Does using a bibliography software actually save you time aside from when converting citation style?

I have used refworks and endnote for years and from 3 years ago I decided to ditch them both and do the whole referencing business by hand because of frustrating problems they caused many times (references showing up incorrectly, having to manually add papers, references suddenly missing etc.). I only dump pdf files in them to keep a record of the references. I have been doing fine and I think it has been pretty efficient in three years I have had two change citation style manually twice which was painful but that was it.

I decided using endnote today again because i am writing a major review article. And already its painful! After inputting 15 references manually as the pdf files that can not be identified correctly (beats me why! clear pdf with OCR) and spending 30 minutes inputting the references, and then searching them to add them back in the paper I am doubting my decision!

Can anyone give me some motivation on why to use these tools really? I mean yes style change and finding duplicates can be good. But is that it? I feel like going back to basic but think there must be something wrong with me as it seems everyone else is using them without going insane!

  • 3
    Could you be a bit more specific, for example, if you use something like JabRef+Latex, I've never had much trouble. Which software are you using, Word, LibreOffice, Latex? Jan 23, 2013 at 3:48
  • 1
    Most of the time I am using Word because I can easily collaborate, get comments etc. I only use Latex when the paper/report is formula heavy and i am the sole author.
    – blackace
    Jan 23, 2013 at 3:51
  • 5
    I think a quick answer would be to use something barebones, like Mendeley and be sure to constantly maintain your database to amend errors when doing the exporting. JAbRef->Mendeley->Word probably would be a nice idea, never have tried it myself though. But I couldn't imagine to go back to maintain reference databases by hand in a paper. Jan 23, 2013 at 4:05
  • The problems you are having may be specific to EndNote. Try using Mendeley or Zotero to compare.
    – Chris
    Mar 14, 2016 at 5:43

2 Answers 2


It depends what you mean by using bibliography software. I think of bibliography software as doing three things:

  1. They help you organize, search, and find your references. While Pubmed and Google Scholar are quite efficient at finding references for my field, I often prefer to search my own library of papers I am familiar with when looking for a reference. I use JabRef for this purpose and it saves me loads of time even when not converting citation styles.
  2. They help you create a reference list at the end of a manuscript/grant/etc. If you have a database you simply need to tell the software what papers have been referenced and what format you want the reference list in. This saves you time when you convert styles (and the first time you create a list). I don't think it really does anything else. The key is that in my opinion ALL bibliography software does this stage well for ALL styles. I see no reason not to use bibliography software to create a reference list at the end. This is the section where it is easy to make minor mistakes and can waste a lot of time getting the style correct
  3. They help you with formatting in text citations. This is where most of the software falls down. In text citation styles have a lot of variability (book, chapter, article, first time citation, subsequent citation on a page, citation in a foot note, etc) that make automation hard. Defining an automated system that can implement an in-text citation style is no small task. Even if you can create such a definition, many publishers have small in house tweaks. Create software that is fully compliant with a style and allows for tweaks to be made easily, is even harder. If you are lucky enough that your software has the style you need, or that your target publishers are easy going enough, then using bibliography software for your in-text citations is a no brainer. If you are not so luck, you may not want to use that feature.

In summary I would always use bibliography software for 1 and 2, but only for 3 if I am lucky.

  • @danier-e-shub I usually use Solo, Scholar, Sciverse, WebofKnowledge, Copernic, Scirus and Google' main search (better at finding reports) for search and yes I run the search on all of them because numerous times I have been surprised what gems i had been missing had I not done an extensive search. I heard about MsAcademicSearch two days ago and want to give it a try but I must confess I have never trusted these software for the actual search. So thanks for pointing me to number 1 it seems it works for you and I want to give it a try. I have just installed mendeley and Jabref.
    – blackace
    Jan 25, 2013 at 22:30

How easy it is to manage references depends a lot on your working conditions.

If, for instance, you're an academic in a humanities field, where the "standard" bibliographic style is the Harvard or MLA styles, where you just quote an author's name and the page number, then bibliographies are relatively simple, since citations are straightforward, and the bibliography itself is simple and can be created on the fly.

If, on the other hand, you are working in a field such as mathematics or physics, which uses the "numbered" style, putting together the bibliography can be a royal pain in the neck. You need to add a new reference at the beginning of the document, and now all of the reference numbers have shifted throughout the rest of the paper. Then having a tool that will do the referencing for you automatically is a major help.

IF you need to use a package, and your choice thereof is up to you—you should find one that best suits your needs. But the important thing is finding a method that works both for you as well as for any colleagues you might be working with in the near future.

  • 3
    That is funny. I just argued in my answer that AMS is simple and can be automated and MLA is complicated and cannot. I think you are forgetting about things like "ibid" (note used in MLA, but used in Chicago) which require you to know if there are multiples of the citation on the same page.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 23, 2013 at 10:45
  • 3
    I think one of the reasons I have been doing OK without using tools for doing citations is precisely because in my field majority of papers are not numbered and perhaps that's why i have been so frustrated with some of the stupidities of these tools. If i was constantly doing numbering I guess it would have been a no-brainer.
    – blackace
    Jan 25, 2013 at 22:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .