To Endnote or not to Endnote?

Citation software like Endnote can be a researcher’s best friend. It keeps your various sources tidy and organised in a single place, enabling easy access to bibliographic details, urls, and even notes years down the road. If you choose to use the keyword feature, all of your sources related to a case study or theory can be summoned en masse in a matter of seconds with only a few key taps.

Citation software like Endnote can also be a researcher’s worst enemy. It can make Word documents unstable; causing crash after crash after crash that may result in hours of lost work (if you don’t hit save every few minutes). The cite while you write feature may also fail unexpectedly when you are working with long manuscripts or documents incorporating figures, tables, and images.

Like all technological innovations, the utility of Endnote (and other similar software packages) depends on the technology actually working. I should note that the observations and experiences recounted here come from my experience using Endnote X2; newer versions might not suffer from the same glitches. Also, I use a mac and have read in various places that Endnote works better on PCs. So your luck with this particular program may depend on what sort of computer you have. Mac users beware.

After one particularly gruesome Endnote meltdown at the beginning of my third year I gave up on cite while you write altogether and ended up inserting the bulk of my citations the old fashioned way. Despite having to go through my 350 page thesis with a fine toothed comb to make sure that I didn’t miss any references out of the bibliography (something that Endnote can, in theory, do for you if you use cite while you write), I still think that I came out ahead. Although compiling the bibliography was time consuming, it took less time – and caused considerably less heartache – than contending with Word crashing day after day, week after week.

That said, I still think that Endnote is an excellent tool for organising and storing bibliographic information. I now have a personalised library of nearly 500 sources. In the past, I had created elaborate card catalogues for keeping track of my various books and articles. While this worked ok for short essays, I’m not sure I would have had the patience to sift through hundreds of index cards while writing my thesis. Moreover, being able to search all of my sources in a matter of minutes, whether by author, keyword, or title, continues to be incredibly useful as I write journal articles.

So, to Endnote or not to Endnote? In retrospect, I ended up using Endnote as a filing system as opposed to citation software. Was it worth the cost? It is hard to say. If I had known in my first year all of the difficulties that I would encounter – not to mention that I wouldn’t actually use the cite while you write component – I imagine that I could have developed my own bibliographic filing system for a fraction of the price. Not being able to see into the future, though, I don’t regret the purchase. Nor, however, would I pay to update or upgrade my now outdated version.

If you are contemplating purchasing Endnote (or another citation software package), do a bit of research first. Ask other researchers in your department what software they use and whether they find it helpful or a hindrance. Also think about what you plan on using the software for. Do you plan to use it for inserting citations and compiling bibliographies? Or, will you primarily use it for cataloguing your sources? Finally, be sure to enquire about the compatibility of various software programs with the type of computer you own before passing over your credit card details. Having thought about the principal end use, you can make your purchase accordingly.

In my experience, Endnote is far and away the most well known software package. But it is by no means the only one, so shop around. For example, someone recently told me about Papers, an award-winning program designed specifically for macs that organises your library of pdfs. I haven’t used this program yet myself, but plan to download the free trial version in the next few days. To be continued…(?)

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3 responses to “To Endnote or not to Endnote?

  1. try Mendeley, i prefer it to endnote for its slew of innovative features as well as very decent online integration (and iOS apps).

    also, its free.

    • Thanks for sharing! We hadn’t heard of Mendeley before, but it is always useful to know about different software programs.

  2. Thanks so much for this! I’m a first year PhD and mac user – I think you saved me some headaches!

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