5. How do I manage my search results?

5.3. Reference management tools

6.3 Reference management tools

You will find references which you may want to use later or plan to cite.

Reference management tools, or bibliographic management tools, allow you to store and organise your references.

There are several reference management tools available. The University of Edinburgh has produced a comparison table (pdf), which gives information on some of the reference management tools you may wish to consider.


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You can create collections of references on different topics, different conditions, different treatment outcomes and so on, 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 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 articles. You can manually add records from a bibliographic database to reference management tools, but it’s more common to electronically export a set of records 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 have 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 are working on a clinical project, you can easily share references with colleagues.