EndNote, Mendeley or Zotero? That is the question.

Choosing the right referencing software package is a dilemma for many students/researchers but here are some tips on how not to drive yourself mad in making the right choice …

How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

One of the things I advise students on the ‘Information and Literature Searching’ course is that they must invest time at the outset on choosing an appropriate bibliographic/referencing software package – and to do this before they spend large amounts of time searching for literature on their research topic.  There are a number of packages available – some to purchase, e.g. EndNote or RefWorks and others that are freely* available to download from the Internet (e.g. Mendeley and Zotero  are the two free packages that I recommend).  This is important so that students do not waste time writing down references or retrospectively typing in bibliographic information on their chosen software package.

The only thing that will drive prospective students and researchers mad is deciding which one of these packages they should opt for and sometimes having to make a choice is often more difficult than if you are told to just get on with it and use the software that your supervisor/department is using.  I ask students to look at the options available because referencing software has evolved and many incorportate tools which allow researchers to network with other researchers and share their findings more widely.

Of course, when I was a student we did not have any of the software packages  available to us and I remember having to write out all my references on 3 x 5” index cards and then having to type them out for each assignment. Making sure I had put the commas and the full stops in the right place was both tedious and time-consuming.   I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about….

If you are really confused and can’t envisage what these packages are capable of doing, I recommend that you  attend one of the introductory sessions on EndNote,** the referencing software which is supported by the Library and which my colleague Andrew Welshman runs at the Institute.  You can then download a 30-day trial version of EndNote before you decide on investing funds on this software.  The LibGuides on EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero provide step-by-step instructions (some with video) on how to use these packages.

Alternatively, you can find out about Mendeley and Zotero by watching the video tours:  see http://www.zotero.org/static/videos/tour/zotero_tour.htm for Zotero or go to the Mendely site and click on the video on the front page.   The seven-minute video on YouTube is a good starting point for an introduction to EndNote.

You can also look at comparison charts such as this one on Wikipedia –“Comparison of Reference Management Software”  or the list of software listed on Bamboo DiRT (Digital Research Tools) or blog posts such as this very useful one on Impact of the Social Sciences  or the article by Merinda Kaye Hensely entitled “Citation Management Software:  features and futures” but to be honest, the only way to decide which package is right for you is to try a few.  The benefits of each of these packages will only become obvious to you by trying the software. See for yourself which of the software packages are intuitive for you and which ones work with the key databases you intend to use – test out how to import and export references, how to attach PDF files, make notes and tag (add keywords) the references to make them searchable.  Try out the MSWord Plugin and see how easy it is to access your library of references from the computer you use at the IOE or work and from home.  You may even want to download the iPhone/iPAD App available on Mendeley if you have and use these devices and try and open an article from your library of references on site and off site.  Of course, this will take time but I can guarantee you, it will be time spent well.

I hope to provide some taster demos on Mendeley and Zotero in the New Year which will be advertised on this blog.

Nazlin Bhimani



*Both Mendeley and Zotero provide space ‘on the cloud’, that is, on their servers but you will need to purchase additional space if you use up your allocated space with your references and attachments.  Information on costs is on the respective websites.

** EndNote sessions are advertised on the front page of the EndNote LibGuide at http://libguides.ioe.ac.uk/endnote

About Nazlin Bhimani

Research Support and Special Collections Librarian, UCL Institute of Education, London
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