Mendeley: A Reference Management Tool

Category: Resources

Reference (or "citation") management tools have become more popular as young, technology savvy students have become members of the scientific establishment. We recommend that readers use one of these tools, and a number of options exist (see, for example, Wikipedia).


Reference management tools can provide a number of benefits.  The most prominent benefits, however, are the ability to organize your library, insert citations into word processors, and generate bibliographies in a desired style.

While Eviduction has no particular preference, our staff has used and can recommend Mendeley.  This desktop tool has a number of nice features:

  • A well integrated Word Plug-In that shows up (in 2007/2010 at least) in the References tab.  This makes it very easy to add citations out of your Mendeley library, adjust your citation style, and insert a complete bibliography.  The tool was recently improved to assist in complex citations (year only, page numbers, etc.).  Tools are also available for OpenOffice and possibly others.
  • Several processes that automatically tag files, saving a LOT of data entry.  The most powerful is a process that compares PDFs to the Mendeley library and is able to automatically tag many files.  You can also go to a consolidated online database and add citations (from a selection of third party sites) to your Mendeley library.  Finally, a web tools permits you to add citations from third party sites to your own library.
  • Direct integration with PubMed to easily import citation details.  Our staff member saves PDFs using their PubMed ID to keep the number "on hand" during import.  Note that PubMed's coverage is mostly biology/medicine so this does not benefit researchers in subjects like Economics, Philosophy, or Law.  Some alternatives exist (e.g. Search Google by Title), but they are underwhelming at present.
  • The ability to search the full text of your entire offline library.  Since the tool is picky in its matching, we have found it useful but not exceptional.
  • Your citation database is synced to the cloud for free.  A staff member recently experienced data loss and was fortunate that Mendeley kept a list of his offline resources safe.
  • For an added fee, you can upload a copy of all of your offline resources to Mendeley's cloud.  While this is a nice feature, it is extremely pricy (over $22 per GB per year unless you pay $165 a year for unlimited).  Google Drive will provide comparable storage for a significantly lower cost (between 60c and $5 per GB per year).  More importantly, Google permits you to share your files with whomever you like while Mendeley's wants to charge you even more ($540 per year for only 5 collaborators).  Amazon Cloud Drive provides storage at a slightly lower cost (between 50c and $1.70 per GB per year), but does not appear to offer sharing.

Despite our satisfaction with the program. it has not been flawless.  The program runs slowly (and in some cases actually crashes) when working on our largest documents (sometimes several hundred pages and a similar number of resources).  However, it is (like many others) in a state of constant improvement and has seen a lot of critical features addressed in the last few years.

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