Compiling a letter-perfect bibliography is about as relaxing as defusing a mine, but a new generation of bibliographic management software cuts down on the sweat and tears.
The market for these tools is dominated by Thomson ResearchSoft, maker of EndNote, Reference Manager, ProCite and WriteNote, and to a lesser extent by RefWorks, a web-based application widely available through campus licensing arrangements. Consider RefWorks the best all-around tool for most students and academics. If you’re a professional scholar wanting to own your own software, try Thomson’s EndNote or Reference Manager. Undergraduates not needing an extensive reference database should consider EazyPaper and NoodleBib, which are oriented toward individual assignments and help teach the fundamentals of citing right. (Note: all prices quoted in U.S. dollars.)
Eazypaper has fewer features than its more elaborate competitors EndNote and RefWorks, but for harried students simplicity is a good thing. With straightforward menus accessible within Microsoft Word, one can select formatting options for APA, Turabian and MLA styles. From a list of references entered manually or downloaded from the Web, the software will format a paper’s notes and bibliography as well as its title page and other manuscript elements. A reference importing feature called EazyLibrary allows retrieval of references from online sources, and a basic database lets you save references between assignments.
Pro: Price and straightforwardness. Support for a single style, without EazyLibrary, costs only $40, while the fully featured EazyPaper Pro, which supports all three styles and includes EazyLibrary, costs $150.
Con: When tested, a drag and drop feature for copying references didn’t work reliably with online databases. Copied references may need editing to ensure the input fields are correct. The EazyPaper database only provides an alphabetical listing of references and is not searchable.
The flagship product of Thomson ResearchSoft, EndNote is designed to hold a career’s worth of research and to take much of the drudgery out of formatting article submissions and subject bibliographies. The software’s searchable database allows the creation of multiple reference libraries and direct importing of references from over 500 library catalogues and databases. Users can also set up links to stored PDF copies and external URLs to have instant access to the actual texts. EndNote’s “Cite While You Write” plug-in for Word will reformat notes and bibliographies on the fly according to thousands of journal styles and all the major style guides. The product also comes in versions for Macintosh and Palm handhelds (not tested).
Pro: Highly customizable. EndNote has so many features that it creates numerous opportunities for thesis procrastination.
Con: Price. Without access to an institutional licence, users must pay $240 to download EndNote X.
Designed to introduce research and citation to elementary and high schools, Noodlebib walks through the process of compiling citations in MLA and APA styles, and is worth a look for undergraduates intimidated by their first university-level paper. There’s no ability to import references from databases, but guided forms provide advice on what to type in and also check for errors. A helpful electronic notecard feature lets authors include annotations with their sources and organize their research into a thematic outline.
Pro: thoughtful features for beginners, and low price. Individual subscriptions to this Web-based application cost only $8 a year.
Con: Only two styles are supported, and one can’t switch between them after references have been entered.
Reference Manager is much like its cousin, EndNote, with the addition of being able to publish and update reference lists over the Web, a boon for collaborative research. Like EndNote, Reference Manager stores an unlimited number of references, and uses the same “Cite While You Write” plug-in for Microsoft Word. Its online searching and manuscript support are comparable to EndNote; although Reference Manager lacks EndNote’s long list of Word templates for constructing manuscripts.
Pro: A web-share feature can be enabled to permit access to references uploaded to a Local Area Network or the Internet.
Con: Again, price, which is the same as EndNote at $240. Researchers not needing to share references online get more features with EndNote.
RefWorks captures many of the database controls, reference-importing functions and style options of EndNote in a slightly simpler package designed to appeal to students and scholars at all levels. RefWorks also uses a Word plug-in for citation formatting, but the references themselves are stored on RefWorks’ servers. This frees you from being tied to software on a particular computer, but also means you will lose access to your references if your licence ends. A one-year subscription to RefWorks is $100, but the product is available on many Canadian campuses for free use by students and staff.
Pro: RefWorks includes an RSS feature to scan tables-of-contents alerts now issued by many academic journals. References for new articles can be imported immediately, although users still have to locate the journals to read the full text. There is no equivalent functionality in EndNote.
Con: RefWorks’ plug-in for Word is less elegant than EndNote’s, although citing on the fly is similar.