Thursday, 19 April 2012

Refworks Vs Mendeley: The battle of the online reference managers

I have been using Mendeley for a while now, and I find it easy to use and a great way to organise and share research. But then my University released access to Refworks  and so I thought I would try it out and see if was as easy to use as Mendeley.  This review is based on my experiences in using both platforms to organise my references....


Features overview

Generate citations and bibliographies in Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, and LaTeX.
Open PDFs and capture your thoughts through sticky notes and highlights.
Import and organize PDFs from your computer, EndNote™, Papers or Zotero.
Connect with colleagues and securely share your papers, notes and annotations.
Access your papers on the web, iPhone or iPad, and Android devices.

1. Cost 
  •  its free and only charges to upgrade storage
2. Usability
  • Easy to use and import files either from your documents or from the web. Uses existing citation management links and imports to Mendeley, eg   BibTeX, RIS and EndNote™ XML files.  Bulk upload options available. It will also keep track of any saved  files in a specific folder and import new items automatically.  It does not work with every academic database, but the only one I have had a problem with is Science Direct due to unknown file type.  
  • Can use Import to Mendeley in all browsers to take web snapshots
  • Imports refs easily into word using plug in, no need to come out of Word but needs Mendeley desktop to be open. 
  • Automatically reads pdfs and identifies the author, title, journal and other information. It flags up any that are not complete. Generally very good, but I have had some issues with more obscure journals. It is always worth double checking to make sure all the info is correct. 
  • Can open PDFs and add notes and highlights.
  • Can  easily create groups and share documents securely both in the desktop and web platforms. Has some issues adding tags to groups, not very intuitive. 
3. Compatibility 
  • It is compatible with all modern web browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome 
4. Access
  • Has desktop platform with unlimited storage based on the size of your hard drive space. The web version has up to 1GB of free space and can be accessed from anywhere.


Features overview

  • Organize and create a personal database online – no more index cards to write out and organize. Everything is done automatically as you import the reference into RefWorks.
  • Format bibliographies and manuscripts in seconds – this saves hours of typing time and decreases the number of errors in creating tedious bibliographies. Easily make changes to your paper and reformat in seconds.
  • Import references from a variety of databases using the already created Import Filters.
  • Manage Alerts – RefWorks has incorporated a RSS feed reader to allow you to establish links to your favorite RSS feeds and import data from those feeds directly into RefWorks.
  • Searching your RefWorks database is fast and easy – RefWorks automatically creates author, descriptor and periodical indexes when importing so you just click on the word to perform the retrieval. Use Quick Search to search all fields for the most comprehensive results or Advanced Search to narrow your search to specific terms and fields.
1. Cost 
  • Personal use is $100 but my University Library pays subscription, so its free for staff. 
2. Usability
  • Not very easy to use and only really imports files from the web, as its not worth the hassle trying to import stuff you already have in your documents as it is complicated, will only do one record at a time and you have to enter all the info in manually. Uses own citation management links which are not available on 4 out of 5 databases I've tried.  Bulk upload options available from some academic databases.  It does not work easily with most academic databases I tried ,but the only ones I have not had a problem with are Science Direct and Wiley online library.  There is a work around that they suggest which is exporting citations as plain text and uploading to Refworks, but this is overly complicated. 
  • Can use Refgrab-It in some browsers to take web snapshots.
  • Allegedly Imports refs easily into word using plug in, but I couldn't install the plug in at work as needed admin rights, so would need to ring one of our library technicians to install it for me. Which means extra time delay and messing about.  EDIT:  managed to get it to install in Word, using Write -N-Cite, and you have to open it as well as Word, and log in. You have to keep switching between it and Word to cite references.  It does this easily but I could not find the option for Harvard format in Word, as it was set to Harvard in Write N Cite but was not presenting the in text references in Word as Harvard.  It did however quickly produce a bibliography in Harvard format just not in text citations. It was easy to edit the in text citations, but again it just seemed like a lot of extra messing about.
  • Can create groups and share documents securely but not very intuitive.
  • Has RSS feed reader, which is a bit gimmicky and not what I would use a reference management platform for as it doesn't import citations from the RSS feed. I couldn't even get it to take me to the web page of the article.The Yahoo RSS feed reader is much better.
3. Compatibility 
  • It is only fully compatible with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Which isn't great for me since my main browser is Chrome.
4. Access
  • The web version has up to unlimited space for records but limits attachments to 5GB. and can be accessed from anywhere.


So in the battle of online reference management platforms, Mendeley is the clear winner for me. Scoring highly on all areas that I use regularly. 

For more information and good comparisons including other reference managers see this comparison and also here 


  1. well looks like its Mendeley for me then, very useful thanks

  2. Support was not rated as I didnt contact either support teams, this was only mean to be a guide based on my experiences, and not a formal review.

  3. Thanks for your post. I’m always interested in which systems people are using and how they are developing. I’m impressed with many of Mendeley’s features but got to say I’m quite surprised at your review of RefWorks. I’ve used many different reference management systems and I think it’s one of the simplest to use and I haven’t experienced some of these issues.

    You don’t mention which academic databases you use regularly but in my experience citations import directly into RefWorks from the majority of databases, library catalogues, and Google Scholar. The Word plugin also works seamlessly to integrate citations into Word. Obviously if you don’t have admin rights you won’t be able to install it but I’m surprised if your institution is paying for a subscription that the plugin is not available on all University computers as standard. If you don’t have admin rights you won’t be able to install Mendeley desktop either. One of the things that put me off Mendeley was the constant releases that I couldn’t install myself and the bugs I was stuck with because of it.

    I may look at Mendeley again though so thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Like I mentioned before I was used to Mendeley before I started using refworks so some people who used refworks first probably make better use of it than I did. Thanks for your comment, I welcome other points of view.
      The databases I used were the ones i most commonly use. Taylor and Francis online (formally informaworld), Ingenta connect, Sage Journals, Science Direct, Wiley Online library. EBSCOhost.
      A couple of these would not directly import to either platform but a least with Mendeley if you save the pdf if automatically imports in for you from your documents. It just seems overly complicated to do the same thing in refworks to me,

    2. Also I did not need admin privileges to install Mendeley desktop providing I saved it in my documents.