Reference management tools

You will find references which you may want to use later or which you plan to cite. Reference management tools, or bibliographic management tools, allow you to store and organise your references.
You can create collections of references on different topics, different conditions, different treatment outcomes, etc., and you can add your own notes to each bibliographic record. As these tools are electronic, they can be searched easily, allowing you to retrieve your key references on a particular topic quickly.

Many reference management tools allow you to add attachments to the records. For example, you may wish to add your own clinical images, web pages, PDFs or links to full-text.

You can add records to reference management tools manually, but it’s more common to export a set of records from a bibliographic database into whichever reference management tool you’re using. Most databases support this and have an ‘export’ option.


When you’re exporting records from a bibliographic database to a reference management tool, it’s a good idea to export the whole record. You can always delete some of the fields later, but you may find that you want to retain things, such as the subject headings and the abstract, as these include information which you can search later.

Most reference management tools have plug-ins which work with Microsoft Word and other word processing packages, allowing you to embed your references into a document. You can also re-order and change referencing styles for references in documents, either as you write or after you’ve completed a document. Reference management tools usually support a wide range of referencing styles, and many list them by journal title as well as by citation style.

Most web-based reference management tools allow you to create groups of records and share them with other people, so if you’re working on a clinical project, you can easily share references with colleagues.

There are several reference management tools available. Some are free to use (e.g. EndNote basic, Mendeley, Zootero), and some you have to pay to use (e.g. EndNote, Reference manager).

The University of Edinburgh have produced a comparison table which gives information on some of the reference management tools you may wish to consider.