13 onwards in beta
|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|
|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|
(Word, Libre Office, Open Office)
|Yes (Word, Libre Office, Open Office, Google Docs)|
Yes (old version)
Yes (new version Word, Google Docs)
|Number of referencing styles available||Over 6000||Over 9000||over 9000||Over 3000|
|Can create a formatted list of charts, figures etc.||Yes||No||No||No|
|Mobile device applications||iOS||iOS, Android||Possible with add ons|
|Export to BibTeX||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Ease of use in ShareLaTeX||Possible but difficult||Easy integration||Easy integration|
|Languages available||Language set from operating system settings||50 available||Language set from operating system settings||English, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Chinese|
|Attachment storage||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes (limited)|
|Field searching||Yes, author||Yes||Yes - plain text and RegEx searching||Yes, selected|
|Save search strategies||Yes, desktop||No||Yes||Yes|
|Can you edit/create styles||Yes, desktop||Must edit Citation Style Language file||Must edit Citation Style Language file||Must edit Citation Style Language file|
|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|
A checklist for getting started
- Check system compatibility (there will be information on the tool’s website)
- Download and install the program
- Download and install any browser plug-ins
- Create an account and link to the online or cloud version (where relevant)
- Check for library classes and webinars
- Locate online tutorials and FAQs
What are others in my field using?
This becomes important if you need to share references with your supervisor or a research group. Take a look at the recommended programs for different faculties or chat to your colleagues.
Where are the files stored?
Some reference managers are downloaded to your hard drive, with the option of syncing to a cloud service, and some have web only versions.
- How much storage do you need?
Do you need to use formulas in your document?
Some reference managers are better at handling formulas. Try Endnote or JabRef
Do you need to sync your library across multiple devices?
Endnote, Zotero and Mendeley all have web versions that can sync with desktop versions. NOTE: please do not rely on syncing as your only backup.
What level of support is available?
This can vary depending on whether the reference manager is a commercial product or open-source. For example, EndNote and Mendeley are commercial products, whilst Zotero is open source.
What are the options for organising and searching the library?
This becomes important as your library grows.
Which software program is recommended for my discipline?
The following table gives you suggestions on what others in your field are using. Please consult your lecturer or supervisor for further advice.
|Business and Economics||EndNote, Mendeley|
|Science/Engineering||JabRef (for LaTex users), Zotero, EndNote, Mendeley|
|Fine Arts and Music||Zotero, EndNote|
Choose your reference management software
Find out what software the University Library supports and how to use it.