There are dozen of reference management software out there. And they all do more or less the same thing.
The competition being fierce, the differences have been smoothed out over the years and what made a software’s uniqueness has often been copied by the others.
EndNote has lost his status of “most reliable one”.
Mendeley is not the only “social one” anymore.
Zotero is not the only one to be free and open source.
And dozens of other options have sprouted up on the market.
So how do you choose?
Ask your library
Yeah, I know, I’m a broken record on this one, but asking your librarian is one of the best things you could do to help you decide.
See, one specific software might be preferred by your institution.
Through your library, you might be able to get a free license to an otherwise expense piece of software.
And, most importantly, your library might provide specific help, guides, and training sessions on it.
So check with your librarian and ask for what she can offer.
Check out this comparison table
The Technische Universität München created and regularly updates this fantastic document.
It compares 8 of the most used reference management software (Citavi, Colwiz, Docear, EndNote, JabRef, Mendeley, RefWorks, and Zotero) on large quantity of criteria.
Be warned: it’s 19 pages long.
To use it to the maximum of it’s capacity, decide beforehand which criteria are most important to you and check those out.
I would recommend that you particularly look into those:
- How much will you need to pay for this software? (This can go from completely free to hundreds of dollars.)
- Does it work on your operating system? Is there a mobile version that would work on your tablet / phone? (i.e. Citavi won’t work on Mac; RefWorks will work pretty much anywhere; JabRef’s tablet version only works with Windows 8…)
- With which software is it linked? (i.e. EndNote works perfectly with Microsoft Word; Mendeley doesn’t work with Pages…)
- Will you be able to easily find help? (i.e. Zotero has a large community behind it; Mendeley has a nice “Getting started” guide…)
Once you’ve looked those up and reduced your selection, feel free to compare the other characteristics of those software to try and decide on which one seems best for you.
Try them out for real
In fine, the best way to know if a software is right for you is just to install it and try it out.
They all have a different feel and trying out their different user interfaces might help you make your final decision.
That said, know that, if after a while you fall out of love with your reference management software, you don’t have to be stuck with it.
They all support a broad range of formats, so you can just export the references you’ve accumulated and import them into your next software of choice.
Now, tell me: what’s your favourite reference management software and why? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments!