Do try this at home: explorations in Open Knowledge

This is the first in our series of ‘how to’ blog posts from the Bodleian Libraries’ Wikimedian in Residence Martin Poulter. The posts accompany his Open Knowledge Ambassador series. There are still two sessions left – sign up at and

This week, I ran the second workshop in the four-part Open Knowledge Ambassador series. In the appropriately scholarly surroundings of the the Bodleian Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship, we took a look into the underbelly of Wikipedia that the great majority of its readers never see.

It’s apt to be running the course now. At the end of January, a journal editorial warning of ‘research parasites’ (who analyse data they didn’t themselves collect) prompted an outraged but hilarious response. Hundreds of scientists used the #ResearchParasites and #IAmAResearchParasite hashtags on social media to defend the sharing and checking of research data. Climate scientists ‘confessed’ to not having personally launched their satellites into space, and Isaac Newton was sarcastically branded a ‘parasite’ for his remark that he saw far by standing on the shoulders of giants. It was a great example of the tension between those who think knowledge benefits from an open process, and those who want that process enclosed.

Each workshop is 1.5 hours, and the emphasis on active learning means that a lot of this is spent in tasks in which we dig into Wikipedia and related sites or tools, and discuss what we find. This is a fun way for me to share my insider knowledge, and for participants to explore resources that are relevant to their own interests.

Working with open resources has its headaches. This week’s starting point was the WikiProject Directory: an index of projects to improve specific subject areas of Wikipedia. When I brought the directory up on screen, it had just been massively vandalised, so I had to begin the presentation by reverting the vandalism. That’s never been a problem in Powerpoint.

On the way, we’ve explored the strengths of the wiki platform as well as the weaknesses. A misconception among academics is that Wikipedia throws everything together without the traditional publishers’ concern for quality. It’s quite a shock for people to see how much contextual information there is about the quality and authorship of articles, and how much effort goes into various review processes.

‘Open’ goes beyond ‘public’. Imagine the following:

  • A museum creates an online image gallery of its exhibits.
  • Educators write overviews of key historical events that are available in an eBook.
  • Researchers publish some key facts and figures as a table in a PDF document.

These might all be great resources, but it’s a mistake to call them ‘open access’ (as people sometimes do) just because they can be accessed without subscription. When we talk about ‘free and open’ we mean content that is not tied to one particular way of accessing it. We mean the ability to remix and reuse, not just read.

Untitled2What does a remix of knowledge and culture look like? In the course we’ve had hands-on experience with a few examples. Histropedia is independent of the Wikimedia charity, but uses data, images and text from Wikipedia and related projects to create interactive timelines. It provides a new and educational way to look at a topic. Other tools display Wikipedia’s knowledge on a map, in abstract conceptual space, or in a weird hybrid of encyclopedia and database. If Wikimedia sites and their contributors did not explicitly allow remixing, these kinds of tool would not exist, and the world of education and research would be poorer for it.

True to the open spirit, I am documenting the workshops, and all participant feedback, on a public wiki. I’m also using Wikipedia talk pages to keep in touch with participants. The worksheets are available to download, as editable files. Anyone is welcome to use them to run a discussion or training session around Wikipedia and related sites.

Note: it’s still possible for University of Oxford staff or students to book for Workshop 3: ‘Putting knowledge in‘ and Workshop 4: ‘Building collaborations‘.

Digital tech for impact, engagement and outreach: #OxEngage 2016 now live

2JA2fPAV7LVEB0kFkXrq-jl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBVaiQDB_Rd1H6kmuBWtceBJThe #OxEngage Programme for 2016 is now available! Booking is required at our talks and events as places are limited. See the full programme for details.

Issues of public engagement and demonstrating how work within Higher Education can have a beneficial impact on society have become increasingly important within the University. Online and digital technologies can play an important and exciting role in engagement activities, enabling you to reach, interact and work collaboratively with your audiences. The #OxEngage programme has been created to offer practical advice, share exemplars, and provide information on training, workshops and events that can support you in exploring the application of IT for impact.

#OxEngage is organised by IT Services and the Bodleian Libraries, and offers a full term of events (lunchtime seminars, courses, workshops etc.) to explore the use of digital technologies for use in impact, outreach and engagement. This year we are delighted to announce that the programme will include the following:

  • sessions led by staff from across the University’s departments, museums and libraries on topics ranging from hackathons and connecting schools with science research to sharing research findings via infographics;
  • a specialised workshop on analysing social media for impact;
  • two panel sessions on academic blogging and digital crowdsourcing.

This year, in a national first, #OxEngage will deliver a four-part course to help academics, students, and related staff work with Wikipedia. Oxford University staff and students will earn an ‘Open Knowledge Ambassador’ certificate for taking part in training workshops, spaced every two weeks through the upcoming term, that help them support activities such as edit-a-thons.  Similar themes will also be addressed in a self-directed online course, open to all.

Follow this blog along with the Engage Facebook page to hear all the latest updates.

Aaaand we’re back! Oxford University to train Open Knowledge Ambassadors

Wikipedia-logo-v2-enIn a national first, Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries and  IT Services are collaborating on a four-part course to help academics, students, and related staff work with Wikipedia. Oxford University staff and students will earn an ‘Open Knowledge Ambassador’ certificate for taking part in training workshops, spaced every two weeks through Hilary term, that help them support activities such as edit-a-thons. The programme is a part of Oxford’s annual Engage programme in digital communication for researchers.

Although the course will be centred around Wikipedia, the title reflects that it is not about a web site, but about understanding and explaining the possibilities of freely-reusable open knowledge. This is increasingly topical in academia as more research outputs become open access, more learners use open educational resources and more cultural institutions share their digital media on open platforms such as Wikimedia Commons.

The course, hosted in the Centre for Digital Scholarship in the Bodleian’s Weston Library, will be led by Dr Martin Poulter, the Bodleian Libraries’ Wikimedian In Residence.

The sessions will involve active learning, based on assignments which involve exploring Wikipedia and related sites and report backing back to the group. On the way, each participant build a personal portal of tools and links related to their areas of interest. The focus is on building an understanding of Wikipedia’s strengths and weaknesses and involving colleagues in using it to support research and education.

The course is not about the fine details of Wikipedia’s internal processes or its house style, but more about using open knowledge sites in an informed way and explaining them to others. For hands-on experience of improving Wikipedia articles, participants are recommended to register for one of next term’s public editathon events: those announced so far are a social internet editathon for Wikipedia’s 15th birthday in January and the first ever Tudor music editathon on 5 February.

The first two workshops will look at ways to get and make use of open knowledge from Wikipedia and other sites, and at questions of quality and reliability. We will explore some of the open knowledge tools which are incredibly useful but usually only known to ‘power users’. The latter two workshops will explore ways of putting information in, including how to work with a group of experts to improve articles or share images. Enthusiasm for sharing knowledge, and helping others do so, is the only prerequisite.

Workshop schedule and booking links

Session 1: What would a world of open knowledge be like?
Wednesday 20 January

Session 2: Getting knowledge out
Wednesday 3 February

Session 3: Putting knowledge in.
Wednesday 17 February

Session 4: Building collaborations
Wednesday 2 March

Queries should be emailed to Martin at

Thing 23 2014: Wrap up

You’ve made it; this is the final Thing!

Thank you all for following the programme and congratulations for getting sticking with it to Thing 23 – we know it’s been a busy term. A short evaluation of the programme will come soon, but feel free to leave comments on this post if you have any immediate feelings (of relief, most likely!).

We’ll soon be posting details about how we’ll award certificates to those who have completed the programme (yes, you get a certificate!). Keep an eye on the blog. I am aware that not everyone has been able to stick to the schedule, so those who finish the programme by 1 March will be eligible for certificates.

The Task and blog post:

  1. For this last thing, we would like you to reflect on the programme in general and on what you want to do next. What did you enjoy? What do you think you will use in future? What would you like to explore further?
  2. Keep blogging and let us know how you get on!

Further exploration
Many organizations include some kind of Personal Development Plans (PDP) or specific goals as part of their staff review/appraisal processes. The idea with these is that you identify some sort of development need, think about how you could fill that gap, and set yourself a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Limited) objective to help you do it. The CPD23 programme has put together a quick template that can be used for this, but feel free to tweak it to suit yourself or use one of the many other templates available online.

Identify some gaps in your experience – perhaps by thinking about a job or position you would like to be in, or by conducting a skills audit. Think about how you can fill those gaps and put together a Personal Development Plan to do that. You don’t have to put this on your blog unless you feel comfortable doing that.

Thing 22 2014: Using Doodle and other online scheduling tools

This week’s Things are about organization and productivity, especially when it comes to collaborating with others. Online scheduling tools are a great way to schedule events for several people.

One of the most popular scheduling tools is Doodle. Doodle is free, easy to use and doesn’t require any registration (although it offers added features to registered users). For this week’s Thing, please explore Doodle and, if you can, give it a try for scheduling something.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. Go to
  2. Click on the Schedule Event button.
  3. Follow instructions for Steps 1-4 each time clicking ‘next’ to get to the next page. Decide on the dates that you are free and the time slots within each date that you are free and add them in the chart.
  4. At Step 4 you need to decide whether you want to send an email to your colleagues yourself or whether you want Doodle to do this.
  5. If you have chosen to send things out yourself then check your emails from Doodle and follow the clear instructions in them.
  6. Send the link out and wait for response!
A sample doodle poll

Exploring further
You can integrate Doodle with other online tools, including your Microsoft Outlook calendar, Google calendar or iCal; Doodle can sync meetings you set up with these calendars and update based on poll results. Doodle’s calendar integration page provides more info on how to set these up.

Doodle isn’t the only online scheduling tool, although it is one of the most popular. You might want to explore other options such as Meet-o-Matic or Scheduly.

Blog post
Did you try to schedule a meeting using Doodle? Do you think you would in future? Tag your post Thing 22.

Thing 21 2014: Hangouts, Skype and more

6691744587_bb59f7aba1As research collaboration becomes increasingly common, more and more researchers need to communicate with one another via web conference tools that allow them not only to talk but also to share screens, collaborate on documents and share files. There are a many tools available. Most have the ability to share the screen, and to connect via webcam and microphone.

Cost: Free (basic version – paid versions provide more features)

Skype is undoubtedly the most well known and most popular web-conferencing tool currently available. Even if you haven’t used it in a professional setting, you’ve probably used it to contact friends and family. Signing up for an account is free and very easy: just enter your details and download the software, which is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. There are paid (‘premium’) versions of Skype available but the additional features on offer change quite regularly, so it’s worth checking the Skype website to keep up-to-date.

Once you’ve set up an account and installed Skype, you can connect to other Skype users, anywhere in the world, free of charge. You will of course need a microphone and audio output; your computer’s speakers and microphones might be fine for casual use but if you’re contacting professional colleagues it would be worth investing in a headset and a web-camera, which applies to all the web-conferencing tools discussed here. You can connect with more than one Skype user at a time and create a large-scale web-conference; a maximum of ten simultaneous users is recommended. You can also send files—such as PDFs, Word documents, or PowerPoint presentations—and share your screen with both individuals and groups. Although Skype does require each user to have a Skype account, it is so commonly used that this is rarely a problem. Nonetheless, in a university setting your contacts may not have access to Skype at their workplace. If you’re planning on using Skype for professional web-conferencing, have a look at this really handy blog post from the University of Melbourne for a comprehensive introduction.

Google Hangouts
Cost: Free (up to 10 attendees and requires a Google+ account)

Google Hangouts has quickly gained a foothold – it’s free and it’s easy to use. Every participant needs to have a Google + account to be able to join the hangout but sessions can be streamed publicly via YouTube using the ‘Hangouts on Air’ feature.

You can use Google hangouts on your mobile or tablet, or by adding an extension to your browser. Simply ‘start a new hangout’, search for users and add them to your conversation.

Cost: Departments (or individuals) pay for accounts.

WebEx is supported by the University’s IT Services, and it allows you to share presentations, applications and your entire desktop. It does not require your attendees to have an account; you just share the URL of your session.

Adobe Connect
Cost: Paid

Adobe Connect is a web-conferencing tool that runs via Adobe Flash. It allows you to host an online conference with multiple participants who can view your desktop and communicate with one another simultaneously. Adobe Connect gives you the option to share your whole desktop with the meeting or just one application and it’s also possible for the attendees to view the application you are sharing in full screen while you’re doing something else on your desktop. Like WebEx, it does not require your attendees to have an account; you just share the URL of your session.

Blog post
Have you ever used any of these tools? If so, what are your thoughts on them? If not, can you think of a time when you might?

Thing 20 2014: Google Docs and Dropbox

Working together...

Working together…

Thing 20 allows you to explore different tools for online collaboration and file-sharing – as well as the benefits of using these tools for your individual work.

It can be frustrating to work on group documents; keeping track of versions is difficult, and emailing round updated copies every day is time consuming. Being able to store and edit documents online can help solve these problems, and tools like Google Drive (formerly Google docs) and Dropbox make it possible.

Google docs
One of the main purposes of Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) is to allow multiple people to edit the same document, spreadsheet or presentation without creating duplicate copies. Documents can either be uploaded or created from scratch within Google Drive and the fact that everyone can access the file in one place means that it is much simpler to edit and update. This can be very useful for researchers who are collaborating on a project; for this 23 Things programme we used Google Docs to store and share post content and schedule.

Before sharing any material on these services, consider the following questions:

What kind of material are you sharing, and is it appropriate for your chosen platform?
Does the material you are sharing contain sensitive information? If so, is sharing it on any of these cloud-based services the best way to disseminate it? Consider security measures such as encryption to protect your data.

Are you allowed to share this material?
You must only share material in which you own copyright, or have the appropriate rights to do so. While there are limited provisions under copyright law that allow material to be shared online, sharing copyright material through these services without explicit or implicit permission from the copyright owner may infringe their copyright.

With whom are you sharing this material?
Only share material with individuals you trust. Use private folders to restrict access to this material, and if publishing or sharing links to these folders, make sure to only send them to their intended recipients.  Frequently review who has access to your shared folders, and update access to them regularly.

How are you sharing this material?
Only use cloud-based services on computers that are secure against online threats such as viruses and key-logging software. If using mobile devices, make sure you are connected to the internet using an encrypted WiFi network. If you cease using a particular device or computer, make sure you deauthorise any cloud-based services from these devices.

Accessing Google Drive is quite straightforward: simply login with the same username and password that you would use to access your Google account. If you don’t have a Google account, you can quickly set one up by clicking here and completing the online form.

Once you have logged in to Google Drive, click ‘Create’ and choose what kind of document you would like to create – such as a spreadsheet, word-processing document or a presentation.

Create your document and it will save automatically, or you can force a save by pressing Ctrl+s.

Now you are ready to share your document, either with a colleague or even with another 23 Things participant if you wish! Click on the ‘Share’ button in the top right-hand corner of the screen. In the ‘Add People’ box, enter the email address of the person with whom you would like to share the document and decide whether you will allow them to edit the document or just to view it. Click ‘Share’ and this person will now receive an email with a direct link to your document.

Dropbox is a free desktop application which allows you to store your documents online so that you can access them from multiple computers.

Like Google Docs, Dropbox can also be used when collaborating with others on a project as it enables easy file-sharing without the need for creating duplicates. For example, one person can drop documents and files into Dropbox and then invite other people to access and edit those files.

If you don’t already have a Dropbox account, go to the Dropbox website and create one. Once you have created an account, you will be directed to a page that explains how to download Dropbox.

After you have downloaded and installed Dropbox, you will have a Dropbox folder on your computer where you can store any files that you want to share with others. You can access these files from any computer by logging into the Dropbox website with your username and password. From here, you can view, download and upload files securely using any web browser.

Sharing documents using Dropbox
Sharing with someone who already has a Dropbox account:
Go to the Dropbox website, log in if you aren’t already logged in, and click on the tab called ‘Sharing’.

Select the option to share an existing folder or create a new one, click ‘next’ and then select your folder. Enter the email address of someone with whom you wish to share your folder and click ‘share folder’. This will send an email inviting the recipient to view your folder via Dropbox. If the recipient is not yet a member of Dropbox, the email will direct them to page asking them to register.

Sharing with someone who does not have a Dropbox account:
Dropbox will also allow you to share with people who do not have a Dropbox account. Simply hover over the right-hand side of the listing in your online account and click ‘share link’, then either email the link or use the ‘get link’ button to copy the URL. This will give you a URL which links to your file and you can then paste this, for example, into emails or blog posts in order to share it with others.

Blog post
Write about your first impressions of any or all of these tools and/or their potential uses for your work. If you are already using one or more of them, you could write about the kinds of projects for which they have been useful. If you wish, you could also compare and contrast the value of each of these different tools and consider how they could be used to further your own professional development. Tag your post ‘Thing 20’.

Exploring further
Dropbox and Google Drive aren’t the only tools that allow you to organise your documents and notes online. Take a look at Evernote, Springpad (and compare the two) or even OneNote.

Bonus Thing 6 2014: Researcher identifiers and your publication profile

Nowadays, merely undertaking interesting research is not enough to build a successful career as a researcher; it’s also crucial in the competitive world of academia to be able to demonstrate the impact, influence and reach of your research. This week our bonus thing explores the benefits of setting up Researcher Identifiers to create an accessible online presence for your research outputs. They can also help you to track and measure the impact of your scholarly research publications.

If you are an academic, you are likely to have an online university profile. However, there are a number of other researcher profile systems or researcher identifiers that can link your publications and create a unique scholarly identity. Some are open-access initiatives, others are linked to subscription citation databases, and increasingly the various systems are becoming interlinked.

Benefits of Researcher Identifiers
We believe it’s well worth investing time to set up your researcher identifiers and online publication profile. They increase your online visibility and thus the chances of your research being read and being cited. Researcher profiles can be browsed by other researchers, prospective research collaborators, students, journalists and funding bodies.

Researcher identifiers also distinguish you from other researchers via author disambiguation. When researchers have similar or identical names it can be difficult for others to easily identify or attribute your work (see Melissa Terras’s blog post on the confusion of having someone else’s papers accidentally attributed to her). Some researchers change names during their careers and author names may be displayed in varying formats in different publications and indexes. Researcher identifiers can be used to group all name variations under which you may have published and your affiliations with different institutions.

This isn’t just for the REF; you may be required to list your publishing ‘track record’ or ‘top 10’ publications as evidence of scholarly impact for academic tenure,  promotion and funding applications. The gathering of this information can be time-consuming if done manually. Researcher profiles and identifiers assist with the easy compilation of research impact report. Also, it’s quick to check who has been citing your papers!

Open Researcher & Contributor ID (ORCID)
ORCID is an open, non-profit, and internationally recognised registry of unique researcher identifiers. It provides a method for linking your research activities and outputs using a 16-digit number to identify individual researchers in much the same way that ISBNs and DOIs identify individual books and articles. ORCID is discipline- and corporate-neutral and also interlinks other identifier systems.

ORCID identifiers are increasingly being used by journal publishers, funding bodies and university repositories, to identify individual researchers. A number of journal submission systems now ask for ORCID identifiers.

ORCID itself does not track citations, but it can be used with citation indexes.

Set up an ORCID identifier if you don’t already have one. It’s a short and easy process and will save you time later. If you have more than one university email address, it is important that you make sure that your ORCID account has all your email addresses associated with it to avoid duplicate ORCIDs being created.

ResearcherID (Thomson Reuters)
Thomson Reuters, producer of Web of Science, provides the free ResearcherID service which can be used even if your publications are not indexed in Web of Science.

With a ResearcherID you can build a biographical profile and an online publication list, which is not restricted to journal articles but can also include patents, conference proceedings, grants and so on. The ResearcherID can provide citation counts for any of your Web of Science-indexed papers, and an ‘h-index’ is automatically calculated on these. ResearcherID profiles can be public or private and there is an option to assign an ORCID at the same time.

When used within the Web of Science database, ResearcherID  simplifies the process of compiling Author Citation Reports, h-indexes and other publication metrics, and provides greater accuracy. This can be handy when you need to gather research impact metrics quickly for that looming application deadline.

For more information on ResearcherID, see the website and this factsheet.

Scopus Author Identifier (Elsevier)
Scopus, another of the large subscription citation indexes, provides citation counts for the articles and authors published within the Scopus journal set.

Publications indexed in the Scopus citation database are automatically assigned Scopus Author Identifiers. If your publications are indexed in Scopus you’ll be assigned an Identifier, which you can use to can create your Citation Overview, calculate your ‘h-index’ and view other metrics for publications from 1996 onwards. To view author level metrics use the Author Search, and from the results click on an author’s name. Your Scopus Author ID can also be linked to your ORCID identifier.

It’s a good idea to check the accuracy of your Scopus Author profile on a regular basis and ensure that you only have a single Identifier.

Learn more about Scopus Author Identifiers here.

Google Scholar Citations
Google Scholar Citations profiles assist in providing citation data from a variety of sources. Google Scholar indexes a broader range of publication types than the subscription citation databases; for example, it also includes working papers, government reports, theses, and book chapters. A Google Scholar Citations profile will help you to keep track of who is citing your publications, graph citations over time and calculate different citation metrics. We recommend that Google Scholar Citations profiles are made public (the default is private), so that they appear in Google Scholar results, which makes it easy for others to follow your work. As with other online identifiers, authors should check their Google Scholar Citations profile regularly to ensure correct assignment of publications.

For a great example, have a look at the Google Scholar Citations profile of Dr Dominique Hes from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Architecture Building & Planning. Note the automatic compilation of Dominique’s publication metrics. We also like Dominque’s use of keywords for her areas of interest, which really help to increase findability.


  • You need to actively monitor your researcher profiles to keep them up-to-date and ensure that all your publications are included. A number of the publication lists are generated automatically and we’ve sometimes seen incorrect publications assigned to authors, which skews the accuracy of automatically generated metrics.
  • Citation counts alone are not an indication of excellent research. They should be used with other qualitative measures.
  • No single tool can provide a comprehensive measurement of research publication impact. Tools providing citation analysis can only track the journals indexed within the individual database. This means that results obtained from the different citation tools are not comparable since their coverage varies. Similarly, these tools are not comprehensive listings of all global research publications: i.e., not all researchers publish in journals indexed by Web of Science or Scopus, and not all publications are indexed in Google Scholar.

 Further Reading

Thing 19 2014: Blog, tweet or post a link

Thing 19 is mostly task-based, and it’s pretty simple. We want you to blog, tweet or otherwise share a link to something you’ve produced. If you’re a published researcher, try an article. If not, how about a presentation, or a blog post on another blog? If you really can’t think of anything, you can share a link to an article you think is particularly interesting.

The task will be more useful if you can measure visits to the link you share, so if you don’t have the ability to do that on the actual website you’re sharing, you may want to consider using a tool like to shorten the link. Make sure you’ve set up an account and logged in before you create the link, otherwise you won’t be able to get back in a track it.

Keep an eye on your link and the clicks or readers it produces. Do you see any increase over time? If not, are there ways you could target certain audiences (perhaps a guest post on a high-traffic blog with a link to your article)?

Exploring further and some things to think about: Bibliometrics and altmetrics
Bibliometrics offer a set of methods to quantitatively analyse scientific and technological literature (see Wikipedia). This often consists of analysing citations to determine impact. Although not without flaws, bibliometrics are often considered an important part of determining the value and impact of a particular article, and they may be taken into consideration when making hiring or tenure decisions. The altmetrics manifesto argues that new forms of scholarly and popular communication (e.g. social media) require a rethink of how we measure impact; we need to take into account links, conversations and other ‘non-traditional’ ways of citing a paper. It is harder to measure and easier to manipulate these results, but they represent an important aspect of reading and research. Some major databases/publishers are embracing new models; Public Library of Science, for instance, has expanded their take on article metrics to include online usage data, citations, social networks, blog and media coverage and discussion activity.

Metrics are useful, but they can only tell part of the story. It’s important to keep in mind that metrics are not necessarily an appropriate way to measure quality (see this REF2014 study on Bibliometrics); simply being cited doesn’t mean that your paper is good (what if all the citations say that you’re horrifically wrong?).

Blog post
What did you share, and how? What would you hope to get from sharing a link? More visits? More conversation? What do you think you can do in future to help that happen?

You can combine this post with Thing 18, if you prefer. Don’t forget to tag the post Thing 19.

Further reading


Thing 18 2014: Explore reference management tools online

Although you may or may not consider them ‘social media’, reference management tools are one of the single most useful digital tools for a researcher today. Gone are the days of painstakingly changing each of your in text citations to a footnote, or changing each full stop in a reference to a comma because a journal required it. Online reference management tools allow you to:

  • import references from different sources (e.g. websites, library catalogues, bibliographic databases)
  • manage and/or edit the references once they’re in the system, and add manually any references that you cannot find online
  • export references into a document, either as a single bibliography, or individually (often called ‘cite while you write’) which generates a list of references.
  • format the bibliography according the referencing style of your choice, and re-format if/when necessary

There are a number of commercial products out there, some of which you may have heard of or be familiar with. Endnote and RefWorks are two of the most common here in Oxford; the Libraries have a subscription that allows University members to create a RefWorks account, and IT Services also supports Endnote.

There are also free reference management tools, and we’ll focus on those today. If you’re interested in a comparison of reference tools before you choose, there’s a VERY useful table on the Libraries’ reference management LibGuide.

If you’re interested in using any of these two tools but want a bit more help in getting started, the Bodleian’s WISER sessions are great. Unfortunately this term’s reference management session is booked, but the handouts are available and are a great place to start. Handy guides and cheat sheets are available for RefWorks, Endnote X4 and Endnote Web, Zotero and Mendeley on the Libraries Reference Management LibGuide.

There are lots and free tools, but for Thing 18 we’ll look at a few of the free ones: Zotero, Mendeley and Colwiz. If you’re not already using a reference management tool for your writing, we encourage you to try out one of these tools (or give RefWorks or Endnote a go). If you don’t feel that you need to store or manage references at the moment, we still encourage you to read about the tools and explore their sites to get an idea of when they might be useful.

Zotero is an open source tool that started as a plug-in for Mozilla Firefox but is now available as a standalone application compatible with the Firefox, Chrome and Safari. It’s free to use, although there are premium options available for a subscription fee. You will need to install Zotero Standalone if you wish to use Zotero to add citations to documents in Microsoft Word.

Zotero provides a great quick start guide on its documentation page, and Sharon Howard has built a fantastic Zotero Wiki resource for a British Library course. In addition to the standard import/export tools, you can also attach files or notes to references, sync multiple computers with your account, add items by ISBN or DOI, and assign collections or tags to your items to help you organise them. Zotero also offers mobile apps.

Zotero takes advantage of its syncing and online capabilities to offer social networking; you can create groups and share your reference lists with others.

Mendeley also requires you to create an account and download the programme, but it’s a desktop feature that avoid the issue of browser compatibility. Like Zotero, Mendeley offers a free version as well as the option to pay for premium features. Take a look at its getting started videos to get a feel for how it works.


Mendeley offers some great tools beyond the basics. If you are starting with a great deal of files you want to organise (rather than researching from scratch), you can pull data from your computer into Mendeley. You can also use Mendeley’s PDF editor to annotate your PDF articles. Like Zotero, you can sync your account across various computers and the cloud. There’s also an iPad/iPhone app.

Like Zotero, you can share your references with others. Mendeley takes this one step further, however, by allowing you to set up a closed group and share full-text articles.

Colwiz focuses on collaborative work as well as reference management. Although not exclusively for scientists, it takes a scientific focus and offers support for referencing in LaTex as well as Word and Open Office.


Colwiz also offers desktop and web-based services, although some features are only available on the desktop version. Colwiz’s real strengths come in its collaborative tools. It has features to help manage team schedules and tasks, including slightly more sophisticated groups, personal and shared calendars, team task management and more. Users can also set up research profiles (much like a Facebook or similar profile) and add contacts.

Exploring further
Try using one of these tools to add citations and build a reference list for a short paper. Can you import your references? Try changing the reference style after you’ve started.

Blog post
Now that you’ve read about and ideally played with one or more of these tools, tell us how you think you  might use them in your own work. If you already use these tools or similar ones, let us know how they work for you. If you don’t feel the need to gather references at the moment, do you think you might use the tools in the future? Tag your post Thing 18.