Critical review of referencing software when used with OSCOLA

Critical review of referencing software when used with OSCOLA

Sandra Meredith [1]

Cite as: Meredith, Sandra, 'Critical Review of Referencing Software when used with OSCOLA' , European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol. 4 No.1, 2013

Abstract

This case study considers the main features of three referencing software programs - Endnote, Refworks and Zotero - and their advantages and disadvantages for legal scholars. It defines the key useful features of referencing software as being a database for storing information about references or citations; an interface for downloading bibliographic data from catalogues and databases; an interface for inserting that information into footnotes and creating bibliographies; and the possibility of having a variety of styles in which citations can be formatted (OSCOLA, Bluebook, AGLC etc). The software is considered in light of responses to a survey of Oxford University Law Faculty academics and research students about how they manage reference information. A skills level rating is provided for each aspect of the three software programs considered. Other issues, such as storage and annotation of PDFs, sharing libraries and cross referencing of footnotes are also briefly considered.

Keywords: technology, referencing, bibliographic software, OSCOLA, Endnote, Refworks, Zotero

1. Introduction

A version of this paper was presented at the 2012 BILETA Conference in Newcastle. I had two purposes at the conference workshop: one was to find out which referencing software legal scholars used, and the other was to investigate the challenges scholars encounter in using referencing software. I was hoping for a lively discussion about the pros and cons of Endnote, Refworks and Zotero, but to my surprise hardly anyone who attended my BILETA session used referencing software. After the conference, I conducted an anonymous online survey of legal academics and research students in the Oxford University Law Faculty to learn more about referencing software usage. The paper is also informed by my experience teaching legal scholars how to use Endnote with the Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA) which is the main legal citation style in the UK (http://www.law.ox.ac.uk/oscola). Drawing on the survey responses and my experience, the paper will consider advantages, disadvantages and challenges for legal scholars in using referencing software. My focus is on the software not the scholars.

In this paper, the term 'referencing software' is used to describe computer programs that hold bibliographic data and insert that data in various styles into word-processed documents. These programs are also known as reference managers and bibliographic software. The term 'bibliographic data' is used to describe the information used in a reference or citation: author, title, publisher, year of publication and so on. The term 'reference' describes individual items in a referencing software library, and, interchangeably with 'citation', 'reference' also describes bibliographic data presented in a particular order or style in a footnote or bibliography, or in an online database. Finally, 'style' describes the order, punctuation and fonts used to present the reference in a document: a book title may be in italics or quotation marks, for example; the city of publication may or may not be included. Chicago and MLA are styles, as are OSCOLA and Bluebook.

2. About the survey

The anonymous online survey of academics and research students in the Oxford Law Faculty was completed by 65 people: 51% were academics, 41% were Doctoral students and 8% were Masters students. The main question in the survey was: 'Which of the following do you use to manage citations? That is, to record bibliographic information about sources/references/citations, and put that information into footnotes and bibliographies, and perhaps even into reading lists. You may tick more than one.' The options were: index cards; handwritten notes; notes in a word processor; Excel or Access; Endnote; Refworks; Zotero; MLZ Zotero; Mendeley; Other. The survey also asked participants to note which methods of recording citations they had tried and abandoned, and the advantages and disadvantages of the system they used.

The vast majority of respondents took notes in a word processor and/or by hand. Some 65% of respondents only used these methods: they didn't use referencing software at all. One in five had tried referencing software (mostly Endnote) and abandoned it. (The figures were the same for academics and research students.) Reasons for not using referencing software varied: some found it complicated, others found it tedious, several found they couldn't insert footnotes into their documents or that the footnotes they inserted needed a good deal of correction. Most reported that using word-processed and handwritten notes to record reference information was satisfactory although some said it was time-consuming. Several thought referencing software would be useful but didn't have time to learn how to use it or to put their existing references into it. Some used Endnote for storing records, but not for inserting reference information into footnotes or creating bibliographies.

One academic respondent expressed enthusiasm for referencing software thus: 'I have used handwritten notes, index cards and notes on a word processor, all of which were inefficient and time-consuming to create and locate and then transcribe into my document. Any changes to the footnotes had to be made manually.' This respondent listed advantages of referencing software as: 'Efficiency, completeness of data, ease of correcting and adding to citations in the library, ease of correction of footnotes, ease of locating citations and insertion into the document, immediate compliance of every footnote with OSCOLA. I could not function with the thousands of sources with which I work without Endnote.' This is how referencing software should be perceived by the user. But if it's so good, why doesn't everyone use it?

3. What does referencing software do?

The key features of referencing software for legal scholars are:

  1. a database for storing bibliographic data (citations or references), e.g., author, title, publisher/journal, year; case names and law report etc;
  2. an interface with library catalogues, online journals, and other content databases that allows the user to download/export citations into appropriate fields in the software, thus avoiding the need to type it in;
  3. an interface with word processors that allows the user to insert citations into footnotes and to create a bibliography comprised of all the citations in that chapter/article/book, again without typing; and
  4. a variety of styles in which citations can be formatted, and the ability to change the style in footnotes from, for example, OSCOLA to AGLC or Bluebook, with a couple of clicks.

Three other important features are storage and annotation of pdfs; the ability to use a reference library from more than one computer/location; and sharing references with other scholars.

The two main referencing software programs used in UK universities are Endnote and Refworks, and Zotero, an open source software, is becoming increasingly common. In my survey 40% of respondents used Endnote, 17% used Zotero and none used Refworks. In the rest of this paper I will consider how well each feature noted above works in each software, with more focus on Endnote, in good part because I am more familiar with it than the other two. I will give a skills level rating for the features considered in each software. Level 1 means the feature can be used by those who don't have time or the inclination to learn new computer skills. Level 5 means the feature needs the skills of someone who is highly computer-literate.

4. Installing the software and the OSCOLA style

Referencing software consists of two main elements: the part that holds the user's library, which is either installed on a computer or web-based, and the part used to put footnotes and bibliographies into documents, which is installed as a plug-in in word processing software. The plug-in is generally called a 'cite while you write' tool. Selecting or installing the 'output style', which controls how your references look on the page, is a third aspect of installing the software. The output style puts the relevant bits of a reference - author, title, publisher - in the right order with the correct punctuation.

4.1 Refworks

Refworks is a web-based software subscribed to by many universities and available free to students and staff. The user's library is held on the internet. University passwords are required to open an account at http://www.refworks.com. The OSCOLA output style can be selected from the Bibliography tab and added to a list of favourites. The 'Write N Cite' word processor plug-in can be downloaded from the Refworks Tools tab and is relatively simple to install. References can also be inserted and formatted in documents directly from Refworks without using the word processor plug-in.

4.2 Endnote

Endnote is software that is installed on the user's computer. Endnote Web is also available as an adjunct or stand-alone program. Some UK students have to buy Endnote but for many academics an institutional subscription is available. PCs and Macs use different versions of the software. Installation of the program is relatively straightforward, so long as the computer's operating system is compatible with the current version of Endnote. The OSCOLA style is not available in the Endnote software, but must be downloaded (for free) from http://www.law.ox.ac.uk/publications/oscola_endnote.php. Two versions of the OSCOLA style are available: OSCOLA 4th edn which is suitable for installation on institutional servers or shared computers, and OSCOLA 2 4th edn which is customised for use on personal computers. The OSCOLA 2 4th edn version has customised reference type and field headings (see section 6) and requires download and importing of an xml file called 'reftypetable'. Installation instructions are provided on the OSCOLA Endnote web page. Once the style is installed, the user must choose 'Select Another Style' in Endnote, and search for OSCOLA. Sometimes this process must be repeated in the word-processor 'Cite While You Write' tool. If all these steps are not followed, citations will not format correctly in footnotes and bibliographies.

4.3 Zotero

Like Refworks, Zotero is web-based. This open-source software is available for free at http://www.zotero.org, with 100MB of free storage and annual charges for more storage, beginning at US$20 for 1GB. Signing up to Zotero is straightforward. Until recently Zotero has only functioned as a plug-in in the Firefox browser, however in January 2012 Zotero 3.0 was released as a stand-alone version, with plug-ins for Chrome and Safari. The Firefox version was tested for this paper. Word processor plug-ins and OSCOLA styles can be found under the 'Documentation' tab on the Zotero website. Choices must be made about which OSCOLA style to use. Information on the documentation pages is fairly technical, and installation is not always straightforward. An experimental version of Zotero - MLZ or Multilingual Zotero - is also available. It has been developed specifically for legal scholars and provides styles for OSCOLA, American Law, McGill, New Zealand Law Review and Chicago. Installation of this software and style is similar to that for Zotero (see http://gsl-nagoya-u.net/http/pub/zotero-multilingual-overview.html and http://citationstylist.org/tools/).

4.4 Summary

It is easy to set up a Refworks library, to select OSCOLA output, and to install the 'Cite N Write' word processor plug-in. Setting up an Endnote library is more challenging. Installation of the program itself is followed by having to install the OSCOLA style and the 'reftypetable' from an outside source, and then selection of the style from within Endnote. Zotero is easy to set up in a Firefox browser, but finding and installing the word processor plug-in and choosing an OSCOLA style presents challenges. There is more discussion about OSCOLA styles in section 6.

Skills level rating : Refworks 2, Endnote 3, Zotero 4.

5. Downloading bibliographic data and building a library

5.1.1 Endnote and Refworks

Once the software is installed, the user can begin to build their reference library. All referencing software is designed to download bibliographic data from university library catalogues and journal databases that have the requisite filters. Endnote and Refworks work in similar ways so far as building a library is concerned. Endnote and Refworks' 'Online search' functions both search library catalogues, however Refworks has fewer library connections. Endnote also searches databases such as Web of Science (Social Science Citation Index). Required citations are selected from the results and stored in the library. Both Endnote and Refworks allow search strings to be saved and re-used. With journal databases, such as OUP journals, it is often easier to download bibliographic data about a particular article from the journal database than it is to search from within Endnote. In addition to bibliographic data, the download generally includes the abstract and a link to the paper on the journal database. Data can also be downloaded from Google Scholar to Endnote and Refworks, but that function must first be set in Scholar Settings. Refworks has a tool called 'Ref Grab-It' that enables downloading of bibliographic data directly from the web page. The tool, which must be installed in Internet Explorer or Firefox, has not been tested for this paper. Finally, data can be imported and exported using the RIS format.

Fig 1. Endnote online search in University of Oxford catalogue for Endicott in the author field and law in the title field: the catalogue is highlighted in the left frame (U Oxford); the search box is in the top central frame; and the results are in the box below. The highlighted results have been selected for deletion.

Fig 2. Results of the same search in Refworks . Items to be downloaded to the Refworks library are ticked, and an Import button on the lower right (not visible) clicked to add the references to the library.

5.1.2 Zotero

Adding items to a Zotero library is simple. The software 'reads' bibliographic information on online sources that use structured metadata, which includes many library catalogues, journal databases, BAILII (and other Legal Information Institutes), Google Scholar, news sites and so on. Zotero provides a document image (for a single item) or folder image in the browser. The user clicks on the document image or opens the folder and ticks the references required. The bibliographic data is then downloaded to the user's library. References can also be added by clicking 'Create new item from current page'. Zotero downloads from some journal databases (e.g. JSTOR) include full text pdfs as well as bibliographic data. The bibliographic data is not always in the right fields in the user's library. Individual items must be checked and the data moved to the correct fields. Data can be imported and exported using the RIS format.

Fig 3. Results of the same search in Zotero (MLZ) . The search is done directly in the library catalogue (shown at far left). Clicking on the small yellow folder visible in right end of the browser bar (top pic) opens the box (left) that allows selection of items for addition to the Zotero library.

5.1.3 Summary about downloading bibliographic data (general)

Downloaded bibliographic data has to be checked in all three programs. Author or editor names may be in the wrong field, for example, or irrelevant information may have to be deleted. In all three programs references can also be added 'manually' by selecting a reference type and then keying or pasting data into the relevant fields. Keywords, notes and other information can be typed into a reference. All three programs allow references to be sorted into groups, and searching of the user's library by any field.

Data can be moved from one program to another by exporting and importing RIS files. This facilitates a change of mind about which software to use, and allows keen and technically adept scholars to use the most powerful features of different software in combination. For example, Zotero downloads bibliographic data from more resources more easily than the other programs. That data (including pdfs) could then be exported to Endnote or Refworks.

Endnote has the greatest capacity for search within catalogues and databases with its wide range of filters. Many journal databases download directly to Endnote, and include abstracts and url addresses for articles. Refworks has fewer connections to library catalogues and journal databases, and ease of downloads varies. Endnote Web has a Capture tool that can be embedded in a browser, and Refworks have a plug-in called Grab-It, but neither is as simple as Zotero's browser-based download system.

Skills level rating: Refworks 2, Endnote 2, Zotero 1.

5.2 Downloading legal bibliographic data

Until very recently, legal scholars have been poorly served in terms of downloadable bibliographic data that is specifically legal. The two main legal databases, Lexis Library and Westlaw, only introduced such downloads in the UK in 2012. The main legal journal database, HeinOnline, provides downloads via a convoluted method, and the free services such as BAILII don't yet offer downloads.

5.2.1 Lexis

Lexis provides downloads of all bibliographic data from all sources to Refworks only. All downloads require substantial editing. Author names may not be provided in journal article data. Too much, too little, repeated or even wrong information may be included in case data. At best, the Refworks downloads save some typing. The data can be downloaded or emailed from Refworks as a RIS file and imported into Endnote or Zotero but the time involved in such an operation might be better spent simply copying the relevant information from the Lexis screen and pasting it in.

Skills level rating : Refworks 3, Endnote 5, Zotero 5.

5.2.2 Westlaw

Westlaw provides downloads to Endnote from their journal database only. Most data is downloaded to the correct fields, although volume numbers may be missing. Abstracts are included but not full text. The Endnote downloads can be exported as RIS files to Refworks. Westlaw will also download to Zotero if Westlaw's Export to Endnote function is used in the browser in which Zotero is installed.

Skills level rating: Refworks 5, Endnote 1, Zotero 1.

5.2.3 HeinOnline

HeinOnline requires the user to create a My Hein account and to save references to it. Bibliographic data from the saved references can then be downloaded from My Hein to either Refworks or Endnote. Journal article data is inserted into the correct fields. The main downside of the HeinOnline download is the additional logging in to My Hein, which also requires knowing one's unique username and unchangeable password. Zotero downloads bibliographic data from multiple references from Hein without the need to log into My Hein, and the data appears in the correct fields. This function only seems to work for journal articles.

Skills level rating: Refworks 3, Endnote 3, Zotero 1.

5.2.4 BAILII

At present BAILII, the free Legal Information Institute site for judgments, legislation and other primary legal sources doesn't have a bibliographic data download feature. Zotero, with its web screen reading structure, extracts bibliographic data from BAILII, either by clicking the document symbol in the browser bar or the 'Create new item from current page' button in Zotero. The data needs to be adjusted so that it is in the correct fields. I have not tested Refworks Grab-It and Endnote Web's Capture features with BAILII. Data can be downloaded to Zotero and exported to Endnote or Refworks.

Skills level rating : Zotero 1.

6. Inserting references into footnotes and creating bibliographies

All three programs provide an interface with word processing software that allows the user to search for a reference in their library and insert it directly into a footnote. All three also produce a bibliography of the cited references.

6.1 Refworks

Refworks is relatively easy to get data into, but it is not particularly straightforward to get formatted references into a document. The process requires interplay between the online library and the word processor. References are inserted into footnotes in a 'temporary citation placeholder' (e.g., reference number, author surname, year) within curly brackets. Parts of the reference can be supressed for each citation (e.g. author), and prefixes, suffixes and page numbers added. The references remain unformatted until the user clicks Create Bibliography in the word-processor plug-in or uploads the document to Refworks if they don't have the plug-in. Logging into Refworks is required as part of the process. This two-step method may be more suitable for short pieces of work such as undergraduate essays and articles than for theses and books. Only one respondent to the survey had tried Refworks but found it wasn't 'user friendly'.

6.2 Endnote

Endnote's Cite-While-You-Write toolbar in the word processor offers a search interface for the user's Endnote library, or insertion of the references highlighted in the library. Ibid and short forms of repeated citations happen automatically if the style is set to do that, as the OSCOLA style is - several academics report that this is one reason they use Endnote. The bibliography can be sorted so that cases and legislation appear before articles and books. It can also be 'switched off' (so that the bibliography does not appear in the document until required). This function is hidden in Endnote's output style editor (see Fig 7), which means that some Endnote OSCOLA users either don't know or forget that the bibliography can be switched on (or off), and so painstakingly create bibliographies 'by hand' when they could do it with a click or two.

Fig 4. Endnote edit citation function allows addition of a page number (pinpoint), prefix or suffix to a citation. The page number can only be added if the Cited Pages field is included in the relevant template (see Fig 7), which the user cannot know without checking the template. The Remove Citation function shown top right should be used rather than deleting references from the document.

Endnote allows for various abbreviations of journal names. In the Tools menu, under 'Open Terms Lists' and then 'Journals Terms List' a pop-up box lists all journals in the user's library. Each can have up to four abbreviations. The OSCOLA style will use whatever is in the Abbreviation 1 field. A file of common abbreviations on the OSCOLA Endnote website can be uploaded to Endnote. These functions are far from obvious to the user. Their positioning in the software interface and the language used to designate the functions is not generally considered intuitive. As one scholar put it in the survey: 'Endnote is quite a tricky piece of software to work with. Not always user friendly.'

References can be changed in the Endnote library and then updated throughout a document by reformatting the document (using the Format Bibliography function in some versions, and the update function in others). Endnote scans documents frequently for this purpose. This process can devour a lot of computing power, especially in an old or low-powered laptop with a long thesis containing many footnotes. The process can be disabled (in Instant Formatting in the word processor's Endnote toolbar, which is usually with the Format Bibliography functions). Many Endnote users report frequent computer crashes because they don't know the process is active, let alone that it can be switched off. Corruption of the document can occur if Endnote references are deleted from a footnote rather than removed using the 'Edit Citation', 'Remove Citation' function in the word-processor's Endnote toolbar (see Fig 4). This clumsy function sometimes erases all mentions of a particular citation rather than the citation in the specific footnote.

Several survey respondents reported that they didn't find Endnote useful for inserting citations into documents: 'I … never figured out how to make it insert the footnotes (in a style guide compliant way) into my document' one respondent wrote. Another said 'I found [Endnote] slowed down my documents too much, was complicated to use and ultimately I had to edit almost every single footnote in my masters despite using the software.' Others used Endnote more successfully: 'Endnote keeps citations to OSCOLA uniformly, which was a time saver in the end. Also it is quite customizable (although it may not be easy to learn how to change citations). It fit my needs (Public International Law) very well.' Several respondents reported using it to produce citations and bibliographies for books. I have observed many doctoral students use it successfully for citations and bibliographies in their 100,000 word theses, and also observed severe corruption of documents at near final stages. An academic at the BILETA conference reported a catastrophic failure with using Endnote for citations in a book, in which the document was corrupted at a late stage of writing. He switched to Zotero which functioned well with the same large number of footnotes and citations.

6.3 Zotero

In the Zotero word-processor plug-in, when the required reference is selected for insertion in a footnote, a reference editor opens that allows easy editing of its content and fonts. The MLZ OSCOLA style provides ibid and short forms. Zotero is the only software of these three to provide footnote cross-references in the OSCOLA style, e.g., Bancoult (n 1). A bibliography can be created using a separate function. The MLZ style is in the process of development; its designer has demonstrated these features (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fImlqzM_yrs&feature=channel_video_title).

Fig 5. Zotero citation insertion box showing insertion of a case reference with neutral and law report citations, pinpoint to paragraph and attribution to judge (using the suffix field). Changes can be made in the Edit box at the bottom of the screen if required. Any changes made at this stage only apply to that particular footnote.

6.4 Summary

Refworks' two-step formatting process is comparatively laborious, and, between formatting moments, the writer has to work with unformatted citations which many find disconcerting. There is considerably more functionality in Endnote than in Refworks when it comes to the appearance of citations in documents, but the complexity increases the range of possibilities for problems. Zotero offers a more simple interface and MLZ allows much more complexity when inserting references, although the robustness of this feature has not been tested for this paper.

Skills level needed: Refworks 2; Endnote 4, Zotero 1.

7. Using and modifying OSCOLA output styles

None of the OSCOLA styles have been provided by the software developer. The Endnote styles have been developed by Oxford University Law Faculty; the Refworks style by Jason Harper at Kent University, and Zotero styles have been developed by several people (details below).

Fig 6. Output style editor in Refworks showing Reference Type, Fields and Output Field Order boxes. Elements are dragged from one box to another and reordered with a drag. Punctuation and fonts are set for each element. The title field is shown as Always Included and in italic in the Book title field for the Book, Whole reference type on the right side of the screenshot.

7.1 Refworks

Refworks allows users to modify some existing styles. The reference type is selected, the appropriate fields moved into or out of it, and the surrounding punctuation or font provided (see Fig 6.) The process is fairly simple but the functionality somewhat limited.

7.2 Endnote

The Endnote output style can be changed by individual users. Modifying the OSCOLA style so that it is right for, say, Cambridge journals, allows the writer to adapt the citations in footnotes simply by selecting the new output style and reformatting the document. The Endnote output style editor (shown in Fig 7) allows for considerable complexity, but it can be bewildering. Templates must be written for each reference type that is to be formatted in the style. Any reference types for which templates aren't provided will be formatted according to the 'Generic' template. (The OSCOLA Endnote style has templates for 13 of 50 possible reference types.) Newer versions of Endnote also have templates for the short form of references. Parts of the citation and their punctuation will only appear if there is data in that particular field in any given reference in the user's library. So, for example, if there is no year in the field called 'Add year here if there is NO volume number' the square brackets that belong to that field will not appear in the formatted version of the reference. In addition, the vertical bars and diamonds force separation between fields and link adjacent text, respectively, to ensure that unwanted punctuation doesn't appear in a citation. These 'special formatting characters' are succinctly explained in the Help manual but are difficult to master nonetheless. The Cited Pages field can be seen at the end of the Journal Article and Book and the Short Form templates (see Fig 7). If the Cited Pages field is not included in the template, then adding a pinpoint to a citation by using Edit Citation simply will not work (see Fig. 4 for more on this). This is yet another feature that is not clear to the untrained user.

Fig 7. Endnote output style editor showing footnote templates and tick box for including a bibliography in the document (top middle). In the journal article template, the format provides the author first, followed by a comma, then the article title in single quotes, followed by the year in either parentheses or square brackets depending on how the particular journal is referenced, and so on.

Apart from the templates, the output style editor allows variation in the order of references in a bibliography, and page numbering can be set to show first page only even if a span of pages is provided in the reference in the user's Endnote library. Capitalisation and the order of author/editor names (e.g. surname first or last, full name or initials) can be set. Previews of the style as changed are only available by closing and saving the output style. If the output style has been renamed in this process, then the new output style must first be selected. (Endnote sometimes adds 'Copy' at the end of the style name, which the user may be unaware of.) Alterations to the style can then be checked by looking at the previews of individual references. When doing this, the user has to know that the preview box shows the formatted version of the Bibliography templates, not Footnote templates.

Apart from the output style editor, the Reference Types function in Preferences allows the user to make changes to the names of reference types, and to field headings within reference types. These changes are stored in the 'reftypetable' which can be exported for use in other computers. The OSCOLA 2 4e style has a 'reftypetable' that must be imported in addition to the Endnote style (see section 3). Other features may be set under Preferences. Much of this is opaque at best to the unaware user, and it is a complex system to learn. As one survey respondent wrote: 'Endnote is not very user friendly. It took a while and several calls for help to get used to it.' Learning how to work with Endnote will eventually save the legal scholar time, but many find the process so daunting they understandably give up.

7.3 Zotero

There are at least three OSCOLA styles for Zotero, which have been adapted by Virgilio Afonso da Silva (University of Sao Paulo), Thora Gylfadottir (Reykjavik University) and Paul Troop (Oxford University). The most complex style is that developed by Frank Bennett (Nagoya University), and provided in Multilingual Zotero (MLZ). The MLZ version allows reformatting from OSCOLA to American Law, McGill, New Zealand Law Review and Chicago, and extensive documentation is available to help users. An OSCOLA guide for MLZ is forthcoming. However, modifying the style requires knowledge of Citation Style Language (CSL) which makes even Endnote formatting seem simple. Zotero users report frustration with errors in the OSCOLA style they are using: 'even with the OSCOLA format uploaded into the app, it incorrectly places a comma after the journal title and before the page number. I can't seem to change the setting in Zotero so instead have to change it manually in every single reference in the document.' Being open source, the main Zotero OSCOLA styles can be modified by any user with the technical skill to do so, but anyone without those skills cannot correct styles at all.

Fig 8. Zotero output style editor showing part of the MLZ OSCOLA style which is written in Citation Style Language, an open XML-based language. A high level of technical skill is required to make alterations to Zotero styles.

Skills level needed: Refworks 2; Endnote 3, Zotero 5.

8. Other features and problems

8.1 Storage and annotation of pdfs

Endnote, Refworks and Zotero all allow storage of pdfs. The most recent versions of Endnote also allow annotation (highlighting and comments) of pdfs. The pdf can be opened in a separate window if required, and the annotated pdf can be forwarded by email. The entire Endnote library or parts of it can be saved in a compressed format to reduce the additional file size resulting from storing pdfs in the library. Annotation of pdfs seems to work for files held in a Zotero library, at least on some computers.

8.2 Using a reference library from more than one computer/location

Refworks and Zotero, being web-based, offer easy access from any computer. This is a great advantage for many legal scholars. Endnote users often rely on Dropbox or USB storage units to move their library from one computer to another. Corruption of documents can result from both methods. Endnote reports that the way in which Dropbox syncs files is incompatible with Endnote, and advise against using it. Those who carry their Endnote library on a USB key often fail to copy the library onto their computer before using it. In addition, the library Data folder that is an essential component of the library is often not copied to the USB key. Endnote X6 provides synchronisation via Endnote Web and Endnote for ipad will soon be available, so that libraries (including pdfs) should be much more easily accessible from more than one computer than hitherto.

8.3 Sharing references and libraries

Sharing of references, groups of references or whole libraries is very simple in Refworks. Several users can log into one library at any time, and folders from different libraries can be amalgamated. This is useful for group work. Zotero is also designed for collaborative work and offers similar sharing facilities. Endnote Web offers sharing of libraries, but the functionality of Endnote Web is much more limited than that in the desktop version. Not only is the interface even less user friendly, but reference types and styles cannot be customised in Endnote Web. So while Endnote libraries or selected references (including attachments) can be compressed and emailed or shared via Endnote web, or even used by several scholars via a server installation, at bottom Endnote is not very suitable for use by several scholars working on one document. With Zotero and Refworks sharing is a central component of the software; for Endnote it's a feature added to catch up with its web-based software competitors.

8.4 Existing practice

The use of referencing software probably best suits a scholar beginning an academic career as noted by several people in the survey, for example: 'I have Endnote files dating back to my PhD with copious notes.' Those who already have a large number of references in existing documents find the prospect of copying all that information into a bibliographic library daunting. Among the academics who used only handwritten and word-processed notes, most reported that their system worked, they were used to it and they didn't have time to move their existing references into a referencing software library. For example, 'I know how to do it; it's flexible; it's accurate' and 'I tried Endnote but the start-up costs of building a library proved overwhelming'.

8.5 Cross-referencing of footnotes, tables of authorities

The OSCOLA style in Endnote and Refworks doesn't cross-reference footnotes. Endnote bibliographies can be organised by reference type, which means that tables of cases and other authorities can be cut from the bibliography after the document has been disconnected from Endnote (using remove field codes/convert to plain text). The Word indexing tool can then be used to index the table of authorities, or it can be indexed using the Word table of authorities tool, or page numbers can be added to the table 'by hand'. Some scholars who index 'by hand' say that it allows them another look at their work during which they pick up errors they'd not noticed during proofreading. Referencing software that did these functions would be welcomed by many legal scholars. The experimental MLZ Zotero appears to carry out these functions, but they have not been fully tested for this paper.

8.6 Cost and new versions

The cost of Endnote (£60-£80 for academic users) prevented some survey respondents from trying it. Moreover, Endnote upgrades every year. While users don't have to upgrade, they are often forced to because of incompatibility between the Endnote software and new versions of word processors and operating systems. One criminologist told me she thought having to pay for new updates was 'morally wrong', and felt bitter that given the time she had invested in building an Endnote library and learning how to manage the output styles she felt committed to endlessly paying out to Endnote. New versions have caused problems for users such as the references in a library not holding their reference type and each reference type having to be reset. Finally, each new version of Endnote has more features than the last, and so it is increasingly bloated software. Endnote does come with technical support however, and the support is generally timely and good.

Life-long access to Refworks is free for students and academics at the universities that subscribe to it. Upgrades are part of the subscription.

Zotero is open source software, and so changes to it and to OSCOLA styles are dependent on the community of users. Adjustments to the software to cope with new versions of browsers, or the lack of such adjustments, can leave users in the lurch.

9. Conclusion

This paper has considered key features of three referencing software programs and their advantages and disadvantages in light of feedback from a survey of legal scholars in the Oxford University Law Faculty and the author's experience in support of scholars using these programs. Refworks, a web-based software, was thought to have less functionality than Endnote and Zotero and a clumsy two-step method of formatting citations. None of the survey participants used it and so it has not been discussed extensively. Endnote was used by 40% of the survey participants. It is recognised to have extensive functionality, however it is perceived to be complicated to use. What should be a time-saving software was felt by some to be time-consuming, particularly the time required to establish an Endnote library and learn how to control the software. The lack of a good understanding of how the software works meant that some survey participants do not use all of the essential functionality offered by the software, and therefore do not benefit from some of its time-saving features. Malfunctions of the software, particularly corruption of documents, were reported. Some thought the recent Endnote X6 version may overcome some of the problems associated with the software, particularly for using a library on more than one computer and for sharing libraries. About half of the survey participants who had tried Endnote had subsequently abandoned it, and instead copy and paste references from one document to another or key them in to each new piece of work anew. Zotero, especially the promising experimental MLZ version, was used by 17% of survey participants, mostly research students. Zotero is considered to have an intuitive interface, a simple download function that works well with many web-based resources, good editing facilities when inserting references into documents, and easy sharing of libraries. Some participants reported frustration at being unable to edit Zotero output styles, and the survey shed no light on Zotero's robustness for OSCOLA users writing long documents. As it is a newer software with increasing uptake among legal scholars at Oxford University, more feedback on Zotero should become available in the future.

I hope this paper has demonstrated not only advantages and disadvantages of key features in Endnote, Refworks and Zotero, but also that referencing software is complex and that time and persistence must be invested in learning how to use it if it is to be of benefit to the user.



[1] Sandra Meredith, Departmental Lecturer in Legal Research Skills, Law Faculty, Oxford University. Email: sandra.meredith@law.ox.ac.uk. I would like to thank the EJLT reviewer, and those who participated in the survey and who have worked with me on referencing software in the Oxford University Law Faculty over the years, especially Ben Spagnolo. All errors and omissions are mine.