by Dr Hope Williard

Academic Subject Librarian

Referencing. From the first year of university to final stages of an academic career, everyone has to do it. Most people find it tedious at best and stressful at worst. A lot of the questions we get in the library have to do with whether to reference, how to reference, and checking that references are correct.

Referencing software can help you answer those last two questions. In this series of  posts, I will take you through what referencing software is, how to choose it, and some popular referencing programmes and the strengths and weaknesses of each.

This is the first of three posts, and will discuss what reference software is and what you might want to consider before choosing to use it.

What is referencing software?

A referencing software programme inserts a reference into your text or your footnote at the click of your mouse or series of keystrokes. It is a tool for:

  • Gathering references on a particular topic
  • Managing and storing these references in a web account, mobile app, or on your desktop
  • Organising references
  • Including or adding notes to references
  • Linking to full text, web pages and/or documents
  • Creating bibliographies
  • Citing (referencing) information

Some software programmes have additional features, and you can use them for:

  • Social networking with other scholars who share your research interests
  • Collaborating or sharing references in a group project
  • Capturing referencing information from PDFs

So, referencing software can help you not just with making sure your references are right, but also with planning your research and keeping track of what you have read. This makes it a particularly useful tool in all kinds of larger academic projects! If you are undertaking collaborative research, it can also help you work with your collaborators and expand your scholarly network.

How do I decide which programme to use?

It can be helpful to consider the context in which you will be using the software, in order to select the programme that best meets your needs and working patterns.

  • What kind of accessibility do you need?
  • Will you be working on desktop or laptop, on-line or offline, on multiple different computers, or on your mobile or tablet?
  • Does the software have the reference or citation style of the forum where you are submitting or publishing your work?
  • Is the software compatible with your word processing programme?
  • If you are planning to share references or work with colleagues and collaborators, what do they use?

The next two posts will discuss specific referencing management programmes and their advantages and disadvantages. Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch with me by email: