Tools for referencing

[Below is a quick and dirty resource I put together for my students about the tools that are available for helping them reference. I’d welcome any comments or suggestions!]

Referencing is an integral part of academic writing, and has been for many years, and each academic tribe (e.g. Economists, Sociologists, Psychologists) does things slightly differently. Anglia Ruskin have a good resource about referencing in general (thanks to @emmahead2 on twitter!)

There are plenty of tools out there to help you do this effectively, there is no need to do all of this manually!


The big software tool, and one that the university has a group discount for is Endnote. There are other software packages out there but this is the most widely used by academics (I use it myself) and it is pre-installed on all university desktop computers. I’m really not sure that Endnote is an appropriate tool for undergraduate students, it wasn’t really designed for them (it’s pretty complicated!) and a lot of advantages to using it do not really apply to students writing essays (and most likely not really re-using the same references.).

A very simple to use and free online tool is Neil’s Harvard Referencing Generator. I have no idea who Neil is, but he wrote this tool a while ago (I’ve used it myself) and it is very straightforward. Select which kind of source you want to reference, input the details and it will generate the reference for your bibliography. It does not help with the in text reference (e.g. Pearce 2014) and it won’t alphabetise your references, but it’s quick and easy.

There is another class of tools which I think site somewhere between Endnote and Neil’s HRG, and they are much more targeted at undergraduate students. These are referencing apps, which enable you to use your phone to keep track of your reading (and quotes in some cases), and will generate a alphabetised bibliography. Some of them integrate into word and so will help you with you in text referencing as well.

Citethisforme does look like a pretty good web based app. There is a free version which is time limited (so you can’t keep your references for the next essay) but this product integrates with word nicely and is very user friendly. We’ve been in touch about getting a bulk discount for our students, so do not upgrade to the premium version until you’ve heard from us.

Refme also looks pretty good, in particular it enables you to scan the bar code on a book to get the reference, which I really like (less chance of typos!) although obviously this isn’t very helpful for journal articles, and in the social sciences most things will be journal articles. The overall product does look very user friendly and is definitely worth checking out, there’s a snazzy video on the home page explaining how it all works. This product looks to be free too.

Mastercite Some people at Warwick have recently developed a referencing app which appears to have a more educational focus (ie teaching you about referencing as well as making it easier). I’m not as impressed with this as other apps so far, but I haven’t really had a proper look yet. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Overall in all of your social science assignments a key skill is to find and look at a wide variety of relevant literature, and to demonstrate this to your teachers you will need to reference it correctly. The more you reference the better, so any tool that helps make this easy is really useful. Check out the tools above and let me know how you get on and if there are any other tools that you find or hear about let me know too.


About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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