The best way to keep track of your references is to keep a record of the articles you have read. Reference management tools help you to organise your references and automatically generate reference lists or bibliographies in a variety of styles. Bibliographic management is another term used to describe these tools and their use.
Before you begin using a reference management tool, it is best to concentrate on developing your referencing skills. If you are going to keep records of large numbers of references then it will be worthwhile investing time in selecting and learning how to use a tool. This Being Digital activity will help you evaluate which tool might meet your needs.
While the Open University does not endorse a particular product, or provide support for their use, there are several free web-based tools from which to choose. Some are basic tools for undergraduate study. Others are more advanced and suitable for researchers and postgraduate students. The regular OU Live session on Introduction to reference management tools takes you through some of the things to consider when selecting and using reference management tools. For more general guidance on referencing see Referencing and plagiarism.
BibSonomy is a social bookmarking service and can be used to export bibliographies in a variety of formats and feeds.
Delicious is a service designed for personal bookmarking on the web. Websites can be accessed anywhere, no matter what computer or device you are using.
More advanced tools
Colwiz is software that helps to sort, cite and share research. You can import PDFs and references from the web to your desktop and mobile devices.
EndNote Basic is entirely web-based and allows you to store, manage and share your references, cite sources and write your papers. It is a simpler, free version of the commercial tool Endnote Desktop. (Please disregard the 'Sign in via your institutional login' option on the 'Sign In or create an account' page.) If you need more styles, log in to Web of Science, create an account and then access Endnote via the My Tools menu. These account details should be used whenever you access Endnote Basic.
Mendeley is a reference manager and academic social network that is fully searchable with capacity for reading and annotating PDFs on any device. It is available as web-based or as a standalone desktop version.
Proquest Flow is a cloud-based collaboration tool that allows you to collect, manage and organise your documents. You can also annotate and cite your research.
The Comparison of reference management software produced by Wikipedia has further examples of reference management tools and may also assist you with your decision.
Tools for purchase or subscription
EndNote is desktop software that can organise, store and manage references, create bibliographies automatically and directly import references from databases (e.g. Web of Science) and library catalogues. The EndNote software is available for on-campus users and those based at the OU regional centres through the IT department. To request EndNote please raise a ticket via the IT Self Service system. If you are not on campus you can purchase EndNote at a discounted rate, remembering to use your OU email address.
Papers is a reference management application for Apple products, that can search a number of databases from within it. If you want to access resources through the OU Library subscriptions, follow the set-up instructions below.
- From Papers Preferences choose the Sources tab
- Set the authentication url to
- Set the Library proxy to
- Close preferences and restart Papers
This will allow you to use most of the search options in Papers, but to use Web of Science you need to
- modify a support file called gatewayurl.txt which is found in the following path:
- Open this file and replace the single text line with this one (make sure there are no line breaks in the string):