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Reference management tools

Graduate Researchers are encouraged to use a reference management program such as EndNote or Mendeley. A higher degree by research (HDR) thesis commonly has hundreds of references, so some time spent at the beginning can save you many hours towards the end of your degree.

Reference management programs (also known as citation managers or bibliographic management software) provide many useful features that can help you with your research such as:

  • storing and organising your references
  • generating citations and bibliographies in the style you prefer; and,
  • easily converting referencing styles to suit publication requirements.

As there are a number of different programs available it is important to choose the one that suits your needs. La Trobe University has licensed access to: EndNote (including EndNote online).

  • EndNote is the standard reference management software across universities. The Library provides training and assistance.
  • Mendeley is popular among researchers and has additional features such as the ability to collaborate with other researchers. The free edition has up to 2GB of personal storage.
  • Zotero is a free and open-source reference management software to manage bibliographic data and related research materials.
  • Paperpile is a popular tool but at a monthly cost.

This guide gives information on the issues you should consider when selecting a program.

Please note: it is not compulsory to use any of these programs.

Common features

  • Store references in a searchable database
  • Attach PDFs and other files 
  • Auto-generate citations and bibliographies/ reference lists in your document in your chosen style
  • Share collections of references with others
  • Sync your references across multiple devices

Limitations of referencing tools

A reference management program:

  • may not create a perfect bibliography or reference list according to your preferred style (or your supervisor’s or tutor’s).
    • You still need to be familiar with the referencing style to be used.
    • Refer to Style Manuals.
    • In some programs it is possible to adjust or edit output styles.
  • will not correct typos or errors or omissions from references manually entered or downloaded from databases.
    • You will always need to proof-read references for accuracy: punctuation, capitalisation, spelling.
  • may not always know what reference type you are downloading.
    • For example they cannot always distinguish a conference proceeding from a book.
    • Also some information may be inserted in the wrong format requiring editing.

Referencing and credibility

As an undergraduate, you learn that referencing exists solely to avoid plagiarism. As a researcher, it is important to understand that referencing also exists to follow how ideas have evolved over time.
It is therefore essential that you cite all sources used in your research. This includes using your own published work to create another.

View the Research integrity and academic integrity pages from the Research Education and Development Team for more information.


Some content adapted and reused with permission from University of Melbourne, Getting started with referencing