Home  |  About JAPTR |  Editorial board  |  Search |  Ahead of print  |  Current issue  |  Archives |  Submit article  |  Instructions  |  Subscribe  |  Advertise  |  Contacts  |Login 
Users Online: 156   Home Print this page Email this page Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size

 Table of Contents  
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 27-29  

Reference management: A critical element of scientific writing

Department of Microbiology, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, Puducherry, India

Date of Web Publication6-Jan-2016

Correspondence Address:
Arunava Kali
Department of Microbiology, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, Puducherry - 607 402
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2231-4040.169875

Rights and Permissions

With the rapid growth of medical science, the number of scientific writing contributing to medical literature has increased significantly in recent years. Owing to considerable variation of formatting in different citation styles, strict adherence to the accurate referencing manually is labor intensive and challenging. However, the introduction of referencing tools has decreased the complexity to a great extent. These software have advanced overtime to include newer features to support effective reference management. Since scientific writing is an essential component of medical curriculum, it is imperative for medical graduates to understand various referencing systems to effectively make use of these tools in their dissertations and future researches.

Keywords: Citation manager, reference management, referencing tools

How to cite this article:
Kali A. Reference management: A critical element of scientific writing. J Adv Pharm Technol Res 2016;7:27-9

How to cite this URL:
Kali A. Reference management: A critical element of scientific writing. J Adv Pharm Technol Res [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Feb 1];7:27-9. Available from: https://www.japtr.org/text.asp?2016/7/1/27/169875

  Introduction Top

Scientific writing is an essential component of research. In recent years, the pace of communicating research, in terms of journal articles, books, thesis, and conference papers, has increased exponentially with rapid advancements in medicine and technology. These research outputs are often considered as indicators of academic development and a basis for faculty appraisal as well as students evaluation.[1] The concept of academic writing has long been introduced in the medical curriculum.[2] Thesis/dissertation is an imperative requirement for medical graduation degrees worldwide. Referencing and bibliography are critical elements of any research paper. In this review, an attempt was made to illustrate the essential features, advantages, and limitations of popular referencing tools that would be beneficial for medical students and scholars in their research endeavor and academic development.

  Purpose of Referencing Top

Referencing is a scientific approach to delineate a data source by providing a standard set of information, allowing its easy identification, searchability, and retrieval. While referencing includes only the sources of information referred in the research paper, bibliography provides a list of relevant sources, irrespective of whether they were cited or not. In-text citations are used to validate authors' statements and to establish the relationship between several studies; enabling readers to compare and contrast their results. Among the numerous scholarly referencing styles, Vancouver, APA, and Harvard styles are most commonly used in medical literature. These are based on either author-date format (APA and Harvard styles) or numbered format (Vancouver style).[3] Although various referencing styles differ in their representation, they provide the same information and serve the same purpose.

  Reference Management – Problems and Solutions Top

The major limitations of referencing are associated with the diversity of reference categories, data fields, and formatting styles. A large array of materials, i.e. journal articles, entire books, book sections, conference proceedings and papers, dissertations and theses, patents, newspaper articles, legal documents, letters and other personal communications, unpublished manuscripts, electronic articles, e-books, software, blogs, and web pages are considered as citable data sources, using appropriate format.[3] However, the large number of different data fields for each of these citable materials often results in erroneous or incomplete referencing. The punctuations, text formatting (italics, boldface, and sentence cases), standard abbreviations of author's and journal names, reference listing order (alphabetical or numbered in the order of appearance in-text), and in-text citation formats are substantially different in various citation styles. Furthermore, the in-text citation numbers are liable to change radically in case of addition or deletion of any cited material. Given the above reasons, it is often challenging to ensure correct referencing and appropriate format.

Several web-based and nonweb-based referencing tools have been developed to address these issues. These tools discretely identify and store the component data fields of a reference, so that different formatting rules can be applied to individual components to comply with various referencing styles.[3] The ideal referencing software should support all popular operating systems, allow organization of references in groups/folders, file attachment and preview, exporting and importing of file formats, integration with popular word processors, database connectivity to facilitate literature search, and customization of reference styles. The oldest referencing software are Thomson Reuters' Reference Manager and EndNote. Owing to their customizable design, they have been the most widely utilized desktop based referencing software.[4] They incorporate all references and attached files into offline libraries stored in the computer.[3] The entire library or selected references can be exported, imported, and organized effectively. In contrast, web-based tools provide an online user interface to search literature, save references, and attach files.[5] Some referencing systems have both desktop and web components and have special features such as spell check, finding duplicate references, browser integration, capturing references directly from the webpage or PDF files, and customizing output styles.[4] The features of various referencing tools are listed in [Table 1].
Table 1: Comparison of popular referencing tools

Click here to view

  Limitations of Reference Management Tools Top

Introduction of referencing tools have decreased the manual effort and complexity of reference management beyond doubt. However, it may also weaken the knowledge and understanding about scientific referencing owing to undue dependency on technology. The errors of referencing may be attributed to manual errors while entering citation data. In case of downloaded or captured citations, it depends on the source of the reference. The facilities such as downloading citation from journal websites and medical literature databases and capturing citation from web pages allow direct importation of references in referencing tools. However, it may not always guarantee correct referencing. The categories and data fields of a reference may not be identical and accurate in the various online sources. The referencing may be incomplete due to lack of necessary information fields.[6] In some instances, several data fields (e.g., journal name, year, volume, issue, and page numbers) are stored in a single field. Although these references may appear accurate in default referencing style, they may not provide the correct formatting for various other styles. Although the referencing software and websites provide a wide and diverse variety of citation output styles including the most commonly used and standard styles, often it is imperative to create customized citation styles to meet the requirement for manuscript in various scientific journals. The users of referencing tools should be aware of its adversities resulting from improper application. Simultaneous use of two referencing tools in same word processor file will invariably end up in disorganized and confusing references. Likewise, duplicate references stored in different groups, group sets, or libraries which are easily overlooked, may results in the erroneous reference list and in-text citations.[3] Although some software allow detection of duplicate entries in reference libraries, it is imperative to check the references manually for correctness.

  Conclusion Top

The technology advancements in the age of internet have opened up infinite options to manage references effectively. Referencing software also evolved to add newer functions to support exporting, importing, capturing references, file attachment, database search, and creating reference output complying with various referencing styles. Updating knowledge about newer modalities to manage references has become an essential requirement for scientific writing. However, manual verification of references has not lost its relevance. It is prudent to cross-check the software generated reference list and in-text citations to prevent avoidable errors in referencing.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Pan RK, Fortunato S. Author impact factor: Tracking the dynamics of individual scientific impact. Sci Rep 2014;4:4880.  Back to cited text no. 1
Tollan A, Magnus JH. Writing a scientific paper as part of the medical curriculum. Med Educ 1993;27:461-4.  Back to cited text no. 2
Agrawal A. EndNote 1-2-3 Easy!: Reference Management for the Professional. 2nd ed. New York: Springer Science and Business Media; 2007. p. 283.  Back to cited text no. 3
Zhang Y. Comparison of select reference management tools. Med Ref Serv Q 2012;31:45-60.  Back to cited text no. 4
CiteULike: A Free Online Service to Organize Your Academic Papers. Available from: [Last cited on 2015 Feb 28].  Back to cited text no. 5
Fitzgibbons M, Meert D. Are bibliographic management software search interfaces reliable?: A comparison between search results obtained using database interfaces and the EndNote online search function. J Acad Librariansh 2010;36:144-50.  Back to cited text no. 6


  [Table 1]

This article has been cited by
1 Referencing Made Easy: Reference Management Softwares
Romit Saxena, Jaya Shankar Kaushik
Indian Pediatrics. 2022; 59(3): 245
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Writing manuscript better – Part II (Title, abstract, keywords, references, and miscellaneous)
Mohit Goyal, Sham Santhanam
Indian Journal of Rheumatology. 2022; 17(6): 298
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Technologic optimization of a virtual disease focused panel during the COVID pandemic and beyond
Mohammed Saleh,Priya Bhosale,Dheeraj Reddy Gopireddy,Malak Itani,Samuel Galgano,Ajaykumar Morani
Abdominal Radiology. 2021;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
4 Clinicians’ Publication Output: Self-Report Survey and Bibliometric Analysis
Kurubaran Ganasegeran,Alan Swee Hock Ch’ng,Mohd Fadzly Amar Jamil,Irene Looi
Publications. 2020; 8(1): 15
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
5 An interpretive structural modelling of the features influencing researchers’ selection of reference management software
Mehrbakhsh Nilashi,Mohammad Dalvi,Othman Ibrahim,Morteza Zamani,T. Ramayah
Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. 2019; 51(1): 34
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
6 Which Are the Tools Available for Scholars? A Review of Assisting Software for Authors during Peer Reviewing Process
J. Israel Martínez-López,Samantha Barrón-González,Alejandro Martínez López
Publications. 2019; 7(3): 59
[Pubmed] | [DOI]


    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Access Statistics
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this article
   Purpose of Refer...
   Reference Manage...
   Limitations of R...
   Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded872    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 6    

Recommend this journal