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Reference management software

This guide introduces reference management software and the options available to users of UCL Library Services.

Using reference management software for independent research

When carrying out independent research you are strongly advised to make use of reference management software.

Managing large numbers of references

Reference Management software is an effective tool for working with large numbers of references. Being able to use software to create bibliographies and insert in-text citations when writing the literature review section of your thesis or manuscript will massively simplify the process, and free up time for you to spend on other aspects of the research process.

Storage and organisation

When working with possibly many hundreds of references, it is essential that you store them in one place and organise them efficiently. In reference management software you can also keep the full text with the reference, by attaching files. You can also annotate full text files by adding notes, highlighting text and using other editing tools.  

Writing for publication

If you are writing for publication, publishers usually require you to use their nominated referencing style. In the case of journals, this is usually the journal’s own style. Reference management software encompasses many thousands of referencing styles and so it is likely that packages will contain the style you are required to use, as well as the more well-known styles such as APA, Chicago, Harvard and Vancouver. It is also easy to import a style into a package if it is not available, for example, the OSCOLA footnotes style which law students and legal researchers use. Alternatively, you may be able to create a new style by editing an existing one, and saving it separately. 

Social networking and discovery

Some packages are academic social networks as well as being reference managers. This is useful for researchers because it helps you to discover new research and potential collaborators. You can join public groups in Mendeley or Zotero to find scholars working on similar research topics or keep abreast of the latest research going on in your area of interest. If you are working on a joint project, you can create a shared library of references with your co-researchers. Using these features also helps you to establish and build up an online presence and promote your research.

What do I need to learn?

To use reference management software effectively for independent research, you will need to learn how to do the following in the software package of your choice: 

  • Create a 'library'.
  • Collect references, by exporting from bibliographic databases, library catalogues and websites.
  • Organise your library using groups and smart groups in EndNote, folders in Mendeley or collections in Zotero.
  • Import PDF files into your library, add annotations, and tag or categorise refererences, using the different available methods.
  • Use the software with Microsoft Word  or other word-processor, so that you can insert in-text citations and generate bibliographies.
  • Edit, import or create a new, referencing style(s).
  • Back-up your library.
  • Use Web platforms to investigate relevant public groups.