How To Use Mendeley For Reference Management (An Illustrative Guide)

There are many reference management softwares in the market, which make students’ work easier by performing several functions including:

  • Creating a library of reading materials
  • Inserting in-text citations automatically
  • Creating bibliographies or reference lists automatically
  • Changing between different referencing styles automatically
  • Taking notes digitally on the reading materials, among others.

Mendeley is one of the reference management softwares that are popular among students, both at undergraduate and graduate levels. This post provides a detailed guide on how to use Mendeley using practical illustrations. It covers the following topics:

Installing Mendeley

Mendeley works in three different operating systems namely: Mac, Windows and Linux. Download based on the operating system you use.

*For those on MacOS, please note that Mendeley does not support later versions (from 10.14). If you install in these versions and try to open it, you will get the error message “Mendeley Desktop can’t be opened because Apple cannot check it for malicious software.

  • After downloading and installing it, it is important to register for a free account. This enables you to access your account anywhere because your library will be saved to the clouds.
Mendeley account opening
  • Next, install two important add-ons: 1) MS Word plugin; and 2) Web importer from Mendeley’s tools tab.
Mendeley MS Word and Web Importer add-ins

The MS Word plugin integrates Mendeley with Microsoft Word therefore enabling the user to automatically insert in-text citations and create bibliographies.

The Web Importer, on the other hand, enables the user to save a web document directly from the internet to Mendeley.

How to create folders in Mendeley

The best way to organize your library of reading materials is by creating folders in Mendeley and adding papers to their relevant folders.

There are two ways of creating folders in Mendeley:

  • By adding folders that already exist in your computer:

To do this, go to the first icon on the far-left with a + sign and click the drop-down menu. Then click on “add folder.”

A dialog box will open showing the folders in your computer and asking you to select the folder to be added to your Mendeley library. Choose the folder you want to add and click OK. The folder will now appear in your library.

  • By creating folders manually:

To do this, click on the “create folder” option under the library pane and type in the name of the folder. In this example, a folder named “literature review” was created through this method.

How to add files to your Mendeley folders

To add files to folders in Mendeley library, you can:

  • Drag and drop into the folders
  • Use the Web Importer add-in

The Web Importer add-in enables the user to add a document obtained from a website directly into Mendeley without having to save it to the computer first.

How to use Mendley’s MS Word plugin for citations and creating bibliographies

The Mendeley’s MS Word plugin enables the user to insert citations and create bibliographies or reference lists automatically into Word documents. This saves students the amount of time and effort that would otherwise be spent doing the tasks manually.

Inserting in-text citations

  • Open the Word document and go to the References tab. In the References tab, you will see Mendeley with various options including citations and bibliographies, as shown below:
  • Click on the “insert citations” tab. A dialogue box will open with a search bar. In the search bar, type the name of the authors or the title of the publication you want to search, then select from the results shown and click OK. Mendeley will insert the citations automatically.

See an example below:

Creating bibliographies or reference lists

  • From the References tab, click on “insert bibliography.”
  • Mendeley will automatically insert bibliographies for all the in-text citations in the document.

Specifying the referencing style

The in-text citations and reference lists/bibliographies need to follow a specific referencing style that is recommended by the user’s institution. The style may be MLA, APA, Harvard, Chicago etc.

To specify the referencing style, go to the References tab, then click on “style” and choose the recommended style from the drop-down menu, as shown below:

Mendeley will format all in-text citations and bibliographies using the specified referencing style.

A student can also change the referencing style automatically as and when required. For instance, if a student is publishing a journal paper whose referencing style requirement is different from that of the university, he can just go back to the referencing style drop-down menu and select the recommended style. Mendeley will change the style of the in-text citations and bibliography automatically.

Taking notes and highlighting documents in Mendeley

Another useful feature of Mendeley is its ability to highlight documents and take notes in documents using the “highlight” and “note” functions of Mendeley found in the Tools menu.

Taking notes

There are two ways of taking notes using Mendeley:

On the right-hand pane of Mendeley, there is an option for “notes” (see below) where you can write your notes as you read a document.

The second option involves making notes in the document itself. To do this, open the document in Mendeley, then click on the “note” tab, and make your notes anywhere in the document where you deem fit.

All the notes you make in the document will be listed below the “general notes” section of the “notes” tab as “private annotations” in the right-hand pane. See illustrations below:

Related post: 9 Note-Taking Tips For PhD Research

Highlighting documents

In addition to taking notes and making annotations, you can also highlight text in a document.

To highlight a text, open the pdf document in Mendeley, then click on the “highlight” tab, and highlight the text of your choice.

Comparing Mendeley with Zotero

Mendeley is similar to Zotero in many ways but a few differences exist between the two softwares. For instance, while Mendeley cloud facility offers 2GB of storage, Zotero provides 300MB of storage only. Mendeley’s note-taking and highlighting features are also missing in Zotero. Nevertheless both are valuable reference management tools and the choice of one over the other in most cases is a matter of preference.

In conclusion, Mendeley is a free reference management software with cloud storage. It is a powerful and easy-to-use tool for automatically inserting citations and creating bibliographies. It also allows users to annotate and highlight the saved pdf documents. This post provided an illustrative guide on how to install and use Mendeley.

Related posts:

How To Use Zotero For Reference Management (An Illustrative Guide)

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

How to Use EndNote for Reference Management (A Comprehensive Guide)

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

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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