Using reference management software

How reference management software can keep you organised

As well as using to scan your work for plagiarism, it’s essential to carefully manage your source material and ensure you don’t mix up your words with other peoples’. In this article we look at some popular reference management software and tools that you can use to help you keep your source material organised.

Bibliographic software enables you to store and manage your references electronically and automatically generate bibliographies in a variety of styles. So not only can you keep track of the sources you’ve used, but you can automatically produce a bibliography at the end of your work, without having to copy and paste or retype your source material. Here are some popular reference management tools:


If you’re doing a course with the Open University, you might have come across the MyReferences tool already. The aim of this tool is to help you improve your referencing skills and to prevent plagiarism. The tool helps you to organise your references and to create a bibliography in an approved citation style. The interface is simple interface and ideal for new university students who want to use an automated tool to save them time and ensure that they stay organised.

The MyReferences software enables you to:

  • Add references manually or from database searches
  • Select a referencing style and create a bibliography enabling you to insert citations and bibliographies/reference lists into assignments.
  • Export references to other bibliographic software and share your references in your Open University blog postings, forums and wikis.


A popular reference management tool, RefWorks is a web-based bibliography manager that enables you to:

  • import references from online databases
  • automatically add references to webpages using the RefGrab-It tool
  • create a bibliography in Harvard reference style as well as other popular referencing styles

With RefWorks, you can also store files within a reference (up to 5mb each, with a 100mb limit per user). The Refworks website is US based.

RefWorks has a YouTube channel with a collection of short tutorials that include an advanced video.


Write-N-Cite has been released by RefWorks for Mac computers and it will work with Word 2008 and 2011. It is available to download from the RefWorks “Tools’ menu.


EndNote is a piece of reference management software that enables you to:

  • organise, store and manage your references
  • create bibliographies automatically
  • directly import references from databases and library catalogues


Papers is a bibliographic management software available for Mac that can search a number of databases from within it. Papers allows you to search, download and organise source material together with supplementary material, allows you to read your documents full screen, keep notes, cite them in your favorite word processor, share them with your colleagues, and more.


Zotero is a free bibliographic software extension for users of the Firefox browser. Features include automatic capture of information from websites, formatted citation export, integration with Microsoft Word.


CiteULike is a free social bookmarking service to help academics to share, store, and organise the academic papers they are reading. It specialises in academic papers.  CiteULike has (at time of writing) 5,932,972 articles with 3,763 added today so it’s a very good way of finding new source material for your essays and academic work.


Connotea is a free reference management service designed specifically for scientists and clinicians. Features include import and exports in RIS format some automatic data capture – generally Connotea works best with scientific sites.  Saving references in Connotea is very quick and easy. You do it by saving a link to a web page for the reference, whether that be the PubMed entry, the publisher’s PDF, or even an Amazon product page for a book. Connotea will, wherever possible, recognise the reference and automatically add in the bibliographic information for you.


BibSonomy is a free social bookmarking service enabling exporting in a variety of formats and feeds.  It is a web application of the Knowledge and Data Engineering Group, University of Kassel, Germany.  Both English and German translations of the site are available.


JabRef is an open source bibliography reference manager that interfaces with bibsonomy but can also be used stand-alone.  Open Source means that the code is openly available, which means people often contribute to the development of the software meaning it is constantly updated and improved.

Leave a comment