Thing 4: Reference Management

Building a reference list is not the chore it once was. You can use reference management software to: 

  • Store and organise your references and PDF files while you are searching for information 
  • Insert in-text citations or footnotes in your documents as you write up your research and automatically generate reference lists or bibliographies 
  • Sync your library online, so you can access your library from multiple devices and collaborate with other researchers.

In this week’s post we will look at three popular reference management tools: Zotero, Mendeley, and EndNote. 

Getting Started   


Zotero is a free, open-source reference manager which you can download to a number of computers and keep using after you have left the university. Key features include: 

  • Web-scraping capability that you can use to quickly import references, full-text PDFs (when available) and snapshots of webpages 
  • Easy to switch between in-text citation and footnoting styles 
  • Intuitive and easier to use than other reference management tools.

Zotero has three components: 

  • A desktop application that you can install on your computer 
  • A browser connector for Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera browsers 
  • An online account you can use to sync your Zotero library across computers.

An advantage of Zotero is that you can export lists of articles (and PDFs) or books from many major databases and websites with just a few clicks. It is also useful for exporting references from less traditional resources like websites and wikis. 

For more information see the Library’s Zotero webpage and guide 


Mendeley, named after the biologist Gregor Mendel and chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev, was originally created by three PhD students and was purchased by Elsevier in 2013. Some of Mendeley’s key features: 

  • It is a mix between a reference management tool and an academic social network (a bit like ResearchGate). You can use Mendeley to collaborate securely online to share papers, notes and annotations with peers and can network and discover papers, people and public groups
  • It has a ‘Suggest’ feature and will suggest papers to you based on your current Mendeley library and nominated research interests
  • Mendeley has a ‘crowd-sourced’ papers database that you can share: it gathers the details of references people add to their Mendeley libraries into a papers database that you can search
  • You can link your Mendeley profile with your ORCID, and also with your Scopus profile, and view usage statistics for your papers
  • Mendeley is a ‘freemium’ product: you can use it for free, but need to pay to unlock premium features such as more online storage space for references and PDF files and for more online groups to collaborate with others. 

Like Zotero, Mendeley has both online and desktop components, as well as apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. 

For more information see the Library’s Mendeley webpage and guide 


EndNote is a licensed, proprietary product. It was originally produced by the company Thomson Reuters (who also makes a number of other products such as the database Web of Science and ResearcherID), and has recently been acquired by another company called Clarivate Analytics. Some notable EndNote features: 

  • The University of Melbourne has a subscription to EndNote, which means our staff and students can download and install the full version of EndNote to their computers. It also means that if you sync EndNote desktop with EndNote Online, then it will unlock the full version of EndNote Online, with unlimited storage for your references
  • University of Melbourne staff/students can download EndNote from the library’s EndNote website, and this version includes custom styles and settings from the University of Melbourne)
  • EndNote is a well established tool (we are up to version 18, i.e. EndNote X8), and it has a wide user-base at the University of Melbourne
  • EndNote is well supported, both by Clarivate Analytics and Crandon Services (its Australian distributor)
  • EndNote has many advanced features which are useful for experienced users, for example EndNote allows you to create custom reference types.

EndNote has both online and desktop components. 

For more information see the Library’s EndNote webpage and guide. 


 Each of the tools has some issues/ disadvantages that you should consider, see some below: 




  • Limited online storage with a free online account (300 MB)
  • Can’t customise reference types (e.g. there is a fixed set of types such as Book, Journal Article etc.) 


  • The University of Melbourne does not have an institutional subscription for Mendeley at this time
  • There are upgrade costs for additional storage and groups for collaborating with others
  • As with Zotero, you cannot customise the reference types


  • Many people find it there is a steeper learning curve
  • Sharing and collaboration is more complex than with Zotero and Mendeley
  • As it is licensed product, you won’t have access to the full product once you graduate/ leave the university

Try This 

Work through the library’s Getting Started with Reference Management guide, particularly the section on factors to consider when choosing a tool. You can also watch a recorded webinar on ‘Which Reference Manager?’ here.

Once you have installed a try a Google Scholar search on a topic of your choice, and save any interesting references/PDF files into your reference management tool of choice. 

For bonus points, try one of the options for sharing your references online with one of your colleagues. 

Learn More  

Detailed information on the individual reference management programs introduced in this post are available in their respective library guides:

You can also find recorded webinars on all three here.

This post was written by Kathryn Lindsay (Senior Librarian, Bibliographic Software, and Liaison Librarian, Science & Engineering).

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