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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Reference management: Introduction

What is reference management

Reference management is systematically collecting and organising concrete sources and/or the bibliographic data ('references') of sources, usually to (re)use them at a later time.

Reference management tools help you in collecting and organising references.

Good reference management results in a more effective and efficient workflow.

A list of four reference tools

There are more tools for managing your references
Below you will find the major characteristics of the four most well-known systems.

Whatever tool you select, you are not stuck with it forever. However, switching to another tool can cause some problems.

You can simply transfer your references to another system. But in the case of PDFs, notes and map structure you may enter some problems. It is advisable not to change from reference tool while working on a large paper or book. There is a big chance you will have to start again with including your literature references in the text.



  • licenced by UU and UMCU
  • combination of desktop programme and online platform
  • very suitable for processing large numbers of references (for instance for systematic reviews)
  • very suitable for adding full text and the updating of references
  • options for sharing your references with others
  • add-in for Word, but not for Google docs
  • because of the many options it takes more time to familiarise yourself with the use of Endnote
  • more about Endnote 


  • licenced by UU, also for UMCU
  • fully web based, no local installation necessary
  • very suitable for collaborating in groups
  • very suitable for collecting references from search systems via Direct export 
  • no integration with your browser for quickly adding publications
  • add-ins for citing in Word and in Google Docs.
  • more about RefWorks 


  • free download, open source systeem
  • local installation and web based version possible; good synchronisation
  • quick and simple collecting of references from your browser
  • saves reference and PDF from most online systems
  • add-ins for referring for citing in Word, LibreOffice and in Google Docs.
  • more about Zotero


  • free download (non-institutional version)
  • mainly built around working with full-text sources
  • has a built-in PDF reader
  • limited free storage capacity
  • starting September 2022 it is no longer possible to install Mendeley Desktop and Desktop applications
  • Mendeley Reference Manager does not have a reliable, transparent way to deduplicate. We therefore advise against using Mendeley in research, such as for systematic reviews and meta-analyses. In that case, choose another reference manager
  • more about Mendeley

What is the use of a reference tool

The four major uses:

  1. Collecting and storing the bibliographical data of your sources
  2. Consulting your sources: via a saved PDF, or via clicking through to an external full text
  3. Referring to sources in your own text (citing)
  4. Having reading lists created

Useful help functions:

  • Deduplicating 
  • Organising in folders
  • Labelling with tags
  • Sharing with others


Tip 1. Always check if your references are imported correctly and completely in your reference tool. The sooner the better!

Incomplete references, or references in which the data are in the wrong place, result in inconsistencies or downright errors in your bibliography.

Tip 2. Remove duplicates before you start writing and citing

Use of duplicates lead to double entries in the bibliography.

Check how to deduplicate under the tabs for each system. (Please note: in Mendeley Reference Manager it is not (yet) possible to deduplicate)