O'Really?

June 20, 2008

A Brief Review of RefWorks

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia MathematicaThere is no shortage of bibliographic management tools out there, which ultimately aim to save your time managing the papers and books in your personal library. I’ve just been to a demo and sales pitch for one of them, a tool called RefWorks. Refworks claims to be “an online research management, writing and collaboration tool — designed to help researchers easily gather, manage, store and share all types of information, as well as generate citations and bibliographies”. It looks like a pretty good tool, similar to the likes of EndNote but with more web-based features that are common with Citeulike and Connotea. Here are some ultra-brief notes. RefWorks in five minutes, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good…

Refworks finer features

  • Refworks is web based, you can use it from any computer with an internet connection, without having to install any software. Platform independent, Mac, Windows, Linux, Blackberry, iPhone, Woteva. This feature is becoming increasingly common, see Martin Fenner’s Online reference managers, not quite there yet article at Nature Network.
  • Share selected references and bibliographies on the Web via RefShare
  • It imports and exports all the things you would expect, Endnote (definitely), XML, Feeds (RSS), flat files, BibTeX (check?), RIS (check?) and several others via the screenscraping tool RefGrab-It
  • Interfaces with PubMed and Scopus (and many other databases) closely, e.g. you can search these directly from your RefWorks library. You can also export from Scopus to Refworks…
  • Not part of the Reed-Elsevier global empire (yet), currently part of ProQuest, based in California.
  • Free 30 day trial is available
  • Just like EndNote, it can be closely integrated with Microsoft Word, to cite-while-you-write

…the Bad…

Refworks not so fine features

  • The 2008 version of RefWorks I saw demonstrated didn’t seem to import anything later than EndNote version 8 (e.g. not EndNote X and Endnote X2) – but see Nicks comments below
  • Can’t search Thomson-Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge (WoK) from it, as there are (cough) “competition issues”. Ditto, at the time of writing, WoK will not export in RefWorks format. Scopus (part of Reed-Elsevier) + RefWorks is a serious commercial competitor to ISI WoK + EndNote (both owned by Thomson-Reuters).
  • Let’s say your current institution has a RefWorks subscription, if you move to a new institution that doesn’t subscribe, you could have problems accessing and using your library. The same is true for EndNote, and many other software that you pay for, beware of vendor lock-in, and see Nicks comments below.
  • Currently, there is no RefWorks API, other than doing simple HTTP GETs, making it potentially more difficult to include and reuse RefWorks software in other packages.
  • There are some issues with importing large libraries into RefWorks, see the ongoing Connotea vs. CiteULike debate
  • Adminstrators of an institutional license may have access to non-anonymised personal sensitive information, e.g. when user Fred Bloggs created their account, how many times they have logged in to RefWorks and what their email address is. This raises some potential data protection issues, that are a thorny issue for many bibliographic management tools, especially other web based tools like citeulike and connotea.

…and the Ugly

Cost, currently individual licenses are $100 per year, which is $100 more than “free” tools like citeulike and connotea. Institutional licenses are also available, for a biggish University like the one where I work, this will probably be around the £10,000 mark. This is “probably cheaper” than an equivalent site license for EndNote, but the prices for endnote are difficult to compare directly with RefWorks.

In summary, Refworks has both good and bad features. Personally, it’s going to need a lot more novel (and “killer”) features to make me switch from using Citeulike, which exports BibTeX (for authoring in LaTeX) and Endnote (for authoring in Microsoft Word). Citeullike also allows you to dump your full-text PDFs for storage in one place, it’s far from ideal, but it works OK and there’s not much else that is significantly better at the moment. However, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV), so RefWorks.com, might be worth a look. RefWorks is already a serious competitor to EndNote and hopefully this competition will mean we get even better tools in the future, rather than being stuck with a single player who monopolises the marketplace. Are you listening Thomson-Reuters?

References

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5 Comments »

  1. Hi there
    Thanks for the interest in writing about RefWorks and doing the review! As there are a couple of inaccuracies I am taking the liberty of replying to some of these points, as well as expanding on some others you have brought up.

    The Good:
    • It imports and exports all the things you would expect, Endnote (definitely), BibTeX (check?), RIS (check?) and others via the screenscraper RefGrab-It
    Please feel free to check importing in BibTex and RIS formats as they do work! You mention only a couple of ways of importing data into RefWorks where there are in fact a lot more – text files, from online catalogues, RSS feeds….
    • Interfaces with PubMed and Scopus (and many other databases) closely, e.g. you can search these directly from your RefWorks library. You can also export from Scopus to Refworks…
    We have and continue to work hard with the majority of online database suppliers (both full text journal and A&I databases) to provide clickable ‘direct exporting’ from them into RefWorks. The user just has to look in the original interface for ‘export’ or save or download and then just click the RefWorks link.
    PubMed and Scopus you can capture the data and then from within RefWorks carry out a new search for related documents or works by other authors in the references for example without going back into the original PubMed or Scopus interface as well as providing some other advantages.
    The Bad
    • At the time of writing doesn’t import anything later than EndNote 8 (e.g. EndNote X and Endnote X2)
    Sorry this is incorrect. We are compatible with ALL versions of the Thomson Reuters’ suite of bibliographic products – ProCite, Reference Manager and ALL VERSIONS of EndNote. Its one of our advantages being a federator between different tools – some versions of EndNote are not even compatible with each other.
    • Can’t search Thomson-Reuters ISI Web of Knowledge (WoK) from it, as there are (cough) “competition issues”. Ditto, at the time of writing, WoK will not export in RefWorks format…
    Not entirely correct. There is no ‘direct export’ (as described above and because yes Thomson sees us as serious competition) but a user can save references to a text file and then upload them into RefWorks using a special filter we create and maintain. Yes its not clickable download and yes its Thomson who wont let us do it – if you are interested in having this option, please feel free to ask them!
    • Lets say your current institution has a RefWorks subscription, if you move to a new institution that doesn’t subscribe, you could have problems accessing and using your library. The same is true for EndNote, and many other sofware that you pay for, beware vendor lock-in
    Just to clarify, we don’t think we are really practicing vendor lock-in and provide 4 different options if you leave your RefWorks subscribing institution
    1. If you move to another RefWorks subscribing Institution you can transfer your account over, free of charge
    2. If your Institution has our Alumni module, they can grant you access after leaving your Institution
    3. You can purchase a personal subscription and transfer your data over
    4. Worst case scenario, 1-3 are not available, you can download all your data out of RefWorks and upload it into other software (excel, word, xml etc). You keep your data and all your notes and changes, you just don’t have RefWorks functionality any more.
    • Adminstrators of an institutional license may have access to non-anonymised personal sensitive information, e.g. how many times named user Fred.Bloggs has logged-in, what and when they are reading. Some potential data protection issues. These are an issue for many bibliographic management tools
    Incorrect. The local administrator/s of the Institutional subscription do not have access to what and when people are reading data. They can only see when an individual account is created and the total number of logins.
    The Ugly and closing comments
    This is “probably cheaper” than an equivalent site license for EndNote, but the prices for endnote are difficult to compare directly with RefWorks.
    – our pricing policy is different to EndNote. We firmly believe that Bibliographic and research management tools need to be a service item that is provided to users within an Institution (like word, excel, adobe etc) so we do not openly promote or encourage users to take individual subs out. That’s substantially different to EndNote – if you want new functions you have to wait for them to be developed and then buy and install the latest version – RefWorks is ALWAYS the latest version , we do 4 updates (not bug-fixes) a year.
    Citeullike also allows you to dump your full-text PDFs for storage in one place, it’s far from ideal, but it works OK and there’s not much else that is significantly better.
    – you can also do this in RefWorks. Each Institution can allow users to upload their pdfs (or .jpg, .mpg, .bmp, .xls etc) alongside their references and store them on our servers. The Institution gets allocated UNLIMITED storage space on our servers to redistribute how they see fit to their users. Users can also share this uploaded data with others.
    Cheers and thanks again

    Comment by Nick Barber — June 23, 2008 @ 10:00 am | Reply

  2. Hi Nick, thanks for your comments on my review, it was brief and quickly written so sorry for any initial inaccuracies. I’ve corrected them now, where appropriate. The data protection issue was an issue raised by many other users at the demo, some people are (rightly?) paranoid about an administrator knowing how many times they have logged in to a system like RefWorks.

    Comment by Duncan — June 24, 2008 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  3. Duncan, I wasnt critiscing, on the contrary, I really enjoy people talking about the tool as I firmly believe it shows some passion and interest in what and how RefWorks does things. On the data protection issue, we are also very conscious of it, strive to respect the individuals right as much as possible in provifing a tool for the Institutional and welcome input from users.

    Comment by Nick — June 26, 2008 @ 11:05 am | Reply

  4. One problem with the institutional approach to managing tools such as Refworks is that many students nowadays use their own equipment, such as laptops, and also many staff often work from home. Also staff may not be aware of the latest developments. This can mean that when students do submit work which includes citations and references using Refworks that staff are not able to see these on their own machines, and the students may obtain a low mark.

    Students and staff need to be aware of this as a possible issue. Generally the effects will be so significant that the problem will be spotted, but there is a definite possibility that software incompatibilities could adversely affect some users.

    Once the issue is known about, the worst effects can be avoided, though this may require changes in working practices, both for staff and students.

    Comment by David Martland — March 4, 2009 @ 9:42 am | Reply

  5. Hello, I am a nursing student doing a review of Refworks for a technology class. Is there a way to access and cite this page through Refworks and properly cite it APA style for my paper?

    Comment by Debbie Massaro — June 18, 2012 @ 2:54 pm | Reply


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