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Reference managers

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During your PhD, you will collect, read and review a large body of literature and information in various formats. Keeping track of the literature you encounter can be facilitated by using a reference manager. An efficient reference management workflow simplifies the academic writing process.

On this page you will learn about

  • reference managers
  • building your reference library
  • sharing references with colleagues
  • support for reference management

Choosing a reference manager

A reference manager is the software you use to handle references and full-text documents, and citations while writing. References can be handled manually as well, but the reference manager allows for greater flexibility and efficiency.

Academic disciplines vary as to how references are written and consequently how references are managed. Therefore, some reference managers may be preferred within your discipline. Other factors are personal preferences and work style. Choose a reference manager that adapts easily to your way of working and lets you establish an efficient workflow. Take a look at the following statements and consider how important they are to your research:

  • I want to collect both references and full-text articles
  • I want to archive and organize my references
  • I want to share a pool of references with my co-authors
  • I need a device-independent solution and prefer cloud storage
  • It is important to synchronize my reference database across devices
  • I have to be able to edit reference styles when I publish my articles in particular journals
  • I want to share annotations and I discuss references with other researchers

Brief descriptions of reference managers

There are several reference managers to choose from. Here are a few of the most popular ones. Click on Show more for a brief description of their main features.

EndNote
Endnote enables you to create a database, called a library (with file extension .enl and a corresponding folder), for your collected references. You may add references manually by typing in the bibliographic data, or you can export citations to your library from the different reference or literature databases you normally use to search for literature. Most databases provide solutions for exporting citations to Endnote. Additionally, EndNote provides functionality for storing and organizing full text, such as PDF files, on your computer (PC or Mac). Used with Microsoft Word, Open Office or Libre Office, the feature Cite While You Write enables you to insert and organize citations in your text. A bibliography will automatically be generated.
More than 6000 output reference styles are available. If you write your thesis in Norwegian, the libraries can provide downloadable translations into Norwegian of some of the most common reference styles, like APA, Chicago footnotes, Chicago author-year, and Harvard.
Athough EndNote was not originally made for collaboration, it is possible to work with other authors on a text, sharing a library, or part of a library.
EndNote is a commercial software package. Check whether a site licence is provided by your institution.
Most of the universities and university colleges in Norway provide courses and tutorials in EndNote.

Zotero
Zotero is good for collecting full-text documents and for sharing a library with researchers. Zotero is open source, plug-in based, and free of charge. It is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. It works with Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers, and it is possible to connect a Zotero library to Microsoft Word, Open Office, Libre Office, and to export the bibliography to BibTeX for reference management. Zotero is considered user-friendly with an interface similar to that of widely used music library applications. Through cloud storage you can reach your articles from any computer with an Internet connection, which makes it easy and convenient to access your library from anywhere and to share it with your peers.
Some of the Norwegian institutions provide courses in Zotero.

BibTeX-/- BibLaTex
LaTeX is a document typesetting system highly recommended for the production of technical and scientific documents. LaTeX is open source software distributed under a free public licence. It is available for most operating systems. Compared to conventional word processors such as Microsoft Word, LaTeX gives better control, flexibility and typesetting quality, but requires more effort to learn. LaTeX offers high quality programmable desktop publishing, mathematical typesetting, automatic numbering, cross-referencing, tables and figures, page layout and bibliography management. Citations and bibliographies can be automatically integrated into a LaTeX document using the programme BibTeX. A BibTeX library is a text file that can either be generated from other reference managers such as EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero, BibDesk or JabRef, or managed manually using any text editor. Many scholarly databases can export references in BibTeX format that can be inserted directly into a BibTeX file. The end product in LaTeX is a Postscript or PDF document where citations and reference lists are automatically generated on the basis of a specified reference style.
Some of the Norwegian institutions provide courses in BibTeX.

Mendeley
Mendeley is a reference manager and collaboration tool available from Mendeley.com. The desktop client is free and available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux. You can also access your account via the web or an iPhone/iPad app. References are conveniently imported directly from PDF files, but can also be exported from a number of databases and web sites. Annotation, highlighting and adding notes, can be done directly to your PDFs. Both references and PDF files can be organized in folders and shared in groups. Mendeley may also be used to create an academic profile, upload papers, publish research (beware of copyright issues) and search for papers and new collaborators. The free account includes 2GB of online storage. For more storage and sharing with larger groups of colleagues, different fees apply.

Citavi
Citavi is a Swiss-made programme for reference management and knowledge organization. Citavi Free offers all of the features of other Citavi editions; however, in the free version the number of references is limited to 100.

Compiling your reference library

A modern reference manager can store both a reference and an accompanying full-text version of the referenced work. Your reference manager can thus function as your own research library directly in your computer and gives easy access to your literature.

Building your collection

Make a habit of storing all useful references to research literature as you come across them. This practice will save time later when you are writing.

Building your reference collection can be done in several ways, all of which you will probably use at some point:

  • Registering the reference manually: this is mostly done for older material not readily available online, especially books and grey literature
  • Transferring from reference databases like Web of Science or PubMed; here you may transfer large sets of references
  • Downloading a reference from a journal’s website
  • Downloading references from Oria or Google Scholar
  • Extracting reference data from the PDF of an article

Always check references for accuracy; proofreading references directly saves time later and allows you to focus on your writing when you use the reference.

Organizing your references

As your collection of references mounts up, you will need to organize them; this can be done in a number of ways. It is always useful to be able to sort the library according to

  • author
  • year
  • title
  • type of reference
  • topic

A particularly useful feature in many reference managers is the possibility of creating your own keywords. When downloading references you can choose to include the keywords provided. However, you may need to index your references differently from the source, and creating your own keywords will let you do that. By adapting keywords based on your own retrieval needs, you ensure efficient access to the relevant literature in your library.

Keeping notes is useful when working with literature. Many reference managers allow you to store your notes in conjunction with the reference. Some reference managers also allow notetaking and highlighting in full-text documents.

Example

Different journals and publishers, or the institution where you eventually submit your thesis, will have guidelines for citations and reference lists. Explore how you can import and edit reference styles with your reference manager.

You may prefer to use an author-date reference style as this immediately shows which work is cited.

Cote-Arsenault, D., & Morrison-Beedy, D. (2005). Maintaining your focus in focus groups: Avoiding common mistakes. Research in Nursing & Health, 28(2), 172-179. https://doi.org/10.1002/nur.20063
Drahota, A., & Dewey, A. (2008). The sociogram – A useful tool in the analysis of focus groups. Nursing Research, 57(4), 293-297. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.nnr.0000313489.49165.97
Freeman, T. (2006). ‘Best practice’ in focus group research: making sense of different views. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 56(5), 491-497. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.04043.x
Jayasekara, R. S. (2012). Focus groups in nursing research: Methodological perspectives. Nursing Outlook, 60(6), 411-416. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.outlook.2012.02.001
Jones, J., & Barry, M. M. (2011). Developing a scale to measure trust in health promotion partnerships. Health Promotion International, 26(4), 484-491. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/dar007
Krueger, R. A. (2006). Analyzing focus group interviews. Journal of Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing, 33(5), 478-481.
Lambert, S. D., & Loiselle, C. G. (2008). Combining individual interviews and focus groups to enhance data richness. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(2), 228-237. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04559.x
Wyatt, T. H., Krauskopf, P. B., & Davidson, R. (2008). Using focus groups for program planning and evaluation. Journal of School Nursing, 24(2), 71-77. https://doi.org/10.1177/10598405080240020401

However, if your publisher favours a numbered reference style, you will need to adapt your manuscript. By simply changing the reference style in your reference manager, all the citations and the reference list in your manuscript change to the publisher’s preferred style.

1. Krueger RA: Analyzing focus group interviews. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs 2006, 33:478-481.
2. Freeman T: ‘Best practice’ in focus group research: making sense of different views. J Adv Nurs 2006, 56:491-497.
3. Lambert SD, Loiselle CG: Combining individual interviews and focus groups to enhance data richness. J Adv Nurs 2008, 62:228-237.
4. Jones J, Barry MM: Developing a scale to measure trust in health promotion partnerships. Health Promot Int 2011, 26:484-491.
5. Jayasekara RS: Focus groups in nursing research: Methodological perspectives. Nurs Outlook 2012, 60:411-416.
6. Cote-Arsenault D, Morrison-Beedy D: Maintaining your focus in focus groups: Avoiding common mistakes. Res Nurs Health 2005, 28:172-179.
7. Drahota A, Dewey A: The sociogram – A useful tool in the analysis of focus groups. Nurs Res 2008, 57:293-297.
8. Wyatt TH, Krauskopf PB, Davidson R: Using focus groups for program planning and evaluation. J Sch Nurs 2008, 24:71-77.

The examples are made using EndNote X8, with APA 6th as an example of an author-date reference style, and Biomed Central as an example of a numbered reference style.

Sharing your references

When working in a networked environment, sharing literature and references with our colleagues should be easy. A reference manager may facilitate effective sharing.

Although the references in your library refer back to literature you use or consider relevant, they would be equally relevant to other researchers in your field. If you work in a research group, sharing your reference libraries can provide a common and collective knowledge base.

Social media allow for sharing of references with researchers outside your closest circles, providing opportunities to find new and interesting research literature and to make new contacts. In particular, you may find recommendations or annotations of works, which will enhance your understanding of the usefulness of the new references.

Support services

  • Library courses. If your university provides support services for reference management, you will find help pages on the library website. Most of the libraries provide courses on the use of reference manager software.
  • YouTube. If you perform a search in YouTube, you will probably find various tutorials for your preferred reference management tool.

Useful resources

APA manual in Norwegian
BibTeX website
Citavi website
Endnote Clarivate Analytics website
Mendeley website
Zotero website

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