Not a RefWorks Review

v-signThis entry is not about spanking or anything fetish related.  Well, except for that sentence.

Mostly this is a bit of a gripe. If a company is trying to sell me their product, it would be really great if they didn’t act like my choice not to use either the computer or software they want me to is the problem.  We’ve all had, I assume, the experience of being told by a website that we can’t access all the functions because we aren’t running say IE or FireFox or whatever other browser  they’re demanding. I’m not complaining about little websites either.  My bank does this, United Airlines did and goodness knows how many other companies.  As Paul said, why not just put a running banner at the bottom of each page saying “I am a crap web programmer who can’t be bothered to make this site fully functional”?

So where is this rant going?  My university is encouraging students (especially graduate students) to switch from other computer-based bibliographic software to a web-based service provided by RefWorks.  Even though I’ve hated EndNote for years (it’s ugly, clunky and has a steep learning curve) I’ve resisted because RefWorks charges $100 a year for their service.  While it would be free while I was affiliated with my current university, I didn’t want to deal with having to either change or be charged once I leave.  So I stuck with EndNote, ugly though it may be.

Last week I heard from our librarian that we should consider changing because RefWorks had started an alumni program which would allow those of us who use the service now to continue using it for free as long as our university had a subscription.  This renewed my interest so I started investigating the service more closely.  I could import my reference libraries — great.  The interface is pretty nice (though it’s got some ugly, clunky features as well — maybe there’s no helping that with reference software).  But I couldn’t figure out how to insert citations while writing.  Neither could the librarian, so we checked with RefWorks who directed us to something they call “write and cite.”  Great — it works pretty much like EndNote’s “insert citation” feature.

Except that unlike EndNote, on RefWorks the citation feature only works with Microsoft Word.  Not so great then.

Like a number of other people in my field, I don’t write in MSWord, I write using Pages (part of iWork) and convert to Word or pdf if needed.  Word has a number of bugs when doing footnotes (it randomly pushes them onto the next page and forcing them back is a lot of work) and my research writing is heavily footnote dependent.  For that reason, Pages is way more suited to my academic writing needs.  RefWorks, despite literature comparing themselves favorably to EndNote, doesn’t support the insert citation / write and cite function in anything other than Word.

They wrote that they believe iWork (and OpenOffice) users are too small in number for them to develop for.  There’s no work around other than inserting the citations manually, something which rather defeats the purpose of using citation software in the first place.    The librarian that gave me the bad news said this news about iWork and OpenOffice would be considered when the university is discussing renewing our subscription — for which they pay in excess of $10,000 a year — that students and faculty shouldn’t be forced to use a specific word processor to use a university-provided subscription service.

It seems EndNote wins by default.  Bah.  What a waste of time.

8 thoughts on “Not a RefWorks Review

  1. dykegrrl

    It’s such an aggravating situation! They won’t support something other than the Microsoft, so if there’s something people need to use, they will get in line with the monopoly, even if that’s not what they’d prefer to do.
    I was really irritated that there were so many things I use that aren’t compatible with the Linux OS. I like Linux, and it’s more in line with what we can afford. But if I want to use a bunch of programs I use… I’m out of luck.
    And I admit that I’m ticked off at Microsoft for jumping into the netbook market as soon as they realized there was a chance they’d lose their stranglehold on computing. I hadn’t tried Linux before the netbook, but Linux was what was available at the time we got the first one. Sadly, we went back to Microsoft for the second one, because there were too many things we couldn’t do without falling in line.
    So yeah, they won’t support something other than MS Word “because there aren’t enough users of the other products” which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  2. .

    Hello, I am a Mac user and I use RefWorks with Pages no problem. The trick is to use the “one line cite view” in RefWorks, which allows you to create and copy citation placeholders like this {{12 Smith, A. 2009}} and place them in your document.
    In the end you’ll need to convert your paper to RTF or DOC prior to formatting via the bibliography function within RefWorks, but it works quite well.
    You should give it a try

  3. Mija

    Thanks for that advice and I will experiment with it a bit. At first pass, it does seem to have a lot more steps than EndNote’s “insert citation” feature, but I tend to change slowly. It’s good to know I can use RefWorks if I need to.

  4. Rwcos Christine

    Hi Everyone,
    While RefWorks does not have plug-ins for OpenOffice, iWorks or WordPerfect for Linux we do support any document from within the RefWorks program via the bibliography feature.
    Keep in mind that Write-N-Cite is not necessary to use RefWorks which is fully functioning without it. The user above is correct, before formatting you will need to convert the paper to RTF.
    We also are compatible with any Linux based browsers and have thousands of Linux/LaTeX/BibTeX users.
    Finally, we have a very nice UI coming at the end of January, and agree that what we have now is getting old and clunky.
    Thanks for the feedback,
    Christine Capen
    RefWorks Technical Services

  5. Mija

    Thank for your reply Christine, I appreciate you taking the time. It’s great to know there’s a new version of RefWorks coming out but not so great to know it will still only be fully functional with MSWord.
    While the ability of RefWorks to store my library might useful as a backup and the RTF work around would do for a short article or paper, neither is very useful in writing a book or dissertation length document. The great thing about having a good-sized bibliographic library is being able to drop citations in with a tap of the touch pad while the text’s bibliography is compiled by the software. Losing that is a huge step backward.
    Additionally, RTF is difficult to configure to either my university or the ProQuest dissertation formatting requirements. It’s possible, but would be double the work.
    There’s no getting around the fact that for now using RefWorks on iWork is a huge step back in functionality as compared to EndNote. I hope RefWorks will reconsider making your service fully functional for those of us who don’t use MSWord.

  6. Angie

    Wow. I didn’t even realize things like this EXISTED, Mija! This is one of the drawbacks to doing grad-work at U of Phoenix — not having face-to-face interaction with other grad students means that I generally don’t get to talk about day-to-day things like citation issues, and I definitely don’t get to talk to a librarian! (We are, however, required to cite *everything* we turn in APA-style, which hasn’t been easy for this MLA-girl to get used to — and has been very hard for one of the reasons you stated above — I’m a PC User — always will be, I think — and the randmonmess with which MS Word just decides to throw my in-paragraph citations onto separate pages is *so* frustrating.)
    At U of P we have to pay $75 – or MORE – for “Technology uses” for Every. Single. Class. Even if we buy the book somewhere else, we STILL have to pay for the eBook and other “technology” costs … I’m going to look into (read: cajole) whether or not one of these citation programs is included in these exhorbitant fees!

  7. Lurker

    Have you tried zotero? ( I LOVE IT! It’s free, easy to use, you can have an online account (so you can use and update it from more than one computer) and you can insert in at least Word and OpenOffice. (I would guess Pages as well, but have never tried it.) You need Firefox, though, but that is the only limitation I can think of.


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