Reference management software is an indispensable tool for academic or professional writing. Yet many trainees and consultants seem never to have used any such software and are still diligently typing references in articles.
Reference management software such as EndNote or RefWorks has traditionally been available as a separate application which can integrate with word processing software such as Microsoft Office or Libre Office to create bibliographies and a database of references. The downside of this software has been cost, with the current version of EndNote costing £159.00 for Windows or Mac OS X versions.
Zotero provides a free and easy to use alternative to “help collect, organize, cite and share” your research sources. Zotero is available as a web browser application (Firefox only) and as a standalone programme for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Once the stand alone programme is installed it can connect to Google Chrome, Safari and Firefox browsers.
Zotero works on the principle that most research is currently carried out through the use of a web browser. When articles or references are viewed in your browser, such as the PubMed website, the article citation information can be added to your Zotero database with a click within the browser. The reference is then automatically stored in the Zotero database and can be synced across multiple computers and automatically backs up. References can also be added manually if you find that a particular article is not in mainstream research databases.
Once your references are in the Zotero database you can add them as you write in either OpenOffice or Microsoft Word. At the end of your article, you can simply add your complete bibliography, and it can be customised in up to 2750 different journal styles without any further editing. You can even share your collection of references with other Zotero users, which can be useful for research collaboration.
To share your database of references you have to register on the website and this allows accesses to your references on multiple computers via the internet. Zotero is occasionally inaccurate and it is always a good idea to check your references at the end of writing an article.
Having used other reference managers in the past I have found that Zotero integrates much better into the way that I work when writing articles. Included below are a series of links to getting started with Zotero and using Zotero with Microsoft Word. As reference managers are simply tools a different reference manager may suit your individual needs better then another; good alternatives include Mendeley (free), Papers (£33), Endnote (£159) and Refworks (£66) (links below).
Although initially it may seem daunting to learn to use a new piece of software I am confident that as soon as you starting using a reference manager you will wander how you ever did without one.
Author Mr Ivo Dukic, ST7 in Urology, North Western Deanery, UK