03 November 2005

SchoolTools II: RefWorks

by Bruce Fulton

In the last installment, we went over the Virtual Private Network (VPN) client. If you connect from home, I hope you all have had a chance to try it out. I’ve found it especially useful over the past month doing some literature searches using Google Scholar. With the VPN client installed, Google recognizes the UA affiliation and connects you directly to the resource without having to go through one of the SABIO database searches to find the reference. Whew, what a timesaver!

This time, we’re moving on to RefWorks, a great free tool that will make much of your bibliographic citation work a breeze. But be sure to rev up your VPN client, or you’ll be typing in your CAT card number all night long.

This won’t be a tutorial. There are several RefWorks guides online. My goal here is to introduce you to the slick features. I’m sure you’ll decide it’s worth a bit of effort to learn how it works after we’re done.

Never heard of it? RefWorks links used to be displayed more prominently on the library home page. Although free for UA students, faculty and staff, the links are more or less buried now with the redesign of the library web site. You can easily find the links and guides with a site search if you know about it (and now you do!), or you might run across it in the help section on citations. In the meantime, though, surf on over to the RefWorks login page. You need to set up an account which is a very simple process. After that, use the link above if you’re not using the VPN client, or this one if you are.

You’ll want to start RefWorks before starting your literature searches and you’ll see why in a minute. For now, log in and you’ll see something like the following:

Of course, if you don’t have any references collected yet, you won’t see much. But looking at this example you’ll see a few intriguing possibilities. First, there are folders you can create and configure. These can be project based, or class based or subject based. It’s your call, and you can mix and match. I’ve used RefWorks folders for all of the above.

But how did all those citations get there? In many cases, automatically. Let’s take a trip through WorldCat. If you haven’t used it already, you will before you get out of here. WorldCat is available through the List of Databases on SABIO. Navigate through W and you’ll find it. For purposes of illustration, search on a keyword or two. I’ll use “Musical Instruments.” You’ll get a result that looks like this:

Check a couple that you like, and pay attention to the Export button. Have you ever wondered what that was for? Click and see!

OK, so you’ve got your VPN client running (not necessary if you’re connecting from a UA-based workstation). Pick Marked Records and RefWorks as shown, and then click Export. Surprise! (But note that it will only be a good surprise if RefWorks is already loaded). If it works as planned, you'll see something like the following in a new window:

Clicking on View Last Imported Folder should be pretty tempting by now:

You can look at the tutorials and learn how to copy your imported references to folders that you create for classes or projects. For now, let’s take a look at the Bibliography tab.

You can see you have quite a few choices. First, you can select which of dozens of citation formats you can use – APA, MLA, or create your own custom format. Then, you can select the format for your bibliography output and the list you want to create. If you have lots of folders, you can create a custom list with just the references you need. Depending on your options, “Create Bibliography” will generate something like the following:

I assume you can cut and paste! Happy citationing!

Of course, not every reference will be exportable through a database search , although you’ll find a surprising number are, with more on the way. But if not, Refworks will help you fill out a citation record if there is no direct export function:

Fill in whatever fields you can identify and specify whichever folder you need. You certainly don’t have to fill out every field available, just the ones you need to make a good citation. Would it be easier just to type that into your footnotes? Not necessarily. First of all, the RefWorks software stores your data as individual fields and keeps track of it for you. You therefore have a permanent record of the sources you’ve used, and you can create from them a bibliography in any format required on demand. As you go through school and into your professional career, you’ll want to be able to find the references you’ve worked hard to find and go back to them as necessary. You probably have some interests that you’ll keep coming back to as you go through your classes. Over the course of your degree, this will save you having to look up references you know you identified the year before in some other class.


RefWorks is server-based which means that you can always retrieve your citations from any computer without having to download a client. There is, however, another piece you can install on your individual computer that integrates the online database of citations with Microsoft Word so that you can automatically insert references in term papers. It’s called Write-N-Cite and it’s a RefWorks add-in to the Microsoft Word family of word processing software. Download the client piece and it will install a button on your Word toolbar:

Click it and it will load a copy of your references into a new window. Need to cite one of them in your article? Switch to Write-N-Cite and find the reference:

You can filter by folder or other view, of course. To cite a reference in your article , click “Cite.” The software will insert a bookmark into your document. It will look kind of strange, but all will be well. When you’re done citing, click Bibliography. The software will process your document and create and save a new version with a bibliography matching your bookmarked citations.

So, here’s the upside. This saves a lot of time. With search tools like WorldCat, you can generate a complete list of citations in very short time. You can even use the search engines to produce citations for works you’ve found through other sources. The database is stored on RefWorks server, so you can get at your collection at any time from any computer. And, it’s free.

The downside? I’ve found that the bibliography occasionally needs some friendly massaging. You might have to go into the automatically created record and fix a thing or two that the export function doesn’t handle as smoothly as you might like. Even so, the net result will almost certainly save you time and energy.

One last piece of advice. There is a bit of a learning curve. Don't expect to master this from scratch the week before your term project is due, and don't try Write-N-Cite untested on your paper until you're satisfied you understand it on a scratch copy of something and know which is really the final version! The best time to start with this is at the beginning of the semester when the crush isn't on, or perhaps between semesters as you plan for what's coming up.

There are some high-end product that may serve you better if you have the bucks to spend and that may be friendlier when you're writing formal articles for publication. ProCite and EndNote are commercial products that might be worth investigating, especially after you leave the University and don’t have free access to RefWorks, or you can purchase a subscription to RefWorks after you matriculate. In either case, it’s easy to export your database and take it with you when you leave.

Start to explore RefWorks at http://www.library.arizona.edu/help/tutorials/refworks/.

Next Time:

RefWorks is great for traditional references, but what about all those web pages you keep needing to cite? Next time, we’ll look at a couple of very interesting – and free – tools that will automatically keep track of your web cites much the way RefWorks keeps track of traditional books and journals. Yes, they produce automatic bibliographies, and can even make resource sharing and technologies like RSS easy and automatic. Stay Tuned!

Briefly Noted:

If you're a Windows user, take a gander at www.primopdf.com for a free tool that installs as a print driver and lets you take anything you could print and produces a PDF file for upload to your web pages. PDF formatted files are universally readable on a wide variety of platforms and preferable to publishing a native Word, PowerPoint or other proprietary document. MAC users have had the capability of outputting to PDF directly for a while, but the Windows world still needs a third party program. Rumors are that the next version of Office will include this capability, but in the mean time, PrimoPDF is nifty and free. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the full Adobe Acrobat product, but then it doesn’t cost $300 either.

How to cite this document:
Fulton, B. (2005). School tools part II: Refworks. BiblioTech, 3(2). Retrieved [insert date here], from: http://www.sir.arizona.edu/lso/bibliotech/2005nov_vol3_no2

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