Reference Management Tools (RMT), also called reference management software, bibliographic management software, etc., are tools which help to automate the 4 basic elements of the process of reference management, which are:
A typical RMT can import and generate references from library catalogues and databases, provide searchable folders to organise collected references, promotes collaboration by allowing references to be shared between registered users, offers plug-ins to Word, Google Sheets, etc., so in-text citations and reference lists can be added directly while writing, and allows synchronisation between web-based and downloaded versions, so users aren’t tied to a single device.
The University of Suffolk provides students and staff with free access to two major RMTs, RefWorks and Endnote, and the library also supports users of the opensource (and hence free) tool Zotero. Each of these provides the functionality described above.
Many other RMTs exist and support and guidance for these is widely available online. Wikipedia provides the following table comparing functionality and pros and cons of popular tools here.
There is a wide range of criteria to apply when choosing which Referencing Management Tool (RMT) to use, and you will probably experiment with more than one before settling down to a final choice. Criteria will include the use you want to put it to – is it to speed up referencing your undergraduate essays, organise your research for your final year or master’s dissertation, or to collaborate on a research paper? Do you need to learn just how to use the basics, or can you afford a longer learning curve? What kind of support is available to you, and what kind of device are you most using? Do you study and write in multiple locations, on different devices? Will you need access to your research after you finish your course or is a RMT linked to your student account sufficient?
The most fundamental criteria are:
|Cost||Free to UoS staff/students (installed on library PCs; available to download)||Free to UoS staff/students||Free to UoS staff/students||Free (open source)|
|Difficulty||Moderate learning curve||Moderate learning curve||Easy learning curve||Moderate learning curve|
|Access||Desktop||Cloud-based||Cloud-based||Desktop software (i.e., download); web-based add-on for major browsers|
|Speed||Fast||Slow||Depends on network||Fast|
|Links to URLs||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Links to PDF/Full text||Yes||No||Yes||Yes (Zotero’s free storage is limited to 300MB)|
|Add notes/tags function||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Word integration||MS Word, Pages, Word for Mac||MS Word, Pages, Word for Mac||MS Word, Word for Mac, Google Docs||MS Word, Word for Mac, Google Docs|
|Operating System (OS)||Windows, Mac, iOS||Windows, Mac, iOS||Windows, Mac, ChromeOS||Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux|
|Recommended users||UG, PGT, PGR, staff||UG, PGT||UG, PGT, PGR, staff||UG, PGT, PGR, staff|