EndNote X6 (for Mac) review

Pros

  • Best-in-class web and repository search
  • Significant institutional support
  • Bibliographies in nearly any style

Cons

  • A lot of up-front configuation
  • Individual license is quite expensive

Using EndNote X6 is a commitment. For those just entering the world of electronic reference management, it may be too much to take on: Too high a price – at £191 – not to mention too much upfront configuration, and too steep a learning curve. But there are plenty of reasons to take the plunge. Backed by Thompson Reuters and adopted by universities across the world, EndNote has earned vast institutional support – support that, if available, may level the aforementioned barriers to entry.

After seventeen releases and more than twenty years of cross-platform development, EndNote has established itself as the de facto software for reference management. Although it faces spirited competition from Zotero 3, Mendeley Desktop, and Papers 2, EndNote continues to offer the most complete package, including custom repository search, voluminous citation styles, and with the latest version, cloud-based synchronisation.

Thanks to institutional adoption, EndNote is unlikely to go anywhere, perhaps to the solace of researchers weary of beginning anew. A major commitment it might be, but EndNote will be the last one you make for some time.

Fits and starts

Having now tested several of EndNote's alternatives, I assumed that I could intuitively find my way around the software off the bat. But it immediately became clear that wasn’t the case: EndNote has a learning curve, not an insurmountable one, but a learning curve nevertheless.

The first issue I encountered was with importing my library. From previous testing, I had become accustomed to – even spoiled by – generous import support, often integrated into the setup process. For example, Papers welcomes EndNote libraries, and Mendeley offers to synchronise with Zotero. EndNote is less accommodating. You can import Refer/BibIX, RIS, and various EndNote formats, but with mixed success. When I imported my Zotero library as Refer/BibIX, I lost PDFs. With the EndNote XML import, I retained PDFs, but lost folder hierarchy.

My eagerness to test EndNote's repository search was also put on ice. EndNote supports a plethora of online searches, including EBSCO, JSTOR, ProjectMUSE, and ProQuest. To search the overwhelming majority of those repositories, however, you will need an Authentication Path. The university with which I’m affiliated supports EndNote – it even offers licensing for students and faculty – but has not updated configuration instructions. Where the IT department stonewalled, an EndNote exec quickly located the path I needed, and even supplied something called a connection file, which allowed me to search the university library catalogue.

The EndNote two-step

With the authentication path and connection file, I could perform all the searches I needed without leaving the application. When I found an article or book of interest, I could add its metadata to – or create on the fly – a folder (which EndNote calls a Group). Similar to Papers' Smart Collections, EndNote also allows users to create a dynamic folder around a set of criteria (Smart Groups).

EndNote enables researchers to retrieve article PDFs by means of a two-step process: Once you have retrieved metadata, you can right click on an article and select Find Full Text. To access this feature, however, I learned that you need something called an OpenURL path. After languorous communication with my university library and IT department, I learned that the servers did not support OpenURL, which meant that I could not test this feature. Such an omission need not prevent researchers from taking the more circuitous path of downloading PDFs and associating them with metadata.

Manual entry

For those unaffiliated with a university, repository searches remain limited, and users will likely become accustomed to manually adding metadata and PDFs. While this process can be cumbersome, EndNote does offer browser plugins for Internet Explorer and Firefox that allow you to work from your browser. Moreover, associating PDFs with metadata is as simple as a right click.

Once you have added full texts to EndNote, you can make Acrobat-compatible annotations (such as notes and highlights) to PDF files without leaving the application. There is even a feature called Find Reference Updates, which prowls Thomson Reuter's Web of Knowledge platform for minor updates to metadata, such as page numbers and journal volumes.

Cite while you write

For many researchers, the appeal of reference management resides in its ability to generate bibliographies in various formats. Here, EndNote delivers with élan. Using EndNote's customiser, I added a toolbar (“cite while you write”) to Microsoft Word. EndNote does not offer system-wide integration (as Papers citations does), but you can search your EndNote library from your word processor. You can also choose from a staggering number of citation styles – 5,230 at last count. For scholars submitting to peer reviewed journals, many publishers prefer to work with documents formatted in EndNote.

EndNote sync

Perhaps the most noteworthy addition to EndNote is the least visible: EndNoteSync. EndNote X6 adds automatic backup and synchronisation across devices. In addition to accessing and editing your library in a web browser (EndNote Web), EndNote also supports synchronisation across multiple devices thanks to a generous 5GB of storage.

I say devices because earlier this year Thomson Reuters launched an iPad app (£7) which automatically synchronises with your desktop library (see the image above). In contrast to this rather inviting app, EndNote's desktop application looks a bit long in the tooth. The next desktop version of EndNote would do well to embrace that mobile finesse, and draw from visually enticing competitors Mendeley and Papers, both of which employ more Mac-friendly iconography and tabbed structures.

Verdict

Whether you ought to invest in EndNote depends a great deal on your circumstances. If your organisation or university supports the software, EndNote is an easy pick. If, instead, you are venturing into reference management on your lonesome, you might begin with a 30-day trial. EndNote is an expensive investment in terms of both money and time.

This is not to suggest that you must go it alone: EndNote is no tech startup, and you can always speak to a human being (I relied on more than one in my testing). Certainly, there are simpler options out there, such as Zotero 3, when it comes to tracking, managing, and sharing citations. However, for those seeking the most time-tested, feature-rich reference software, EndNote still has the final word.