Academia

Comprehensive Comparison of Reference Managers: Mendeley vs. Zotero vs. Docear

Which one is the best reference management software? That's a question any student or researcher should think about quite carefully, because choosing the best reference manager may save lots of time and increase the quality of your work significantly. So, which reference manager is best? Zotero? Mendeley? Docear? ...? The answer is: "It depends", because different people have different needs. Actually, there is no such thing as the 'best' reference manager but only the reference manager that is best for you (even though some developers seem to believe that their tool is the only truly perfect one). In this Blog-post, we compare Zotero, Mendeley, and Docear and we hope that the comparison helps you to decide which of the reference managers is best for you. Of course, there are many other reference managers. Hopefully, we can include them in the comparison some day, but for now we only have time to compare the three. We really tried to do a fair comparison, based on a list of criteria that we consider important for reference management software. Of course, the criteria are subjectively selected, as are all criteria by all reviewers, and you might not agree with all of them. However, even if you disagree with our evaluation, you might find at least some new and interesting aspects as to evaluate reference management tools. You are very welcome to share your constructive criticism in the comments, as well as links to other reviews. In addition, it should be obvious that we - the developers of Docear - are somewhat biased. However, this comparison is most certainly more objective than those that Mendeley and other reference managers did ;-). Please note that we only compared about 50 high-level features and used a simple rating scheme in the summary table. Of course, a more comprehensive list of features and a more sophisticated rating scheme would have been nice, but this would have been too time consuming. So, consider this review as a rough guideline. If you feel that one of the mentioned features is particularly important to you, install the tools yourself, compare the features, and share your insights in the comments! Most importantly, please let us know when something we wrote is not correct. All reviewed reference tools offer lots of functions, and it might be that we missed one during our review. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="680"] Please note that the developers of all three tools constantly improve their tools and add new features. Therefore, the table might be not perfectly up-to-date. In addition, it's difficult to rate a particular functionality with only one out of three possible ratings (yes; no; partly). Therefore, we highly suggest to read the detailed review, which explains the rationale behind the ratings.[/caption] The  table above provides an overview of how Zotero, Mendeley, and Docear support you in various tasks, how open and free they are, etc. Details on the features and ratings are provided in the following sections. As already mentioned, if you notice a mistake in the evaluation (e.g. missed a key feature), please let us know in the comments.

Overview

[toc] If you don't want to read a lot, just jump to the summary We believe that a reference manager should offer more features than simple reference management. It should support you in (1) finding literature, (2) organizing and annotating literature, (3) drafting your papers, theses, books, assignments, etc., (4) managing your references (of course), and (5) writing your papers, theses, etc. Additionally, many - but not all - students and researchers might be interested in (6) socializing and collaboration, (7) note, task, and general information management, and (8) file management. Finally, we think it is important that a reference manager (9) is available for the major operating systems, (10) has an information management approach you like (tables, social tags, search, ...), and (11) is open, free, and sustainable (see also What makes a bad reference manager).

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By Joeran Beel, ago
Off-Topic

What makes a bad reference manager?

Update 2013-11-11: For some statistical data read On the popularity of reference managers, and their rise and fall Update 2014-01-15: For a detailed review of Docear and other tools, read Comprehensive Comparison of Reference Managers: Mendeley vs. Zotero vs. Docear At time of writing these lines, there are 31 reference management tools listed on Wikipedia and there are many attempts to identify the best ones, or even the best one (e.g. here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, ... [1]). Typically, reviewers gather a list of features and analyze which reference managers offer most of these features, and hence are the best ones. Unfortunately, each reviewer has its own preferences about which features are important, and so have you: Are many export formats more important than a mobile version? Is it more important to have metadata extraction for PDF files than an import for bibliographic data from academic search engines? Would a thorough manual be more important than free support? How important is a large number of citation styles? Do you need a Search & Replace function? Do you want to create synonyms for term lists (whatever that means)? ...? Let's face the truth: it's impossible to determine which of the hundred potential features you really need. So how can you find the best reference manager? Recently we had an ironic look at the question what the best reference managers are. Today we want to have a more serious analysis, and propose to first identify the bad reference managers, instead of looking for the very best ones. Then, if the bad references managers are found, it should be easier to identify the best one(s) from the few remaining. What makes a bad - or evil -  reference manager? We believe that there are three no-go 'features’ that make a reference manager so bad (i.e. so harming in the long run) that you should not use it, even if it possesses all the other features you might need. 1. A "lock-in feature" that prevents you from ever switching to a competitor tool  A reference manager might offer exactly the features you need, but how about in a few years? Maybe your needs are changing, other reference managers are just becoming better than your current tool, or your boss is telling you that you have to use a specific tool. In this case it is crucial that your current reference manager doesn't lock you in and allows switching to your new favorite reference managers. Otherwise, you will have a serious problem. You might have had the perfect reference manager for the past one or two years. But then you are bound to the now not-so-perfect tool for the rest of your academic life. To being able to switch to another reference manager, your reference manager should be offering at least one of the following three functions (ideally the first one).

  1. Your data should be stored in a standard format that other reference managers can read
  2. Your reference manager should be able to export your data in a standard format
  3. Your reference manager allows direct access to your data, so other developers can write import filters for it.
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By Joeran Beel, ago
Off-Topic

Which one is the best reference management software?

Update 2013-10-14: For a more serious analysis read What makes a bad reference manager? Update 2013-11-11: For some statistical data read On the popularity of reference managers, and their rise and fall Update 2014-01-15: For a detailed review, read Comprehensive Comparison of Reference Managers: Mendeley vs. Zotero vs. Docear <irony>Have you ever wondered what the best reference management software is? Well, today I found the answer on RefWorks' web site: The best reference manager is RefWorks! Look at the picture below. It might be a little bit confusing but we did the math: Refworks is best and beats EndNote, EndNote Web, Reference Manager, Zotero, and Mendeley in virtually all categories. [caption id="attachment_2683" align="aligncenter" width="354"]Comparison of reference management software - Refworks is the best reference manager Source: RefWorks[/caption] (more…)

By Joeran Beel, ago