Reference Management Software

In preparation for writing a master thesis we have to write a 3000 word dissertation plan, with at least 8 relevant papers for the literature review. My 4th your honours project didn’t really involve much of a literature review, so the prospect of organising papers and knowing which bits are important is a bit of a daunting task. I spent a long time going through Wikipedia’s list of reference managament software hoping to find something useful. Most of them are either not free, for Linux or Mac only or are rather shoddy.  A couple looked promising but ended up just being a sort of address book for PDFs where you had to manually enter in all the data. I was all ready to give up – until I found Mendeley.

Mendeley is quite simply awesome.  It works on Windows, Mac and Linux and is free (although propriety). All you have to do is sign up to their Mendeley academic network and then download the program. The networking stuff can mostly be ignored if you’re not in academia, but it allows you to share papers and view trends of research in your field so I can see it being quite a useful tool if you are a researcher.

The application is very easy to use. You drag your PDFs into the main area, and it will try and guess the title, authors, journal, date etc.You can edit these fields yourself if it guesses wrongly, or you can press a magic button which searches through ACM Portal, CiteseerX etc. for the best match to the title. I’ve not seen it fail yet! There are lots of other nice features including the ability to highlight text and add notes to papers via its internal PDF viewer. You can also add tags for easy searching and group papers into ‘collections’. There are even a plug-ins for MS Word and OpenOffice to export as a bibliography.

Screenshot of a paper with yellow highlighted text and auto generated paper details on the right

I’m genuinely in awe that this program is free and so easy to use. I can’t think of anything else I’d want it to do other than write my dissertation for me!

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