Reference Managers

When writing a non-fiction academic work, one of the more difficult things is managing your references. Word 2007 (and greater) does a good job with its active references, making it easy to manage your sources, add references to individual papers, and create bibliographies on the fly. The only problem (such as it is) has to do with its flexibility. Fortunately, there are add-ins available that add additional functionality and flexibility.

The ability to import existing Word citations is an important feature for me. I don’t want to have to reenter hundreds of citations manually simply to gain access to the features and flexibility offered by a third-party add-in. It is a simple enough problem to solve, as all the data is available in XML files, and openly available XML schemas. It is a relatively straightforward task to transform the existing data into the application’s format.


One I’ve tried is EndNote, which seems to be a full-featured and flexible addition. Endnote is pricey — $250 for the application. I was about 300 pages into a book, and didn’t want to have to re-enter all my existing citations; Endnote comes with one quite useful feature — it will import your existing Word 2007 (and greater) citations. At the time I used the trial version, I couldn’t find this feature, so I never bought it. The free online version is quite powerful for academic researchers, and has a plugin for Word (and Internet Explorer.) I could not get the online program to upload my Word document’s citations to EndNote, even after turning off my firewall. The trial version of the EndNote application worked well, and even purported to import all the citations from my Word document, as well as importing all the citations from my Word Master Source file. This was not, however, a seamless process; I had to do a lot of editing, and there were missing fields for some categories.


One that is both powerful and free is Mendeley. It is quite useful for academic work — you can drag in your files, or set up a watched folder. It will extract the metadata for you, making the task of citing much easier. My problem was that it wouldn’t import existing Word citations. This is a deal breaker for me.


Refworks is a powerful and flexible way to manage your citations. It is an online program, meaning it doesn’t install anything on your computer. This is valuable if you are using computers in libraries or at work where you are not allowed to install software. Unfortunately, Refworks requires the user to manually tag their bibliography for import into Refworks, making this one a dealbreaker.

Zotero is a free plugin. Unfortunately, it seems a bit buggy, and a number of Word features (like Track Changes) cause problems. I didn’t bother installing this to see how it worked — a quick run-through of the documentation was enough.


Papers (from Mekentosj — is also a full-featured program. It does not, however, do the one thing I need it to do, which is import my existing Word citations.


I suppose if I was starting from scratch, I’d go with Manderley. It comes with the features I need in a reference manager, with the exception of not being able to import citations from Word. Even the most expensive reference manager, EndNote, couldn’t import the Word citations properly. It’s not like it is a technically difficult problem. The XML files are all on the computer; the schemas are all online, and data transformation is a relatively straightforward procedures. I have to believe the reference manager software providers are simply uninterested in the problem.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article: