Manage citations and bibliography with Refworks 3


Rating: 4 out of 5

Manage citations, create bibliographies quick & easy in any format you want (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) and keep references organised

Note: There is an easier way to cite and it’s free.  Check out my note on Zotero citation tool.

I have been using Refworks since six months with great satisfaction. It is perhaps one of the most useful and time saving utilities for graduate students working on research papers. The software has two broad components: (1) Database of our references to organise and manage references (2) Utility for easily adding citations to papers that we are writing in the chosen format.

Reference management

As a database it’s perfect for managing references. Unlike Endnote, it’s online and so we can put in, edit or use our data from any where as long as we have a net access. In case we anticipate working in some place where we will not have an access Refworks we can download the database and do most key things with it. It is also easy to import data from bibliographic databases such as Econlit, Google Scholar, and a wide array of other services. Typically, we can also hook-up to the library website and download references including title, authors, price, year & place of publication, and other key details in one swoop. I can also store notes, keywords and other useful information manually in order to customize the database and to add details of importance to the user. There is little to complain about Refworks as a database – and perhaps it is a better system than Endnote as long as we have a net access.

Creating bibliographies swift and easy

The most important reason to use refworks though is as a citation utility for greatly speeding citation and making it easy and painless to create bibliographies. I started using Refworks as a moron with no idea of how to write bibliographies. For the first time after using it, I started creating consistent and uniform citations. Refowks has a Cite and Write plugin for Microsoft Word that works smoothly – you just have to search your reference and click it in. But often one has to work from different computers, which means we cannot have the plugin installed everywhere. In that case, we can add citations by just inserting the index number of the record (book, journal, etc.) enclosed by two curly brackets (e.g. “{{136}}”).

It is easy to make minor modifications/additions to the citations such as adding text before or after it. When the paper is ready to send out all we need to do is to go online (this is a must) and ask refworks to format it. This gives a neat output of in-text citations and full references at the end of the paper. Over a hundred styles of citation are available and we just need to click a button to choose the particular style or format we want (e.g. Chicago 14th, APA, MLA etc.).

Comparing Refworks with Endnote

The advantage of Refworks over Endnote is its ability to work from any machine as long as there is net access. In this, it scores well over endnote. Today, I can work from the office, at home or when I go to India as and when I choose. More importantly, I end up searching for articles in all sorts of odd places – library for one! When I find an interesting article by accident, all I need to do is to import it to refworks from where I am (note that this won’t work in conventional search engines, but can be done from most specialized search engines including Google Scholar). This is a great convenience.

Both refworks and End Note are not built for collaborate work where the partner does not have access to the same software. This is a significant limitation given the culture of collaboration in the academia. Refworks can specially be confusing since we have to work in a raw copy that does not have citations and share the finished (formatted) version when we send it out. This makes editing a difficult process. In End Note though, the citations are stored as bookmarks and so we end up editing and sharing the same document – this makes it so much easier to revisit documents and to edit them.

You may find my other posts on creating and manging bibliographies useful. For other related posts click on “Research: Tools, software & utilities” to your right.


About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.


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