Tips on Using Bibliographic Software

by | Nov 27, 2020 | Teaching Portal, Teaching Portal: For Students | 0 comments

Linda Robertson, who has extensive experience working as a librarian, offers her views on the advantages of using technological aids for bibliographic research. In this post, she gives a detailed analysis about how to use the bibliographic software EndNote as a useful tool to help students and researchers record accurately their bibliographies and references in their writings and research.

A major, and perhaps less rewarding, task within any thesis is the accurate construction of a bibliography, and, generally in humanities, of accurate references within footnotes too. Left until the final stages of writing, this can become quite challenging, especially when checking the consistencies of the prescribed referencing style, down to the last comma, space or full stop. There are tools within MS Word, for example, which are helpful up to a point, but academic researchers need comprehensive software that fully underpins their work – rather like having a filing cabinet which keeps everything in perfect order, and can manage, sort, annotate, amend and produce on demand any item required. The e-equivalent is reference management, or bibliographic, software, and whilst there are a number of basic, free solutions, these do not provide the full support that makes them really useful research tools.



Over time, EndNote has outstripped its previous rivals and become the package of choice. Most academic institutions have a site licence, allowing the software to be used on any of their own hardware, although sadly not to be downloaded to students’ own PCs or laptops. However, when purchasing, from EndNote, student discounts are available.

From the basic details of the source, be it a journal article or watchmakers’ accounts, Endnote constructs references consistently in the chosen style, using different formats for footnotes and bibliography if required, and constructing the bibliography as you write. However, researchers who wait until they are ready to write before starting to use the software have missed out on a huge range of tools, which would have supported the whole research process.

So how can EndNote help?

Create the basic record:

An EndNote record has nearly 40 fields: some you would expect, such as author, title and date, and others more surprising, such as Translated Title. Moreover, the structure of the record can be changed to suit the work in progress: it might be useful for example to have separate record types for different primary sources, such as letters, diaries, and accounts. The user can control all of this. Not everything has to be entered manually: most databases will allow direct export of selected references to EndNote and the library record is then automatically created. PDF and other files, text, tables or images, can be added, so that the whole resource is permanently available to the user. The library display is also controlled by the user, based on the most significant fields within the record, which will vary from one person to another. It is surprising how quickly a large library assembles.

Work with your sources:

Items are readily found via a sophisticated search tool, and references can be organised into groups on different topics. It is also possible to set up criteria for specific groups so that these groups are automatically populated whenever a new reference fulfilling the set criteria is added. Attached PDF files can also be searched and annotated in various ways.

Back up the library regularly:

There is a tool within EndNote for this, and libraries can also be exported or shared with others. Online backup is also available: purchase of EndNote or membership of a participating academic institution gives access to EndNote Online via the Web of Science database. EndNote Online is primarily for undergraduates and not recommended for researchers as it lacks some of the very useful capabilities of the full software, but it does provide automatic backup of everything held within the user’s full EndNote Library – very useful in an emergency!

Start writing:

EndNote works automatically with MS Word in the selected referencing style, has embedded files for most popular styles such as MLA, Harvard, Chicago etc., and additionally holds house styles for a wide range of journals. Academic institutions are renowned for making small variations to existing styles: the EndNote style can be modified accordingly. Writing is simple: just highlight the required source within the library, and the reference is inserted automatically at the chosen location, whether in the main text or in a footnote, as required, and an end of document bibliography created simultaneously. Any changes made to individual EndNote records are automatically updated within the document. Many researchers start by writing separate chapters: each of these will have its own bibliography, but when the chapters are finally assembled together, EndNote will automatically create a full bibliography at the end of the full document. The bibliography order is user-defined. Helpfully, it can also be sorted into sections, such as primary sources, books, journals etc. Sources consulted, but not referenced in the text, can also be added.

Getting started:

  • A training course is really useful to get started: some institutions provide their own, and if using an online option, check that it is research- rather than business- oriented.
  • Have a single EndNote library for any major research project and use the group tools to create sub-libraries if needed. EndNote assigns a record number to every item in each library, which is the hidden unique identifier for insertion of a reference in a document. Using more than one library at a time might therefore be confusing!
  • Like all programs, EndNote sticks to the rules it has been given, but it includes plenty of tools to add your own exceptions to these, so that the library is completely customised to your research.
  • The software does take a little time to learn, but is well worth the effort.
  • If there is a specific question, there is usually someone within the institution’s library and information service who will be able to help.



Follow This Blog


* indicates required