Mendeley vs EndNote – Back to the Tranquil Hegemony of Thomson Reuters

In my daily researcher life, I need to have access to a good referencing manager. A referencing manager looks after the sources (pdfs of articles etc) you cite in research papers, lets you make research notes, and generally takes care of the bibliography.

The king of the hill is EndNote – it’s expensive, but UQ has a site licence.  

I used EndNote throughout my PhD, and when I started the postdoc with UQ they bought me a Windows machine rather than the Mac I used throughout the PhD.  That was OK – the reference manager moved across to Windows just fine.

But…

The Mac came back.  I cracked and bought my own damn machine (2015 MacBook Pro 13”, thanks very much) since the uni would only buy a Mac for someone with a three year contract, not a two year contract.  Anyway, I was appointed to an ongoing role last year, and so the Dell (whose battery life was just forever awful) went back and I got a second Mac provided by the University.  I did try to make the Windows work for a year!

Anyway, since I was sick of carting a laptop home each day, I continued to use my own MacBook at home and the uni Mac at, well, Uni.  Unfortunately, this is when I came across a pretty big problem with EndNote.  I use unformatted citations – Cite While You Write is the work of the devil.  

Now, unformatted citations use Record Number – a unique record number in the database.  Unfortunately when you sync – such as when you when EndNote is being synced to a second Mac at home – that Record Number gets replaced.  With the result that your manuscript with the record numbers now is completely unusable.  Something of a problem.

I tried and tried to fix this problem but in the end I thought, why bother?  EndNote is the work of the devil anyway, so let’s get with the cool kids.  Zotero and Mendeley are popular choices for people that are used to interfaces not designed around a DOS Screen (sorry, EndNote, but really?)  Let’s give Mendeley a try.  

So I paid the money over for Mendeley disk space (I have 2500 sources, too much for the free bit of kit) – but in hindsight I should have gone with a month or two subscription only.  I have found a few problems with Mendeley.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a great piece of software.  It is fantastic at the social side, importing references from the PDF only (truly, it’s terrific!), and its styles seem fine for me.  It also suggests the papers that make sense – its AI is truly terrific there too.

There’s another ‘but’ coming.

It doesn’t do RTF scan.  Which means I can’t do Scrivener (one of the reasons I wanted the unformatted citations to work in the first place).

It seems to have a disturbing habit of losing PDFs occasionally.  Not frequently, not often, but still.  That’s kind of what it is for.  I’m very good at losing PDFs under my own steam.

Using it is a pain – the interface, while sexy and down with the cool kids, is a bit fiddly.  It’s easy to drop a paper into the wrong folder and – in a hierarchical folder – it’s hard to know which is where (the folders show what’s in the folder as well as all the subsidiary folders).  

It often just gives a beach ball on the Mac, at least.  It’s kind of slow and annoying and argh.

I’ve now discovered how to use EndNote with Scrivener and unformatted citations in a synced environment (give the label a citation key – like Bibtek does and use that for the temporary citations, not the dodgy record number).  You do, though, have to go through and give 2500 sources their own unique citation key… blurgh.

So I’ve managed to make EndNote do most of what I want; can’t say I’m entirely happy with the choice of going back to EndNote (it’s clunky, like a Volkswagen Beetle’s clutch, and it’s got an interface that is busier than a three-armed economist).  I will probably get itchy feet again and go back to Mendeley, one day, maybe, but for now it’s back to EndNote.  I’m not quite sure if I’ve done the right thing – maybe as I use it I’ll be reminded of the ‘hidden painful’ things, as there seems to be in all software.

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