There are many programmes for managing references. Some of them are web-based, while others have to be installed on the computer; some can be downloaded for free, while others require a licence. Many universities and education institutions pay for access to one or more reference management programmes, thus providing students and employees with free access. Furthermore, when you start to use the programmes you can generally get help, for example from your library.
What programmes are offered depends on the individual university/education institution.
Although the various reference programmes differ in their appearance, content and how they are used, they share some common traits:
A reference management programme normally consists of a database in which references and all the necessary bibliographic data (author, title, year, publisher, page numbers etc.) can be entered. The references can be entered manually into the database, but the intelligent aspect of these programmes is precisely that the majority of references and all their relevant information can be imported automatically from many sources, such as bibliotek.dk and Google Scholar, as well as from academic databases, such as PubMed, Scopus and Web of Science. This saves a great deal of time and helps to avoid quite a few errors.
Thus, using the database, it is possible to draw up a reference list of the required references in the required format quickly and easily. The format, i.e. how the reference is written, depends on the context. For example, sometimes it is all right to simply order the references alphabetically, while at other times it is better to number the references in the list.
Reference programmes can be integrated, for example in Word
Most reference management programmes can also be integrated or work in conjunction with word processing programmes, making it a good deal easier to insert, correct or remove references in the text you are writing, such as a dissertation or article.
When you insert a reference in a certain place in the text, it will automatically be included in the reference list, and likewise if a reference is removed or shifted somewhere else. This cuts down the workload, saving the author from checking and double checking that the correct references are included in the right order in both the text and the reference list. Likewise, the format of references in texts and accompanying reference lists can easily be altered with just one click.
This facilitates work considerably, for example when sending the manuscript of an article to another journal. Generally, journals tend to have strict requirements for output style, i.e. how references are presented in a text or reference list.
Attached is an example of two different output styles, where the style was changed with one click from Harvard to Vancouver (in this case in Word via the RefWorks programme).
Reference management programmes at universities
As mentioned earlier, the library at your education institution can provide help with one or more of the programmes. Of course, it is a matter of taste what you choose. You might want to choose the programme according to what help is available at your place of study or research, however you should also take a look at what your fellow students or colleagues are using, as this means you can get help quickly if you are stuck.