Should I be using a citation management tool?

I took a brief look through the forums at citation management tools that play with Scrivener, and so far they look like a steep learning curve for not a huge gain compared to the way I’m dealing with citations inside Scrivener. If I’m wrong about this, I’d like to find out sooner rather than later.

Context: At the momentary I’m reviewing 20 years/2 million words/18 volumes of research notes on topic XYZ, From this, in a separate Scrivener project I’ll call Reference, I’m creating a glossary, bibliography, and short bios for people. Each entry in Reference is a Scrivener document, tagged for which volume(s) it appears in. The content of the notes is mostly original research, so although the Reference glossary is big, the number of bibliography and sources entries are modest. One of my requirements for all three types of entries is to be able to keep notes in there about what this is, how it’s relevant, my gauge of its usefulness, etc. I’m tagging each entry in Reference with which volume it belongs to, so that when all three sets of entries are done I can just select the entries tagged vol4 and drag them into the appropriate folders of the Volume 4 Scrivener project and be done.

In the future, I plan to publish a bunch of nonfiction white papers and books on a variety of topics and so I’ll be doing a lot more citationy sorts of things, though not academic publishing.

How do I tell if I’m at the point where a citation management tool would be a net gain rather than a time suck? What are the tradeoffs of using such a tool vs. manually doing entries in Scrivener?

There are advantages and disadvantages in reference managers. The big advantage, in my view, is that you do not have to worry about how to format the references in your writing. The bibiographic manager does it for you, often in a matter of seconds. In academia it may be essential to format the same piece of writing in different ways because you may need or want to submit it to more than one publication, and they may demand different styles of formatting for both the in-text citations and the reference section at the end. I wrote a 560-page history book that had something like 350 citations, and formatting them all at the end of the writing process really only took minutes. Had I needed to change the style for any reason, it would have been relatively easy.

One other benefit is that my bibliographic database is portable, in the sense that I can consult it on my phone as well as my Mac, and the entries I have made can be used in any text-editing program. Since 1993, my database has migrated through about four or five different bibliographic programs, and been used to insert entries into everything from TextEdit, Scrivener, MS Word, DEVONthink, iThoughts, and many others I have forgotten.

Added to this, I suppose I always know where to look if I need to check a reference.

In the end, it depends on what you want to do, and your preferred method of going about it. Others could no doubt list may other advantages, but that is what immediately comes to my mind. It undoubtedly takes a bit of work to build a good database, but it is a lot easier now than it used to be. A lot of catalogue entries can be imported automatically these days, and one can search for material on sites like Google Scholar right from inside a program like Bookends.

Best of luck with it!

Thank you, mbbntu, that is very helpful.

Does your reference manager allow you to annotate each reference with what it is, what it’s relevant for, why it’s relevant, etc.? Or does it only track the information that might need to go in a reference or citation?

It does all of those things, and much more.

Since 1993 the reference managers I have used are: EndNote, Bookends, Sente (now defunct), Papers, and Bookends again. I have also tried BibDesk, Mendeley, and Zotero. Mendeley was awful, and the others didn’t really appeal to me.

I presently use Bookends (, which is very powerful, and has a developer who is very active in updating the application (various services like Google Scholar and JSTOR seem to have a penchant for changing the way you can access their data). Bookends has a lot of features to go with its power, and I could well understand if others preferred something simpler. But I find it worthwhile, even if I don’t make great use of what it can do. For me, it is nice to know that the power is there if I should need it.

I’ve attached a screenshot of the main window with the rating menu pulled down. It will give you an idea of what things look like.
[attachment=2]Screenshot 2021-04-15 at 11.34.44.png[/attachment]

The side panel can show notes for the item in the database:
[attachment=1]Screenshot 2021-04-15 at 11.35.59.png[/attachment]

You can also view attached documents, such as pdfs, within the program, and also annotate them.
[attachment=0]Screenshot 2021-04-15 at 11.37.15.png[/attachment]

In short, I find Bookends to be an invaluable tool in my work. It holds so much information for me. But not everyone will need or want such a comprehensive tool.

Oh, and an additional piece of information – you can search online from within Bookends:
[attachment=0]Screenshot 2021-04-15 at 11.40.30.png[/attachment]

This makes capturing information much easier and quicker.

I am not the OP, but this is really useful insight and advice.

Thanks, mbbntu, for sharing.


Thanks Merx, glad it was some use to someone :slight_smile: