EndNote vs Mendeley vs RefWorks vs Papers vs “An Outline?”

Up until recently I really disliked working with citations. I primarily used Zotero. I used Zotero because it offered the more simplistic approach, or so I thought. I would simply locate an article, book, or any other work then use the zotero save feature to store a copy of the reference to my zotero database. It typically saved way more information than I ever needed and usually included things such as screenshots and full PDF copies. All of which was unneeded. I typically save article pdf’s in a location that is best for the current project I am working on.

Every time I opened my zotero database I was overwhelmed with a plethora of data. Very grossly organized – even when using folders or tags within zotero. When you open the menu to locate your data it just appears cluttered. It’s not just zotero – endnote, mendeley, refworks. I even tried using OneNote and DevonThink Pro. There are many others, I just do not recall. I’m that person who is constantly looking for the “best” software or solution to a problem. Even when I think I found the perfect solution I continue looking from time to time in hopes of something better. The euphoria solution.

I recently found what I hope to be the ultimate solution. At least a solution that will work with various software, but not reference manager solutions. I am now using an outline. Specifically, I am using WorkFlowy.

Workflowy is an outline tool. Probably not the first thing you would think of when you need a reference manager solution. It wasn’t for me either. I mean, with an outliner, who’s going to be in charge of saving my citations automatically. Well, no one, or nothing, accept for the person taking an outline.

The beautiful thing about an outliner is that you control everything. Here is an example of my workflow with references using an outline format:

  1. Manual input – I realize I just lost some people. Listen, first, you will become a guru at citation editing and second, you will only be grabbing the information you need. If you still want help with citation most journals have a cite button. Simply click on the button choose your style and copy and past into your outline.
  2. Organize your outline – This is where the outline approach excels and surpasses the other reference managers. Decide how you need your referenced organized and begin created levels of hierarchy to meet your needs. I group mine by projects.
  3. Hashtags – You can choose to use hashtags to further provide ways to conduct future searches. For example, #literacy #childdevelopment, When I type in one of these hashtags all of my references for that subject will appear.
  4. Notes, notes, and notes – I use the outline for notes. Underneath my main reference I will create additional levels containing summaries, methodologies, and applications to my work.

I also used Zotero to create a quick bibliography and in-text citations. However, using the outline method you can simply copy and paste. Then arrange formatting. It takes less than 30 seconds from copy/paste to formatting a bibliography using this method. Before, I would create a bibliography using Zotero to see that I needed to scan through the entire reference list correcting style and formatting. Sometimes zotero would completely leave out authors and other pertinent information.

note: another outdated workflow – i will update, maybe, someday.

I'm a psychology and educational psychology graduate now pursuing a PhD in Education at Ball State University. I am passionate with the idea that all students, no matter their background, are able to learn and be successful during their academic career and beyond.

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