Should I use software for managing my references? What is the benefit of it? I can write down the references by myself, so I'm not sure what the benefit is.

  • Define "managing"; you are a researcher, and without the right questions, you won't get the right answers. Under managing, I can imagine (1) assembling the file with information about the books and articles you read/cited (a bibliography file, .bib in LaTeX parlance); (2) assembling a hyper-referenced system organized by keywords CiteULike; (3) setting up the directory structure on your hard drive to store the pdf copies of the articles; (4) combinations thereof; (5) something else.
    – StasK
    Commented Sep 4, 2013 at 20:26

6 Answers 6


You do not need to use reference managers. However, if you use some reference managers like Mendeley then, some of the benefits are obvious:

  1. The pdf of your article is linked to the reference itself.

  2. You can organize references into logical groups (areas, subjects, disciplines, sub-disciplines) by utilizing folders and tags.

  3. You can one-click save articles and organize them from your browser. This is invaluable in saving time on organizing.

  4. You can sync across multiple devices like desktops, laptops and tablets. For instance, Mendeley has an iOS app which does this for you. I use Android so I workaround using Droideley or Scholarley.

  5. You can read your articles inside the reference manager and then do useful things like highlighting and annotations which can then be saved as notes for future reference.

  6. You can export to specific citation styles. This is very useful for someone doing interdisciplinary work. For instance, I have to constantly use the same or similar bibliography using APA style, ACM style, IEEE style.

  7. They are very useful for multiple collaborative platforms. For instance, when collaborating with some computer science colleagues, I generally use LaTeX and Mendeley does a brilliant one-click job of exporting to BibTeX. When I work with social scientists, I generally use MS Word and there is a MS Word plugin for Mendeley which dynamically adds references in-line as well as the full bibliography at the end of the document.

I hope this has been partially useful to you. This is a little Mendeley focused and I am in no certain terms claiming that it is the best or the most useful. However, for me, it certainly has its advantages.

  • Mendeley also has a android app.
    – rv1234
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 4:01
  • @rv1234 now it does - it didn't in '13 when I wrote this answer. :)
    – Shion
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 14:24

There a few advantages:

  1. If anything, your references listed in the manager can at the very least be a back up for your written copy.
  2. It is a good time management technique to list the references as you go, handwritten is fine, but with the reference manager, it is ready to be copied onto your completed manuscript - in order, with all the formatting set.

Essentially, it will save you quite a bit of time later on in your research.


This provides a good overview of the articles you've read. Furthermore it is easy to change the format of your references (for example from APA to Harvard).

If you write different articles, it is easy to use the references that you used before.

On a sidenote: Google Docs has a pretty neat feature called 'research' where you can just search for the title and the reference shows up. In that way you do not have to use a reference manager.


Personally, I would say not unless it suits you.

I'm happier with a flat .bib (i.e. bibTex, for use with LaTeX) file, just managed in notepad++. You can use the url field of a .bib to point to a local file, but I don't. Instead, what I've recently started doing is to save a pdf of the reference with a filename based on (but generally longer than) the key I use in my .bib file. I wish I'd done this sooner though! That way I can copy a file and a folder to another machine, on another OS, with no internet connection (e.g. when travelling) and everything just plain works.

  • "I would say not unless it suits you" is probably one of the most tautological sentences I've read today.
    – user9646
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 13:02
  • 1
    @NajibIdrissi possibly true. It's the way I chose at the time of saying that there are good reasons not to, ad in particular not to blindly follow the herd when your situation is different.
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 13:24
  • (BTW, the workflow you describe in your second paragraph is essentially the same as mine, except I use jabref which allows one to automate a lot of the tasks, for example renaming files automatically)
    – user9646
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 13:36
  • @NajibIdrissi funnily enough jabref was the software I tried the hardest to like. As notepad++ is windows-only I'm now using jEdit; both of these editors seem more flexible to me than anything specialist (e.g. regexp find/replace).
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 13:42

I think using a reference manager is an absolute must if you have more than a couple of references and if you plan writing more than one paper/work. It is true that you can generate a reference list by yourself and insert the citations manually, but this will introduce error sooner or later. You will immediately see the benefit of a reference manager if you decide/are forced to change the reference style. A good reference manager with an appropriate Word/LibreOffice plugin will reformat the document automagically.

Collecting references, managing all the information about a publication, including abstract, your notes, keywords and tags are other options where reference managers shine. Most of them can be used as document readers and can collect comments and highlights. And all decent ones sync everything via cloud, have versions for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.

There are several excellent options available. You can try Mendeley or Zotero and you will see the benefits immediately by yourself. Don't be afraid if you change your mind later, the reference databases can be rather easily transferred between them.

I am using a reference manager more than a decade and could not live without it. I started with BibTeX, moved to Zotero and later to Mendeley.

  • A quick update. Since Mendeley has encrypted its local database in version 1.19, it is extremely difficult to export its database to other reference managers. I personally migrated all my references and documents to Zotero and have been using it since then (again :-). Here is a description of how this can be done zotero.org/support/kb/mendeley_import
    – KrOstir
    Commented Apr 16, 2020 at 7:00

It depends. If you only want to write course assignments and then maybe a master's thesis and then leave academia, you might not need a reference management solution which will be most useful when you write multiple papers and books.

On the other hand, there is one reference management solution which is used not only (mostly) by researchers. It is being developped by a Swiss software company (I work for them) and it is hugely successful in Germany and other European countries. The first version of Citavi came out 10 years ago, but it is not yet known in the US. Citavi allows you to not only save the bibliographic information of titles you want to use in your publications, but it lets you save the quotations, your comments, summaries, and your own ideas, too. You can then organize them into the structure of your paper before you actually start writing.

The video "Citavi 5 in a nutshell" shows how it all fits together, and how Citavi can help you to be more efficient while doing research and writing.

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