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Best Practice for Literature Searching

For the sciences of food and health

Benefits of citation managers

It may seem counterintuitive to start thinking about reference management at the very start of your search process, but having good tools in place before you start searching will streamline the process from start to finish.

Using a citation manager will help you run comprehensive and systematic searches.  You will almost always run searches in more than one database and/or search engine, and when you do so you will pick up duplicate copies of references.  This could seem burdensome and time-wasting if you had to sort your references manually, and you might be tempted to be less comprehensive in your searching.  Fortunately:

  • A citation manager makes identifying and removing duplicates easy. 
  • If you are at a university, some programmes can quickly link to the full text of an article if your library subscribes to it. 
  • If you already have an article PDF, the software will read the metadata, or descriptive information, to create a reference from the PDF.    

Citation managers and writing

Citation managers also ease the writing process, as they will connect with Microsoft Word, and sometimes other word processing options like Google Docs or LibreOffice, to let you automatically pull a citation, formatted in whatever referencing style you choose, into the proper place in the text, and add it, correctly formatted, into the reference list. 

Sharing PDFs

Most programmes also allow you to share some or all of your references and PDFs with someone else, or a group, working with the same citation manager.  This can facilitate group research, or can make it easy to share references with a supervisor or colleague.

Comparing software

Many programmes are available, but arguably the four used most by researchers are EndNote, Mendeley, Sciwheel (formally F1000workspace), and Zotero.  Each programme has its own advantages.  Your choice might be influenced by the need to work offline, by what colleagues you collaborate with are using, or what you have available at a discount or for free from your institution. 

Remember that it is easy to move all your reference from one programme to another if you decide you'd like to switch. 


EndNote Desktop Mendeley Sciwheel Zotero
Cost Subscription (possibly free through your institution) Basic account free Subscription but free trial (possibly free through your institution) Free with option to purchase additional storage
Offline use online or offline online or offline online online or offline
Annotation of PDFs? yes yes yes no
Word processor Microsoft Word Microsoft Word, LibreOffice Microsoft Word, LibreOffice Microsoft Word, LibreOffice
Deduplication yes yes yes yes

*This chart has been adapted from the Compare EndNote, Sciwheel, Mendeley, Zotero: At a Glance guide from the University of North Carolina Health Sciences Library:

Each of these programmes have browser plugins that make it easy to collect references, and as you do searches within databases you can export selected references into them.  


Best practice!

BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION:  be sure to choose a citation manager to use at the beginning of your literature searching, and always save all relevant references you find in your searches.  Learn how the program you're using works right away, so you can take full advantage of its functionality.