Alessandro Gallo1, Filippo Polcaro2
1Direttore Generale Springer Healthcare Italia
2Editorial Project Manager Springer Healthcare Italia
The most popular bibliographic management softwares are Endnote, Mendeley and Zotero. These tools are used by librarians, researchers and clinicians (authors) in order to create and organize sets of personal bibliographic references, import citations and documents from bibliographic databases, online catalogs and websites, remove duplicates, choose and edit citation styles and set up their own individual user profile. A more detailed comparison of such tools is available in in-depth analysis published in Nature (1).
One of the aspects that makes reference management softwares particularly attractive for those who use them is the ability to save time: for example, the possibility, of uploading the metadata of a bibliographic resource directly from a browser or being able to download a set of pre-formatted references in line with the requirements of scholarly journals is undoubtedly an advantage.
Endnote, a service offered Clarivate (formerly Thomson Reuters), in its desktop version is the most used tool in the literature review process in systematic reviews. Through this tool it is possible to manage entire citation datasets, also thanks to many customizable settings.
Seamlessly integrated with the Web of Science, Endnote interacts well with the web versions of the most scholarly journals, making the selection of references more accurate than previous versions. The “Manuscript Matcher” facilitates the choice of the journal to submit the manuscript to; in fact, once the title and the abstract have been entered, this function compares the work with the millions of citations present in the Web of Science and displays a list of possible publications eligible for publication.
Even if Endnote is probably the best available tool on the market, it is not free: as a matter of fact, users get access through an institutional license (paid centrally by their university or research center). If users change institutions, access can be lost.
Mendeley, is a tool owned by the publisher Elsevier, available in both desktop and web versions. It also offers various useful features to share citations and documents, including the possibility of structuring workgroups through shared folders. The Mendeley multiplatform system also allows users to synchronize their data regardless of their point of access. Main advantages provided by Mendeley are the ability to directly manage PDFs including annotations (which are also searchable); seamless management of different citation styles and duplicates; the provision of a non-negligible virtual storage space of 2GB. Even if free, Mendeley is not “open source” and is available in English only.
Zotero is an open source, non-for-profit, free software developed by the George Mason University. It has an interface in various languages apart from English, it is compatible with Mendeley and can be integrated with Google Docs. Some useful services for users include Zotero Connector which is similar to the Mendeley Web Importer. This feature allows the direct import of quotes from browsers and websites, as well as the possibility to check if the manuscripts referring to the imported quotes have been retracted (through a link to Retraction Watch).
The plugin ZotFile also allows users to manage PDFs directly. One of the advantages of Zotero is, the possibility of organizing materials through keywords and tags that can also be added manually. As per its limitations, it is unfortunately not possible to manage PDFs directly (except through the use of dedicated plugins such as ZotFile). Also virtual storage space is limited.
Recommendations for the use of reference managers
Using and managing bibliographic references is a fundamental aspect of research (2). Each bibliographic reference aims to create another citation, through an exponential growth process which will not end as long as the research process is ongoing.
The amount of citations is truly enormous and constantly increasing.
It is precisely within this context that reference managers provide us with essential support for the management of previous knowledge with a view to the production of new outputs, through the optimization of processes that could not be managed manually by human beings (unless through thousands of hours of work). These tools also help us to master the large and often unstructured quantity of data and metadata which every researcher needs for various purposes: to create an archive of references accessible from any device/location (desktop/laptop, smartphone etc.), to classify and archive documents collected over time on various occasions and in various physical or virtual places.
- Perkel JM. Streamline your writing – and collaborations – with these reference managers. Nature. 2020 Sep;585(7823):149-150.
- McGowan J, Sampson M, Salzwedel DM, Cogo E, Foerster V, Lefebvre C. PRESS Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies: 2015 Guideline Statement. J Clin Epidemiol. 2016 Jul;75:40-6.