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Reference management

Reference management

Managing what you find can be difficult, especially if you're working on a big piece of work that relies on a lot of references. Reference management software lets you keep track of what you've found: you can group and organise your references, keep notes, and store pdfs online for easy access. You can even automatically cite your references as you write up your work. 

How it works & what it does

Bibliographic data from your search results is passed to the reference manager, either by downloading it to your computer and then uploading it to the program, or by a 'direct' transfer within your browser.

Once you've collected some references, you can use the program to manage and organise what you've found, attach PDFs, and share references with colleagues.

You can also cite the references in your chosen citation style, either to copy and paste, or by directly connecting to the reference management program from a word processing application.

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Reference management software

The University of York supports three reference management applications.

Click the headers below to learn more and to get started with each:


Great for collecting citation information and associated PDFs, and for managing what you've found. Citing works with Google Docs rather than MS Word.


Paperpile is an online reference management program which uses a Chrome extension to quickly collect references and store pdfs. It has lots of options for managing what you've found, and works directly with Google Drive and Google Docs.

  • Buttons appear in the database results for quick transfer

  • Searches for the PDF at the point of collection and very often finds it (especially if you set up the York proxy connector)

  • Auto-update option to correct incomplete records

  • Can generate records from compatible PDFs

  • Two levels of organisation (folders and labels) and a simple user-interface makes managing your references straightforward and visually clear

  • Stores PDFs in Google Drive, giving ample storage (c.10 TB)

  • Cites with Google Docs

  • Importing of records via Paperpile buttons is on an individual level only (or via RIS or BibTeX imports)

  • Only works with Chromium browsers (e.g. Google Chrome)

  • Doesn't cite with MS Word (but you can always transfer your library to a program that does)

To start using Paperpile, take a look at the following links:

We've produced University of York referencing styles for Paperpile.
Always check against the referencing guidance.

Other useful documents:


A good all-rounder that's especially good if you want to make notes directly onto your PDFs. Citing works with MS Word and Libre Office.


Mendeley consists of two components: Mendeley Web and Mendeley Desktop. The former is used to collect references, and the latter is used for advanced management options and for citing. Both are free to use, and Mendeley Desktop is available on all University managed computers.

  • Web Import plugin can find several items on a page and also import PDF

  • Compatible PDFs can be converted into references, and a watch folder can be set up to automatically import any downloaded PDFs

  • Suggests related items based on the contents of your library

  • Has its own PDF reader, allowing you to annotate PDFs and access the annotated versions both locally and online

  • Includes some advanced library management features including filter options

  • Easy-to-use citation plugin for MS Word and Libre Office

  • Web Import tool doesn't always find all the items on a page, and isn't as successful as Paperpile at finding PDFs

  • Imported records are sometimes incomplete (though can be checked against Mendeley's catalogue and updated)

  • Plain-text export in Word is in .doc format so documents may require reformatting prior to submission (though workarounds are available)

  • Free version is limited to 2GB of space

To start using Mendeley, take a look at the following links:

We've produced University of York referencing styles for Mendeley. These can be accessed within Mendeley itself, or you can also access them via the link below. Always check against the referencing guidance.

Other useful documents:


Sophisticated search options for your reference library make this program great for high-end reference management, but if you want to use it on your own computer you'll have to pay (or make do with the online component). Cites with MS Word.


EndNote comes in two versions: EndNote Desktop (available on University computers), and EndNote Online (free to use on any internet connection).

  • Direct import from databases to EndNote Online is possible in some cases (but most importing is done via export files (e.g. RIS, BibTeX etc.))

  • Compatible PDFs can be converted to references

  • EndNote Desktop has advanced management options including two levels of structure (sets and groups), multiple organisation fields, advanced searching, web connections, and smart groups that organise items based on search criteria

  • EndNote Desktop can update incomplete records and search in a number of locations for PDFs

  • EndNote Desktop supports multiple reference libraries

  • Citing via MS Word (including plain-text conversion without loss of formatting)

  • EndNote Desktop is not a free application: if you want to use it on your own computer you will need to buy it (though you can use it for free on University computers)

  • While EndNote Online is free to use, it is not as easy to use as Paperpile or Mendeley and it lacks many of the management features available in those applications

  • Importing of records requires you to know the appropriate import filter for the type of file you're importing (especially in EndNote Online)

  • Syncing between EndNote Desktop and EndNote Online will only work with one EndNote library

To start using EndNote, take a look at the following links:

EndNote Desktop:

EndNote Online:

Other useful documents:

Other programs

While the University supports Paperpile, Mendeley and EndNote, there is no obligation to use any of them, although we may not be able to support you if you're using a different program and need help. You may find another program more to your liking (or you may prefer not to use any program at all).

Mendeley's Cite-O-Matic plugin and EndNote's Cite While You Write plugin are the only two plugins available for use with Microsoft Word on University computers, so if you need to use a University machine you may therefore want to transfer your library to Mendeley or EndNote for the writing-up stage at least.

Referencing styles

In academic writing it is important to support your arguments with appropriate references.

You should familiarise yourself with your department's chosen referencing style.

Obtaining the styles

The University of York styles should be available automatically in Mendeley, EndNote Online (provided you've followed the steps outlined in our Obtaining the Software guide), and any other reference management program that uses the library. The styles are prefixed "University of York" or "UoY".

For other programs, the University styles are available to download (you may need to be logged in to your York account):