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Make Research Easier With These Five Tools
Posted On October 7, 2014
Students looking for help writing research papers can turn to an online reference manager to streamline the process. Several popular tools provide platforms that store articles, features that generate bibliographies, and functionality that encourages collaboration on projects. But these tools aren’t just for people taking college courses. Anyone who needs a way to keep his research organized can benefit from one of the following services.

Here’s a look at several popular research and reference managers, including their key functions and new features, as well as a sneak peek at their future upgrades.


With the EndNote bibliographic management software, users can find, use, and share research, as well as collect, organize, and format references. They can sync their EndNote libraries across Mac and Windows desktop computers, on iPads, and online.

Parent Company: Thomson Reuters

Tagline: “Use your research superpowers for good—leave the organizing to us”

Mobile Apps: Apple App Store

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

Features: “Find it,” “Create it,” “Store it,” and “Share it” are EndNote’s four main functions for research management. Users can search online databases to find full-text articles and autocomplete their references. They can create and format citations in more than 5,000 styles using the built-in bibliography maker. Storage involves organizing and marking up files “in any way that works” for the user, and sharing means collaboration with teams and with the global research community.

Customers: EndNote is used in the academic, corporate, and government sectors.

What’s New: As part of the release of EndNote X7.2, EndNote added a library sharing feature that allows users to collaborate on research with up to 14 other colleagues and peers. Users can share their entire EndNote library—including references, PDF files, and annotations—and everyone in the group can use the library simultaneously. Existing X7 users (as well as new users) also received unlimited storage capacity with the X7.2 release.

What’s Next: EndNote concentrates on the idea that research is a collaborative effort and will continue to make its tools collaboration-friendly. It will also add more support for managing all research assets and begin to offer recommendation capabilities that support the research workflow. During the next year, Thomson Reuters plans to move the traffic from its EndNote online forum into the EndNote Community, which is a platform that allows users to share tips and tricks with each other.


Flow is billed as “the only workflow tool you need.” It’s a reference and document manager with a variety of features designed by ProQuest’s Research Solutions team, whose mission is to “empower researchers to discover, grow, and thrive.”

Parent Company: ProQuest

Tagline: “Research Better”

Mobile Apps: ProQuest plans to launch a responsive tablet user interface for Flow in late 2014, with small-screen responsiveness planned for early 2015. This means that formal mobile apps will be unnecessary, since Flow will adjust to various screen sizes on its own.

Social Media: FacebookTwitter, Google+PinterestTumblr

Features: Flow lets users collect research, collaborate on work, and research anywhere. They can click to import their existing references and annotations into Flow, as well as click to drag full-text articles to the platform from anywhere on the web, even from behind paywalls, and Flow automatically enters the reference metadata. Using its collaboration options, researchers can share readings with up to 10 people for free and jointly annotate documents with people from any institution around the world. And it’s cloud-based, so there is no software involved; research is available instantly on any device. Flow for Word syncs with a user’s library to create citations directly in a Word document even while offline.

Customers: Flow is available for academic, corporate, and government libraries and information centers. It caters to more than 1,200 organizations as well as to individuals who opt for free personal (2GB of storage) or premium plans (10GB of storage).

What’s New: ProQuest introduced a Google Docs add-on for Flow so that its document management tools integrate with Docs to help users find, annotate, and share documents in the cloud, as well as work in a common virtual space with others. The add-on includes a selection of 3,000 output styles for bibliographies and citations. ProQuest also integrated Flow with its Summon discovery service to give researchers persistent access across both platforms, which means that search results from Summon can be saved in Flow, and users can create Flow accounts while working in Summon.

What’s Next: ProQuest’s goal is to embed Flow at the center of each phase of the research workflow in order to streamline and simplify the research process. The company will continue to integrate with tools that specialize in various phases of the process and will deepen its existing integrations with Summon, Word, the ProQuest platform, and the Google Docs add-on. Upcoming enhancements include the expansion of the Summon integration to capture full text and the ability to integrate with the ProQuest platform so users can save documents to Flow directly from results lists.


Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network for students and researchers. It’s available for Mac, Windows, and Linux systems, as well as for iOS devices.

Parent Company: Elsevier

Tagline: “Your research, anywhere.”

Mobile Apps: Apple App Store

Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, LinkedIn

Features: Mendeley’s five main features help users organize and share their research: 1) References, documents, and notes are securely stored, fully searchable, and accessible across platforms (i.e., desktop computers, web browsers, or mobile devices) from one place; 2) PDFs are available for highlighting, annotating, and adding sticky notes both online and off; 3) Users can generate citations and bibliographies—compatible with Word, LibreOffice, and BibTeX—as they write in the style they choose; 4) Users can share reading lists, references, or full-text articles publicly or privately and collaborate with groups that work together on research assignments and papers and share feedback; and 5) Colleagues, peers, and classmates can follow each other’s research outputs and showcase their published research.

Customers: More than 3 million researchers use the service, including students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of Cambridge.

What’s New: A new API launched in September that allows the service to build on its third-party app ecosystem and offer its users more functionality. Among other enhancements, the documentation on Mendeley’s developer portal now includes tutorials, and its GitHub account has more SDKs (software development kits) and code samples.

What’s Next: Mendeley is currently building an app for Android devices.


Paperpile is a web application and browser extension for people who want to manage their research library in Chrome. They can sign up with their Google account and must have Chrome (for Windows, OS X, or Linux) or Chrome OS. The tool’s goal is to simplify research collection and management as well as paper writing.

Parent Company: Paperpile, LLC

Tagline: “No-fuss reference management for the web”

Mobile Apps: According to the FAQ, dedicated mobile apps are in the works. For now, Paperpile PDF files are viewable using the Google Drive app on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

Social Media: Facebook, TwitterGoogle+

Features: Paperpile uses Chrome’s technology to bring typical desktop-only features to a web application that integrates reference management into the Google Apps ecosystem. For example, users can format citations and collaborate with colleagues to write papers with Google Docs, regardless of whether each participant uses Paperpile. Papers can be organized by folders and with labels and starred as favorites, and research can be filtered by author, journal, or item type. When users find a reference on the web (from integrated sources such as Google Scholar, PubMed, Twitter, and hundreds of journal sites), Paperpile downloads the PDF, names it, and stores it in Google Drive so the content syncs across devices and can be shared easily via a private web link. Paperpile helps users manage and export reference data by fixing incorrect information, finding duplicates, and performing other tasks automatically. Users can create bibliographies in more than 7,000 citation styles and access up to 30GB of free storage space on Google Drive.

Customers: Due to its integration with PubMed, Paperpile attracts scientists from a variety of fields, including life science and medicine and physics and engineering. Humanities researchers can also benefit from Paperpile’s storage capabilities, which can accommodate gigabytes of digital books. Paperpile offers personal subscriptions, group licenses, and site licenses for university and research institutes.

What’s New: This summer, Paperpile announced five key updates that simplify paper writing in Google Docs and enhance its service. Google developed a Suggestions feature that helps users track, discuss, and accept or reject individual edits in Google Docs, and it added superscript formatting functionality to Docs. Paperpile officially introduced the ability to create footnote citations; added support for italic, superscript, and subscript formatting; and allowed the use of Citation Style Language (CSL) to format customized citations.

What’s Next: Future plans include a customer-requested feature: annotations for PDF files that will allow users to add “sticky notes” to the documents and highlight text. Users’ annotations will save directly to the PDF files so they can view them with any PDF viewer, not just Paperpile’s. This functionality will be part of an upcoming release. 


ReadCube is a free tool for Mac and Windows systems that helps researchers, libraries, and publishers manage their literature, find new articles, annotate PDF files, and perform other related tasks. ReadCube’s bookmarklet adds papers to a user’s ReadCube library from any browser.

Parent Company: Labtiva

Tagline: “Bring your Papers to Life.”

Mobile Apps: Apple App Store

Social Media: FacebookTwitterGoogle+

Features: ReadCube’s features include enhanced PDFs, personalized recommendations, a citation tool, syncing and backup capabilities, and watch folders. Users can view optimized PDFs alongside supplements and related materials, access a full reference list, use notes and highlighting tools, customize the viewer interface, and more. Recommendations for papers are delivered daily based on the content in a user’s library. SmartCite, its citation management tool, supports 6,000-plus citation styles and allows users to input citations directly from sources such as PubMed. Citation data remains on a manuscript while users collaborate with multiple authors. SmartCite also works directly with Microsoft Word. ReadCube Pro, which costs $5 per month or $50 per year, offers unlimited cloud syncing and storage that makes a user’s ReadCube library, notes, lists, and annotations available on multiple devices. Watch folders automatically import PDF files saved in laptop folders to the ReadCube library. Pro perks also include advanced article metrics.

Customers: ReadCube’s users live in 220 countries and work from more than 2,500 institutions. These include Harvard University, Imperial College London, and Zhejiang University.

What’s New: This summer, ReadCube released a new HTML5-compatible web reader and an updated app for iOS devices. New publisher partners include IGI Global, the Canadian Medical Association, De Gruyter, and Wolters Kluwer.

What’s Next: ReadCube will add new functionality to SmartCite, as well as introduce an Android app, a Web-based library, and its own search engine. It is also looking to enter into new collaborations and integrations with publishing partners. 

Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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