EndNote has become an important tool in the belts of researchers, scientists, and students around the world. But is it truly the most effective, or just the most popular? And for academics on a budget (which, let’s be honest – we all are), does the high ticket price force you to look elsewhere? This article first explains what academic software solutions are used for, then breaks down the pros and cons of EndNote, Zotero, Mendeley, ReadCube, and of course, Auratikum!
Not in the mood for a long read? Skip to the summary – TL;DR.
What Can Academic Software Do For Me?
Regardless of your level of mastery – from undergraduate, to doctoral candidate, to veteran researcher, professor, or academic author – writing the perfect paper is a near impossible goal. The academic lifestyle is a stressful one! Whether you’re in need of a note-taking tool, a reference manager, or an all-around knowledge organizer, you have an incredible array of digital tools at your disposal. The challenge? Finding the perfect one for you and your workflow.
EndNote: The Popular Kid
EndNote (or more specifically, “EndNote X9”) has become the go-to in reference management for researchers and scientists, and is beginning to drip down to the student level. EndNote tackles what it believes are the biggest challenges for its user base, namely (1) the tedious work of manually collecting citations and formatting bibliographies, and (2) remotely coordinating this curation of citations with your colleagues. So if those are your biggest hurdles, EndNote might be perfect for you!
EndNote integrates many platforms to offer powerful search functionality across a detailed online archive of sources and PDFs. It also pairs nicely with Microsoft Word through its “Cite While You Write” plugin, automatically generating a bibliography while you make in-text citations.
Cost: $299 physical, $249 digital license
Compatibility: Microsoft, MacOS
Installation: Desktop application, Microsoft Word plug-in
Why Not EndNote?
With all that reference managing power comes an unfortunate dose of complexity. EndNote has had to create a fully fleshed out “Training Channel” on YouTube just to teach users how to begin using the software. Considering that their audience is trying to simplify their workflow, taking a seminar just to learn how to begin using the tool is not a particularly attractive offer. It’s not particularly user-friendly, and a vast majority of EndNote users never come close to actually making the most of the platform or taking advantage of what they paid for.
On that note, we reach the main crux of EndNote – it’s far from affordable with no introductory pricing or easily-accessible free trial, and though there is a student discount, its hefty price tag is likely to put it out of reach for most undergraduate or graduate students. Ready for some great alternatives?
Mendeley: Smart & Social
Mendeley comes close to the power of EndNote at potentially a fraction of the cost – their pricing model removes the flat license fee and instead bills you monthly based on how much storage you require. It’s free to start and use with up to 2GB of storage, with fairly-priced tiers at 5GB, or go beyond with unlimited storage. Mendeley is an “all-inclusive” reference manager, allowing you to first find relevant documents and publications, annotate them as you read, and then easily add them to your library for later reference. Once you’re ready to build a bibliography, just access your Mendeley library, import any outside sources, and select a referencing style – Mendeley does the rest and builds a perfect citation page for your paper.
It’s the closest direct alternative to EndNote, and also offers a “cite as you write” plug-in for Word (and Word for Mac). An added strength is the communal aspect of Mendeley; touting themselves as a research network of over 6 million users who contribute to, organize, and refine a database of over 65 million peer-reviewed articles. However, those articles are largely limited to PDFs, and if you have a diverse source list spanning non-digital media, it may prove difficult to automate your bibliography every time. If outreach, networking, and sharing your work is especially important, Mendeley might be the tool and community for you.
Cost: Free up to 2GB, $4.99 monthly to 5GB, $9.99 monthly for up to 10GB and $14.99 monthly for unlimited capacity
Compatibility: Microsoft, MacOS, and Linux
Installation: Desktop application, web browser version, and mobile app.
It can’t get more budget-friendly than Zotero, which is completely free to use and as an open-source alternative, is likely to stay that way for good. You can’t really ask for much more from a free software – Zotero allows to find sources, organize them with tags and/or keywords, and build simple bibliographies. It’s still a barebones platform that entirely focuses on listing references only; missing elements like advanced searching, note-taking, or annotating.
It’s a bit old-fashioned and isn’t exactly the height of usability; the desktop app feels clunky and while it does offer cloud sync, there is no web/browser access or mobile app to keep your work flexible. Zotero’s open source nature has its pros and cons – what you gain in free access and peace of mind as far as data usage, you sacrifice in user experience, customer service, and in-app functionality. Zotero is also designed to be used in conjunction with other platforms for note-taking, PDF reading, and paper-writing, so if you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, this isn’t the one. That being said, Zotero is a powerful tool that’s completely free, so there’s no harm in downloading it, giving it a trial run, and seeing how it works for you!
Compatibility: Microsoft, MacOS and Linux
Installation: Desktop application
Papers by ReadCube: Deep & Detailed
ReadCube’s reference manager, Papers, is a strong contender at a reasonable price point. It offers much of the same functionality as EndNote and Mendeley, falling just short in terms of usability and functionality. Papers’ in-app PDF reader is fantastic, and if you’re confident that a majority of your references will come from PDF articles, the ability to easily read, annotate, organize, and later cite PDFs is virtually unmatched.
However, Papers is a bit limited to that extent; when dealing with a great majority of your sources in PDF form and only looking for referencing and citation help, Papers can be a great alternative. But if you have a wider variety of sources to import, or would also look to add note-taking, paper-structuring, or knowledge organization assistance, Papers will likely have to be used in combination with several other tools. The software is also developing a reputation for inconsistent functionality and glitchy elements, with a flood of 1-star reviews for its mobile app. Again, they do offer a free 30 day trial, so feel free to give it a go and decide for yourself!
Cost: 30 days free, $3 monthly
Compatibility: Microsoft, MacOS
Installation: Desktop, Browser, Mobile app, Microsoft Word plug-in
Auratikum: The All-Rounder
Auratikum is a reference manager on par with the best of EndNote, Mendeley, and the others, but is unique in that it is truly the only academic software you need throughout the entire research process. Even EndNote, with its hefty price and incredible searching power is still designed to be just a single tool of many that a researcher might use to write a paper. While all of the above have their respective merits when it comes to reference management, none offer the full spectrum of academic support.
Auratikum is designed to guide you through the process and organize your knowledge at every step. First, you can write clear, concise notes that link back to source material and can be tagged or sorted however you like. Those notes can then be organized, brainstormed, and drafted into a coherent narrative structure that allows you to present your research or argument in a convincing and easily understandable way. The usual step of copy-pasting into Word or Google Docs can be skipped – write your paper within the Auratikum window and have easy access to all of your resources and references just a click away. Finally, those same references can be easily dropped into your citation style and added to your paper in a beautiful bibliography (hint: that’s the only step all the other tools can claim to do!). Once you’re proud of the finished project, Auratikum can also be used to share your work with the community and bring your research the attention it deserves.
Auratikum is a more intuitive cloud-based academic software, bringing the principles of the famous (and time-tested) Slipbox Method into the 21st century. It provides a more accessible, more comprehensive writing assistant that will complement your personal workflow – from your first phase of research down to the final citation in your bibliography.
Cost: Free to start, Premium packages available between $6.99 and $11.99 per month.
Compatibility: Microsoft, MacOS, & Linux
There are a ton of academic software tools to choose from, and finding the perfect one for your workflow will probably include some trial and error. What’s important to keep in mind is “What challenge is this tool trying to solve?”. Knowing the answer to that question for each tool you’re considering will allow you to see how their product aligns with your needs.
EndNote is tackling the tediousness of manually citing references, as well as collaboration between colleagues. But what if you work alone and need more than just citation help? Zotero, Mendeley, and Papers are affordable alternatives, but each have their drawbacks – no PDF readability, only PDF readability, too simple and lacking detail, or over-detailed and impossible to learn quickly… it all depends on you!
If you’re looking for a single tool to use throughout your paper-writing process, look no further than Auratikum. As much power as the other tools have, they are largely limited to reference management and fall short when it comes to note-taking, knowledge-organizing, and actual paper-writing. Try Auratikum for free today!