Skip to Main Content

Doing the literature review: Using a reference manager

Using a reference manager for your literature review

A reference manager can be a very useful tool when you are doing a literature review. It helps you to organize your references in a systematic way.

With a reference manager you can

  • Export references from a bibliographic database to your reference manager, including, when available, the abstract and keywords used in the item record. The reference manager displays bibliographical data from different databases in a uniform format - this makes it easier to scan the titles and abstracts to decide which articles you want to read.
    Each database has its own procedure for exporting references into a reference manager. See the step-by-step guides for EUR Library databases in List of databases in the RefWorks course of the University Library.

  • Create folders to categorize your references. You can create folders per database, per topic, per 'status of the document' (to read, read, useful, not relevant), etc.

  • Use additional fields, for example the User fields in RefWorks, to add your own keywords and remarks.

  • Use the deduplicate option to locate results found in multiple databases.

  • Use the link resolver to find the full text of an article.

  • Store the PDFs in your reference manager.

The EUR supports the use of the reference manager RefWorks. The examples here are based on ProQuest RefWorks. 

Customizing User Fields in Refworks

RefWorks has a large number of assigned fields; Authors, Title, Pub Year, etc. Some fields are assigned only for particular reference types, for example Accessed, Year – a required field in some output styles for web pages. 

In addition, there are 15 User fields. The content of these fields is not pre-defined. By default they are called User 1, User 2, etc. but you can give them a more practical name. You can use them to add your own comments and keywords to records in your RefWorks database.

  • Click your name at the top of the page
  • Click Settings
  • Scroll down the page to the section Custom Fields
  • Click Add a new custom field and enter the name of the field
  • Click Save

To use the custom fields, click a reference and click the Edit button (the pencil), scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click Add more fields... and scroll through the list to find your custom fields. You can recognize them by '(custom)' behind the name. You can make your custom fields visible by using the Full View display option.

Please note: the data you enter in the user fields is not controlled - you don't get suggestions based on what you’ve entered in that field before.

Deduplicate records in RefWorks

When you import references from several databases, it's likely that some titles appear more than once in your RefWorks database. This can cause problems when using Write-n-Cite, because the ID-numbers of these references are different. RefWorks sees and treats them as different titles. It's possible to search for duplicates in your RefWorks database:

  1. Click on Tools at the top of the page.
  2. Select Find duplicates.

You can also limit the search for duplicates to a certain folder:

  1. Click the name of the folder on the left side of the screen
  2. Click on Tools at the top of the page.
  3. Select Find duplicates
  4. You can choose between the selected folder or All references. 

You have to choose between Exact Match, Close Match or "Legacy" Close Match. When you select Exact Match, RefWorks will search for references that are exactly the same, based on the author(s), title and publication date. With Close Match RefWorks also checks these fields, but the fields don't have to be exactly the same - the data are weighted for their similarity. The "Legacy" Close Match uses a matching algorithm from Legacy RefWorks. 

You have to decide which record you want to delete - maybe you want to keep the record with the abstract or the record that is more complete than the other. RefWorks automatically marks the records, but you can change that selection. Mark the record you don't want and click Delete.

Caution: In the list of duplicates all references are shown. Make sure that the unique reference you want to keep isn't deleted!

Exporting large sets of references

When you do a literature review, you might want to export large sets of references to your reference manager. In some databases that's easy - you can export a large number of references in one request or you can select the references by entering the numbers of the references you want to export. For example, in Web of Science you can select up to a 1000 records at a time, for example 1 to 1000 in your first export and then 1001 to 2000 etc. 

In EBSCO and ProQuest databases, the export of large sets of reference can take more steps.


  • Change the number of results per page - the default is 20, the maximum is 50. This option is available in the Page Options dropdown list. Then you can add 50 results to a folder (via Share > Add to folder) instead of 20. 
  • When you open the Share dropdown list, you can use the Export Results option to receive an e-mail with a link to your search results in RIS format. The link in the e-mail is valid for 168 hours. However, this file might be too large for your reference manager to handle. Unfortunately there is no clear information about the limits. 
  • You can use the publication date filter to create smaller sets of references (for example around 500 results). Then use the Export Results option to export the sets from EBSCO and import the sets in your reference manager.

Databases: ERIC, International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (IBSS), ProQuest One Business, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts

  • Sign into My Research or Create a My Research Account - these options are visible when you click the 'person' icon in the upper right corner.
  • When you have less then 20.000 search results, you can use the Export Results option. This is option is only visible when you are signed in.
  • When you have more then 20.000 search results, you can use the filter options to create smaller sets, for example by limiting by publication date. You can export 10 sets per day.
  • Select RIS and mark Yes behind Include abstracts.
  • Click the 'person' icon in the upper right corner and click Saved Searches
  • Click Export Results below the query to download the RIS file.

Databases: EconLit, Philosopher's Index (the Export Results option is not available for these databases)

  • Sign into My Research or Create a My Research Account - these options are visible when you click the 'person' icon in the upper right corner.
  • Change the number of results per page - the default is 20, the maximum is 100. This can be changed at the bottom of the search results or via the preferences in your My Research Account.
  • Mark the box before Select 1-100, move to the bottom of the page, go the next page of results, mark the box before Select 101-200, and repeat these steps.
  • Open the folder at the top of the page.
  • Click the button with the three dots.
  • Choose your Export option.
  • Select the fields to export behind Content.
  • Click Continue.