CPD 23 Thing 14: Zotero / Mendeley / CiteULike

I completed my masters dissertation in 2010 and I did all my referencing without using a program to help me.  I know lots of my fellow students wouldn’t have even contemplated it, but for me it wasn’t a big deal as long as I was organised and methodical.  Checking my references was one of those tasks I could do that didn’t take up too many brain cells, but still allowed me to feel I was working hard on my dissertation. 

I currently work in an FE college, so the students I work with need to know about referencing, but they will only be using a handful of sources for each assignment.  Programs like Zotero and Endnote seem to come into their own when dealing with large volumes of references, but this isn’t an issue for our students. 

I do work with Access to HE students and foundation degree students, and have had queries from students in past years who have used the referencing tools in Microsoft Word or online reference builders to help with their referencing.  (The website my students recommended to me was Neil’s Toolbox.)  I’ve spent lots of time with them talking them through the pitfalls and advantages of these options.  I think  the approach you take to referencing is very much a personal decision, but for me these types of tools didn’t seem to save me enough time and effort as I was still needing to make amendments to them to fit the referencing style I was being asked to use.


I picked Mendeley as the referencing tool to play around with this week.  It was easy to set up and I found it intuitive to use.  The instruction video for ‘Importing Documents’ was helpful.  I also like the ‘Import to Mendeley’ feature for your toolbar which you can use to reference web pages easily. 

I had issues with integrating with Microsoft Word – the video instructions were misleading, but I got there in the end by retracing my steps and following the on-screen instructions, which were considerably different.  A bit frustrating, but I only have myself to blame for not reading the instructions properly the first time!

I have a few concerns with Mendeley that make me question how much I would use it and if I would recommend it to students.  The main issue is that the ‘style’ of Harvard referencing doesn’t match what I would need for our college students, for example the year of publication is not put in brackets.  My other complaint is that while Mendeley seems to work very effectively with PDFs and websites, it’s not great for books, which I find disappointing.  You can use the option ‘Add Entry Manually’ and there is a format for books, but it asks for more information than is required for referencing a book in the Harvard style, so I think FE students might find it confusing.  It also uses different terminology, for example ‘city’ instead of ‘place of publication’.  It has lots of fields to fill in for keywords, tags, URLs, DOIs.  I would prefer for the template to be simple and straightforward.

I’m glad I’ve had a try with an online referencing tool and it’s been interesting to read about how they are used in other library sectors.  If I was back in HE or NHS library settings I’m sure I would be much more enthusiastic about these tools.


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