How to Use RefWorks for Reference Management (A Detailed Guide)

What is RefWorks?

RefWorks is an online research tool that allows you to organize your references, create citations and bibliographies as well as collaborate with fellow researchers.

RefWorks is developed and managed by ProQuest Company.

How to access RefWorks

Most institutions have a web page on their library site with instructions for creating a RefWorks account.

If you are a student in such institutions, just follow the registration links to create your account.

However, if your institution does not have a library web page, follow these simple steps below:

  • On your browser, go to
  • Click on ‘create account’.
  • Sign up using your student’s email account. You will be prompted to click on ‘check’.
  • RefWorks verifies your email’s domain to ensure that your institution has a RefWorks subscription. Nonetheless, some institutions allow you to use any email. Contact them for this option.
  • Enter your password, agree to the terms, conditions and privacy policy before clicking ‘sign up’.
  • RefWorks will then send you an account activation link to your email.
  • Click the link and activate your account.
  • A new window will open – the welcome to RefWorks window.
  • Enter your first and last names. Your name will be displayed on your dashboard and also on emails you send when sharing RefWorks folders.
  • You will also see a drop down list of departments or positions to choose. These are mainly for reporting purposes, so that your institution can identify you.
  • Click ‘next’. Other help pages may pop up for you to click.
  • Finally, you are ready to get started with RefWorks.

Core functions in RefWorks

As a researcher, there are essential functions in RefWorks that you will use most frequently.

Once you log into your account, the interface displays numerous icons and buttons.

These are:

Has options like:

  1. Add

Allows you upload, import, add new folders, documents or citations.

  1. Share

Enables you to share your projects, citations and research materials with others.

  1. Assign to folder

Lets you organize your documents in specific folders.

  1. Delete

Any items you move here cannot be retrieved for use. They are lost forever.

  1. Create bibliographies: This option allows you to create quick bibliographies from selected references. You can then copy your bibliography list and use it elsewhere. When you click on this icon, it has three options namely, Create bibliography, Quick Cite and Citation Style Editor.
  2. Add tags

Enables you to search for existing tags or add new ones to your references.

  • Select one or more references. Click on this icon and type in the tag name.
  • RefWorks will list all existing tags that match your search query.
  • Select the tags and they will be attached to your references.
  1. Tools

Contains additional powerful tools for your references. When you click on this icon, you will see three options:

  • Find duplicates – searches your library for duplicate references, but does not search in shared folders.
  • Bulk edit – use this to manage all metadata for your references.
  • Tools – use this option to improve your research process. For example, it allows you to bookmark and save web pages to RefWorks. It also allows you to save references in Word processor, Google documents or Hangul word processor.
  1. Search

Allows you to search for any document or references within your account. The advanced search button allows you to search in specific folders or fields of information.

On the left, you will see icons for:

All documents

When starting, you will use the ‘All Documents’ page. This displays all your references and documents.

By default, they are sorted according to dates, starting with the most recent references. However, you can choose other sorting methods.

To do this, click on the ‘sort by’ drop down arrow on the extreme right on this window. For example, you can sort by date accessed, title, author or reference ID.

When you click on any reference in the ‘All Document’ page, a side-bar appears. This contains additional bibliographic details. Depending on the content, you can read the full text, if you had either saved it on RefWorks or have a link to your institution’s discovery service.

The side-bar also allows you to edit your references. Click on the ‘pencil’ icon to edit

Search databases

Use this to retrieve any document, bibliographies or references.

Last imported

This icon on the left allows you to also view references. When you click on it, it displays the most recent references.

It groups references as per the import date.

It also allows you to know whether your references have added tags or have been moved into folders.


This icon has numerous sharing options.

My folders

This contains all your folders.


Contains all your reference tags. You can also organize the tags using this icon.


Use this to store unwanted references. Select and drag the references here. In case you want to use them in future, move them into an active folder.

At the bottom left, you will see privacy policy, cookie policy as well as terms and conditions.

How to view references

There are several view modes for your references.

Use the drop down arrow next to the ‘sort by’ arrow.

View Modes Include:

1.Normal view

Opens by default. However, anytime you use RefWorks, it remembers the last view you used and opens your references in that mode.

2.Table view

Only shows a few key fields. It comes in handy when you want to scan through multiple references at once.

3.Full view

Displays all fields on the page.

4.Citation view

  • Displays references in your chosen bibliographic citation format.
  • It also indicates if your citations lack any data as per your chosen bibliography style. These missing details are highlighted in yellow, so you will be able to fill in.
  • Lastly, the citation view displays metadata that is recommended for a particular citation style by highlighting them in blue.

How to export references

RefWorks integrates many online databases as well as discovery tools. This simplifies your research process whenever you want to export references.

Examples of discovery tools include: Primo from Ex Libris, EBSCO, World Cat Local, Encore from Innovative Interfaces and Summon from ProQuest.

In addition, there are hundreds of online databases to use. Most institutions have linked these tools to their RefWorks.

Here are two ways you can export references.

Method 1

  • When you find the references you want to save on your RefWork account, open the available tool you want to export to.
  • This will take you to your RefWork account where you can click on the ‘save’ button. From here, you are free to store the references on appropriate folders.

Method 2

Some online databases lack the ‘export’ option. Do not worry. RefWork still provides you with a tool for this. Here is a quick method:

  • Click on ‘Tools’ from the menu bar. Select ‘tools’ sub-menu where you will see a blue prompt ‘Install Save to RefWorks’. Click on it.
  • You will see a grey button written ‘Save to RefWorks’. This button acts as a bookmarklet that is added to your browser. Depending on your browser, this button may or may not appear on web pages.
  • If your browser allows, you will then see it on any web pages you wish to save. Click on it. RefWorks bookmark will then scan the saved pages to identify fields such as author, title or URL. You can add more details in case they are missing.
  • After this, click on the ‘Save to RefWorks’ button at the bottom. You can even save as a PDF. The reference will now be added to your account. You are free to edit or read it anytime.

How to create and add references

Method 1

  • Use the ‘Add’ button from the menu bar.
  • To upload a document, click on ‘Add’. Choose ‘Upload document’.
  • Locate the document from your computer and open it. RefWorks will start uploading the file.
  • Another way of adding documents is by dragging the selected documents. Drag and drop them onto your reference folders or tabs.
  • While uploading, RefWorks scans through crucial details and adds them to the reference information.

Method 2

  • From the ‘Add’ button, click on the second option, ‘Import References’. This prompts you to select a reference manager to import from.
  • Click the appropriate button of your preferred reference manager.
  • You will then be prompted to authorize.
  • From here, you will be taken to the login page of the other reference manager.
  • Follow all the steps to import your references into RefWorks.

Some reference management softwares may prompt you to export your documents as RIS (Research Information System) files.

This format allows the two reference programs to exchange data. Save such files into your computer before importing to RefWorks.

Drag the saved files to the import page. RefWorks will let you know the reference format. However, you can edit it as you like.

  • Click the import button and choose a storage folder. Complete the process by clicking on ‘Import’. Your references should now appear on your account.

Method 3

Add references manually. This is applicable in cases where there are no electronic versions of the references you want.

To do this,

  • Click ‘Add’ from the menu bar.
  • Choose ‘Create New Reference’.
  • A side-bar will pop up, prompting you to choose a reference type. This can be a book, article, journal, etc.
  • Fill in other details on the drop down arrows. RefWorks may assist you in this.
  • Next, on the right side of the title, you will see a ‘lightning bolt’. Click on it.
  • RefWorks will then search from databases and list all possible matches. You will see them from the blue button ‘Did you mean one of these?’.
  • Continue adding more details to the fields, in case your references don’t show up.
  • If you find your match, click on it. RefWorks will complete the remaining fields for you.
  • If you want to create a bibliography, you will need to complete other details that don’t appear by default. Do this by clicking on ‘Add more fields’.
  • Once you are through, save. Your references will be added to your account.

Method 4

  • Use the ‘Search Databases’ feature on the left side of your interface.
  • This option displays all publicly available databases and library catalogs. However, this option depends on your institution’s choice of database providers.
  • From the drop down menu, select the available provider.
  • Enter your keywords and click on ‘Search’.
  • References will then appear. When you click on any, you will see a side-bar with complete details.
  • Select the references you want and either click the ‘import’ button or ‘folder icon’, if you want them stored in a particular folder.

With any of the four methods, creating references becomes easy.

How to edit references

You can either edit references before saving them to RefWorks or after.

How to edit references before saving to RefWorks:

There are two ways of editing references before saving to RefWorks, both of which we have already highlighted above, when creating references.

Method 1

  • When using the ‘Save to RefWorks’ bookmarklet for saving web pages, it automatically scans them for information.
  • It then displays the page on a side-bar, from which you can edit by adding more data, fields or even correct existing information.

Method 2

When creating references manually, you can edit before saving them.

  • Use the ‘Add more fields’ button to change, correct or add more details.

How to edit references after saving to RefWorks

Method 1

  • Click on the reference you want to edit. A side-bar will appear on the right.
  • Click the ‘edit’ icon from where you can change or add information. For instance, you can edit the reference type, add fields, create custom fields, add attachments and any other metadata.

Method 2

To edit multiple references,

  • Select all references that need to be changed.
  • Go to ‘Tools’ from the menu bar.
  • Choose the ‘Bulk edit’ option.
  • This tool allows you to add, delete or replace data to a specific field in all the selected references.

How to organize references using My Folders

All RefWorks references are visible from the ‘All Documents’ or ‘Last Imported icons. These references may or may not yet be stored in folders.

To organize references not in folders:

  • Click the ‘My Folders’ and select ‘Not in folder’ option. You will see the number of references in brackets.
  • Create as many folders as you want using the ‘Add a folder’ button. Name the folders before organizing the references. Try and name your folders according to subjects. This will help you to group and store references as per a particular subject.
  • You can also create sub-folders within folders. Use the ‘More Options’ link.
  • Arrange folders by dragging and dropping them in your preferred order.
  • Another way of organizing references to folders is by using the ‘Assign to Folders’ option from the menu bar. Select references to organize and click the ‘assign to Folders’ icon. This option allows you to assign a reference to multiple folders.

How to share folders

  • Open the ‘Sharing’ icon on the left side.
  • Choose folders to share.
  • A new window appears for ‘Sharing Settings’. Choose who will access the folders.
  • In the ‘Share with’ typing box, add the email addresses of everyone you want to share folders with.
  • On the right side, you will be prompted to choose whether the invited people can only read, annotate or modify (edit, delete, add) the contents.
  • Once through, the people will receive an email address to accept the shared folders. When they open their accounts, they can accept the invitation.
  • In case someone doesn’t have a RefWorks account, use the ‘Public URL’ option in the ‘Sharing Settings’ window. Enter the reference URL and they will be able to access it. However, they won’t be able to modify or annotate the references.

To unshare folders

  • Click the ‘Unshare Folder’ at the bottom of the ‘Sharing Settings’ window.
  • Click the ‘Remove URL’ option in case you used the ‘Public URL’ choice.

How to write a research paper using RefWorks

RefWorks supplies you with effective writing tools for your research papers.

Here are four tools you can use:

  1. RefWorks Citation Manager
  2. Write-N-Cite
  3. ProQuest RefWorks for Google Docs
  4. Quick Cite

Find them on ‘Tools’ from the menu bar.

RefWorks Citation Manager

This tool works with the latest versions of Microsoft Word in Windows, MacOS as well as iPad.

Install it from Microsoft Store.

  • To install this tool, open Word, go to ‘Insert’ from the menu bar. Click on ‘Get Add-ins’.
  • Once installed, you are ready to use it.
  • RefWorks Citation Manager has its own tab.
  • Click to open the tab. A sidebar will appear.
  • You will be prompted to login using your RefWorks credentials.
  • The side-bar displays your RefWorks references.
  • Go to the ‘All References’ menu and select the ‘Change Project’ option to access all folders that contain all the references you will use.
  • This tool allows you to change the citation styles. To do this, click the ‘View’ menu at the top of the sidebar and select ‘Citation style’.
  • To insert references, either obtain them from the sidebar or search for them using ‘search all references’. When you hover over a reference, there are two prompts, either ‘cite this’ or ‘edit this’. Click on ‘cite this’. The reference will be inserted where your cursor is on the editor.
  • To insert multiple references, select all of them, click on ‘Insert Citation’ at the top.
  • To create a bibliography for your research paper, go to ‘View’ and turn Bibliography on. At the end of your research paper, a bibliography section will appear with all the citations. As you continue adding citations to your paper, the bibliography list will adjust automatically.


If you have older versions of Word, this tool is compatible.

Write-N-Cite is available offline, hence comes in handy when you want to write your research paper anywhere.

In Word, Write-N-Cite appears as a tab in the menu.

  • Login to your RefWorks account to use this tool.
  • Select your RefWorks project that contains all references you will use.
  • Choose the citation style for your paper.
  • To insert citations, click the ‘Insert Citation’ icon at the top-left. Select ‘Insert New’.
  • A pop-up screen appears. Here, choose the folder that has the citations for your paper. Alternatively, use the search box to locate the citation. You will see its preview.
  • Click ‘OK’ and the citation will be added to your paper.
  • All citations will appear on the ‘Insert Citation’ drop down icon. As such, you can click there anytime you need to re-use the citations.
  • To create a bibliography, select the ‘Bibliography Options’, click on ‘Insert Bibliography’.
  • Write-N-Cite also adds codes for your references. To remove them, click on ‘Remove Field Codes’ from the menu bar. This is important if you want to have a neat paper, especially during publishing.

ProQuest RefWorks for Google Docs

This is a plug-in that allows you to use your RefWorks references when writing on Google Docs.

  • After installing it, access it from the ‘Add-ons’ option. Select it and click on ‘Manage citations’.
  • Your RefWorks references will appear in a sidebar on the right.
  • Unlike the previous two, this tool has no provision for changing projects. As such, ensure the project you want to access your references from is active in your RefWorks account.
  • Choose folders that contain the references you need. You can also edit the citation styles.
  • When inserting references, hover over the one you want. There are two prompts to choose from, either ‘cite this’ or ‘edit and cite’. Click the ‘cite this’.
  • A bibliography section also appears at the end of your research paper.

Quick Cite

This is a valuable tool when you neither use Google Docs nor Word.

To use this,

  • Go to your RefWorks account.
  • Select references to use.
  • Go to ‘Create Bibliography’ from the menu bar.
  • Select quick cite.
  • A pop-up window appears on the left. If necessary, change the citation style.
  • Click ‘Continue’.
  • Select the references you will use in your paper by checking the boxes. They will appear in a box at the top.
  • Copy the references by clicking the button on the right of that box. Click the ‘Copy to Clipboard’ button at the bottom.
  • Switch over to the research paper and paste them there.
  • All the copied references will have a blue and white star icon.
  • Click on the ‘Continue to bibliography’ button. All the starred citations will appear in the bibliography.
  • Once again, click the ‘Copy to Clipboard’ to copy the bibliography.
  • Lastly, paste it onto your research paper.


RefWorks is a straightforward referencing manager.  It is your research manager in whichever stage of research you are in, whether you want to share your library with fellow researchers, import references, work offline, edit citations as well as publish your paper.

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Grace Njeri-Otieno

Grace Njeri-Otieno is a Kenyan, a wife, a mom, and currently a PhD student, among many other balls she juggles. She holds a Bachelors' and Masters' degrees in Economics and has more than 7 years' experience with an INGO. She was inspired to start this site so as to share the lessons learned throughout her PhD journey with other PhD students. Her vision for this site is "to become a go-to resource center for PhD students in all their spheres of learning."

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