The internet has provided us with simpler and quicker access to the latest research published in science, allowing us to view and download articles to keep for future reference.

But how do you manage to keep such a mountain of papers organized, ensuring that you can easily find that paper you read the other week when cornered in a meeting with your supervisor? Luckily for you, there is software that can keep all your papers organized, preventing those awkward supervisor meetings where you hectically search your computer for that crucial article.

Not only can this software help organize your literature, but they also enable you to easily cite any article in your library, making the writing process much less frustrating. But which of these fantastic programs is the one for you? Over the next several weeks we are going to discuss different features of several of these programs, hopefully allowing you to pick the one that is right for you.

Reference Managers for Scientists: An Overview

As an introduction to this series, we have compiled a table of the important features of the reference managers.

How To Get Organized With Reference Managers for Science - An Overview

Stay tuned for our next post on Mendeley.

Want an on-hand checklist to help you analyze papers efficiently despite being busy with research? Download our free article summary and checklist template.

For more tips on keeping track of the scientific literature, head over to the Bitesize Bio Managing the Scientific Literature Hub.

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  1. AS i’m using Zotero i can add some stuff – and also point out some errors:

    It is free – but there is a subscription model: if you want to store your files (and not only the database entries) online you can choose to pay and upload them to the zotero website or store them on your own server.

    Tablet/Phone app: the X (nor not existing) is damn wrong: There is not an official one – but you have Zandy, Zotpad, Scanner for Zotero, Bibup and Zotfile.

    Highlight & annotate paper: as Zotero has no integrated reader you can simply choose one that does highlighting and annotating.

    Easy import: seriously a No? It supports Bibtex, RIS etc. – everything you need. What do the others have more? Nothing i am aware off.
    Never ever had a problem with importing. If there is a strength in open-source than its for sure that you can come and go with your data.

    Recommended articles are planned.
    Database searching: as you didn’t seem to know about the apps – this is also wrong.

    also i agree to 5to16chars – not everything in there is platform independent.

    But still: nice overview !

  2. Reference management software serves several purposes, it should both organize and structure important information frequently needed in research. But it’s also needed when writing reports and papers, to insert references. And these different functions don’t always overlap. To get good overview and organize information are local software best, while the web-based are less good at that, Mendeley overcomes this by being both local, but also synchronizing with web. To be really good for writing reports and papers, the Reference management software need to have extensive journal format filters, and that’s a problem with most non-commercial software.

    I have solved this compromise by using JabRef to organize and store information, and then import the references to RefWorks and use that when I need to insert references into reports and articles.

    An obvious problem with the free but not open source software is that there are no guarantee for long term usage.

    1. To expand on Kurt’s point about “no guarantee for long term usage”, an example is Elsevier’s recent purchase of Mendeley. Some critics suggest that Elsevier might shut down Mendeley, and I’ve read others suggest they Elsevier might introduce anti-competitive philosophies into the product. Hopefully this will be addressed in the next article, though!

  3. It would have been be nice to mention which run on Linux or other platforms. And another field for “owned by Elsevier” (i.e. Mendeley).

    Jabref is excellent, and is also free (as in freedom, as well as “doesn’t cost anything”) and integrates excellently with LyX.

    Bibdesk is/was also excellent if you are using OS X.

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