Pt 2- Why Academics & Students Should be Using a Reference Manager: app roundup

In my previous post I highlighted the six reasons every academic and university student should be using a Reference Manager. In this post I will highlight some of the top apps out there in this category. I have had hands-on experience with most of these apps at one time or another.

As I have taken some time to research these apps for this post, I have come to realize how level the playing field has become. At one time, Endnote stood out as being the best integrated with MS Word. At one time, Zotero was popular because it was free and could flawlessly pull in citation information from pretty much any website. At one time, Papers stood out as the interface to beat on Mac. At one time, Bookends stood out as having the most robust formatting (which is important for those of us enslaved to the Turabian method). At one time, only 2 or 3 of the apps had built-in annotation abilities for PDFs.

This isn't the case anymore:

  • most are now fairly flawless when it comes to formatting.
    • This was not the case only a few years ago. A number of these apps arose out of the hard sciences scene that uses APA, which is a much simpler formatting style. This meant that a number of them weren't equipped for Chicago/Turabian/SBL formatting. This isn't the case anymore.
  • most have built-in annotation abilities
  • most can now effortlessly pull citation information in from the web, usually from within the app itself
  • All of them now integrate with MS Word, and a few add other word processors into the mix as well
  • Many of them now have collaboration abilities

In addition to what are now the staples for this category, we can add the cloud-syncing that is now the norm for most of them. The cloud-syncing has opened up both web access and mobile apps as well – I now carry my entire library around on my iOS app, and can read and annotate any PDF article I have on the go as well!  Academics have some truly helpful and powerful technology at our fingertips.

Below I spotlight 10 Reference Manager apps in no particular order. After a brief summary, I evaluate a few of them based on particular items (cost, platforms, etc). There are many more than 10 out there, but these seem to me to be the most popular and most-used. Hopefully you will find one of these useful. If you do decide to adopt one of these, I highly recommend taking the time to study the manual and watch video tutorials – become a master of that app, as it will pay rewards in your life later.

 

*full disclosure: I receive a small affiliate commission for some of the links below. If you do purchase through these links, thanks!

 

SENTE

www.thirdstreetsoftware.com

Sente is currently my Reference Manager of choice (This section may be a little biased :-). It has one of the best interfaces and its formatting editor is excellent. Four main things drew me to Sente and has kept me using it still: 1) its cloud syncing is fantastic, including all of the tags, library preferences etc. The syncing enables 2) its great mobile app. I love carrying my whole library with me on my iPad. Its mobile syncing is well designed - for instance, PDFs stay in the cloud unless I want them on my iPad. 3) I love its document annotation abilities. 4) Sente's auto-links feature is something I really love. Using the info from a citation, Sente will provide you with links to relevant webpages like Amazon, Google Books, etc. I appreciate that Sente essentially leaves my PDF untouched, whereas most other apps save the highlights and notes directly on to the PDF file. This makes for smaller files and faster syncing. Sente also really embraces tagging as a way to organize, which is great. Given that Sente is cloud-based, I wouldn't be at all surprised if a web-view and maybe even a PC version are in its future. The cloud sync also enables for some great collaboration abilities.

  • Cost: Free for 250mb cloud storage. Upgrade to unlimited storage for $79.99, or $59.99 with educational discount
  • Platform(s):
  • Sync: Built-in cloud sync. Collaboration and sharing with colleagues enabled.
  • Word Processor compatibility: MS Word, Mellel, Pages, Nisus Writer, Open Office, RTF documents
  • Formatting: Uses its own formatting interface; comes pre-built with hundreds of formats
  • Document Annotation: highlighting and note taking are done using the app's own seamless annotation, on the Mac or on mobile. The annotations are stored within the database rather then being written onto the PDF
  • Strength(s): Modern interface; excellent document annotation; powerful formatting editor; Automatic links to Amazon, Google Books, DOI, etc.; Mellel integration; mobile app
  • Weakness(es): slow support on forum; cannot mass import into journal glossary; problem with handling ancient dates or date ranges; does not properly handle name suffixes (Jr. Sr., etc.)

 

 

BOOKENDS

www.sonnysoftware.com    (AppStore link)

I have a special place in my heart for Bookends and never hesitate to recommend it. My very first Reference Manager was the now defunct RefCite on a PC. But just after starting to use that, I switched to a Mac and never looked back. Once on a Mac, I stumbled upon Bookends. Bookends was also the focus of my first academic-ish type article on the SBL Forum. Bookends is still one of the fastest in terms of searching your own database, and its built-in web search is great. Bookends is also, still, one of the few Reference Managers that can do global changes like find & replace. Bookends, like Sente, has enhanced functionality with Mellel, which is my Word Processor of choice (why not MS Word? In addition to being clunky and slow as molasses with large documents, MS Word on Mac STILL doesn't properly handle unicode right-to-left Hebrew!) and handles SBL format well. I also appreciated (and honestly now miss) the very responsive support by its developer, Jon. Since I have moved on to Sente, Bookends has continued to evolve, with built-in PDF annotation, syncing via Dropbox, a mobile app, and great note-taking abilities.

  • Cost: $59.99
  • Platform(s):
  • Sync: via Dropbox
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word, Mellel, Pages, Nisus Writer, Open Office, RTF documents
  • Formatting: Uses its own formatting interface. Comes with hundreds of format files.
  • Document Annotation: Built-in annotation, saved directly to PDF. PDF notes are saved in the Bookends note-card system.
  • Strength(s): very responsive developer. Excellent integration with Mellel. Very fast database searching.
  • Weakness(es): somewhat clunky interface. No collaborative abilities. No collaborative features.

 

 

ENDNOTE

www.endnote.com

Endnote has been around the longest. I wasn't around when Reference Managers first made their debut, but I think I'm correct that Endnote invented the app genre. It has continued to evolve and is still the dominant player on the market – it continues to be the only app that is natively supported by MS Word and Apple Pages (fyi, I wish Apple would make this more open for other developers). Endnote works great with MS Word, and it has widened its reach to include Mac, iOS, and the web. Endnote also has collaboration abilities. While many decry Endnote's cost, student cost isn't that bad, and the apps that charge year to year actually cost much more in the long run.

  • Cost: $249.95, $113.95 for students
  • Platform(s):
  • Sync: Built-in cloud sync. Collaboration and sharing with colleagues enabled.
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word
  • Formatting: Uses its own formatting interface, many pre-built formats available for users.
  • Document Annotation: Built-in annotation and note-taking that is written to the PDF.
  • Strength(s): MS Word integration. Multi-platform. Huge community.
  • Weakness(es): Works with MS Word only.

 

 

PAPERS

www.papersapp.com

Papers popped up in the void of a good Mac PDF manager. Initially Papers was more about finding good references right within the app (mostly for the hard sciences) and enabling annotation and note-taking with the PDFs. Papers continues to have a great user interface and has evolved to be a full-fledged Reference Manager that handles citation and bibliography generation. It has also expanded its reach on to PC and the web, which enables collaboration abilities. Papers continues to have one of the best interfaces, and continues its aggressive development. I am unclear on how Papers handles journal abbreviations (us Biblical Studies guys need to use abbreviations in footnotes, not in bibliographies. Sente, Bookends, and Endnote do this well).

  • Cost$79
  • Platform(s):
  • Sync: via Dropbox
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word, RTF documents
  • FormattingUses the CSL repository - http://citationstyles.org
  • Document Annotation: Built-in
  • Strength(s): Ubiquitous. Aggressive development. Great interface and built-in searching. Particularly large hard sciences user base.
  • Weakness(es): Limited word processor integration

 

 

MENDELEY

www.mendeley.com

Mendeley has made quite a splash in the Reference Manager area and has really raised the bar in terms of cloud-syncing and collaboration. It continues to stand out, in my opinion, as being the most collaborative and social of all of the Reference Managers. Its 2GB free policy really encouraged (forced) many of the other apps to add collaboration, cloud-syncing, web interface, and even a free option. For students who aren't necessarily going the academic route and don't want to spend anything, I tend to recommend Mendeley. Its interface is fairly simplistic and easy to understand for beginners, and what it does it does very well. As far as advanced features for research, I find it a little lacking – but I'm a bit of a tech junkie.

  • Cost2GB free (annotations not synced), 5GB at $55/yr, 10GB at $110/yr, unlimited storage at $165/yr
  • Platform(s):
    • Mac
    • PC
    • Linux
    • iOS
    • Web
    • 3rd party Android apps
  • Sync: cloud-based
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word
  • FormattingUses the CSL repository - http://citationstyles.org
  • Document AnnotationBuilt-in
  • Strength(s): Collaboration abilities and paper-sharing community. Good document annotation. Free.
  • Weakness(es)Recurring cost. Not as full-featured as others.

 

 

QIQQA

www.qiqqa.com

Qiqqa is not super well-known but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be. Qiqqa first stood out to me as I was looking for a PC alternative to DEVONthink (a great Mac research database). Qiqqa started out as simply a PDF manager, enabling great annotation, note-taking, and searching of the PDFs. Qiqqa continues to do this better than any program, in my opinion. Since I last looked at it, it has, like Papers, now become a full-fledged Reference Manager that can manage your in-text citations and bibliographies. If you are on a PC, I'd highly recommend checking out Qiqqa. If I were a PC user, I'm fairly certain this would be my Reference Manager.

  • Cost200mb free (ad-supported). 8GB at $72/yr, 50GB at $240/yr
  • Platform(s):
    • PC
    • Android
    • Web
  • Sync: built-in cloud syncing
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word
  • FormattingUses the CSL repository - http://citationstyles.org
  • Document AnnotationBuilt-in
  • Strength(s): PDF handling and note-taking. Collaboration abilities.
  • Weakness(es)Recurring cost. Platform limited. Works with MS Word only.

 

 

ZOTERO

www.zotero.org

Zotero is a favorite for many, and for good reason. Zotero started out as a Firefox plugin, and this origin highlights one of its main strengths - it seamlessly integrates with your web browser and flawlessly pulls in information. It was Zotero that really pushed the others to start pulling in information from the web too. Like Mendeley, it is free for a certain amount of space. I never really warmed up to Zotero's interface and don't like that it doesn't have PDF annotation built-in – but given the playing field, this may change soon.

  • Cost300mb free. 2GB at $20/yr, 6GB at $60/yr, unlimited storage at $120/yr
  • Platform(s):
  • Sync: cloud-based
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word and LibreOffice/OpenOffice/NeoOffice,
  • FormattingUses the CSL repository - http://citationstyles.org
  • Document Annotationnone
  • Strength(s): Web importing. Collaboration abilities. Huge user base and community.
  • Weakness(es)Recurring cost. No mobile app. No document annotation. Works only with MS Word and OpenOffice.

 

 

CITAVI

www.citavi.com

Citavi is quite popular in Europe, not as much in North America. Citavi focuses a lot on the knowledge organization side of things, with task management and note-taking. Citavi is unique in that its formatting is all built-in and if you need a new format, the developer makes them. You can collaborate with a special version of Citavi.

  • Cost$156
  • Platform(s):
    • PC
  • Sync: no
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word, OpenOffice, RTF documents
  • Formatting3,000 Built-in formats. Developer-built only.
  • Document Annotationnone
  • Strength(s): note-taking and knowledge organization. Task management.
  • Weakness(es)No mobile app. No document annotation. No sync. 

 

 

BIBLIOSCAPE

www.biblioscape.com

Biblioscape is another PC-only option. Like Citavi, it has a strong emphasis on knowledge organization and note-taking. Its interface, like Citavi, is pretty dated with that Windows 98-type feel. You can collaborate with an upgraded version.

  • Cost$149
  • Platform(s):
    • PC
  • Sync: no. But Biblioscape can run as a server on your network, and allow others to view your database.
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word, RTF documents
  • FormattingUses its own formatting interface, many pre-built formats available for users.
  • Document AnnotationBuilt-in.
  • Strength(s): Strong emphasis on note-taking and research. Task lists and chart-making abilities.
  • Weakness(es)No mobile app. Poor interface. No syncing.

 

 

REFWORKS

www.refworks.com

Refworks continues to be web-only, which is good for some and not-so-good for others. This allows for some collaboration abilities and has a mobile-friendly web interface.

  • Cost$100 / yr
  • Platform(s):
    • Web (mobile friendly)
  • Sync: no
  • Word Processor Compatibility: MS Word, RTF documents
  • FormattingUses its own formatting interface, many pre-built formats available for users.
  • Document AnnotationBuilt-in.
  • Strength(s): Strong emphasis on note-taking and research. Task lists and chart-making abilities.
  • Weakness(es)No mobile app. Poor interface. High cost.

 

I have tried to be as accurate as possible. Please let me know if I have made any errors and I will update the post. As I said in my previous post, a Reference Manager can be one of the most important tools for an academic.

 
Posted by Danny Zacharias.