By Drew Thomas |

This is the second instalment in our series on reference management software. Be sure to read our first post on Zotero!

Drowning in references? Writing a doctoral thesis can quickly become overwhelming. That is why it is so important for you to adopt a reference manager to help you keep track of all your references, documents and notes. Mendeley is a service which promises that and more.


I refer to Mendeley as a service, rather than a product, since it provides you with so many features. Like Zotero, it is a reference manager. But it is also a PDF editor and academic social network, allowing for group collaboration and networking opportunities. The creators have placed great emphasis on the design of Mendeley. The layout is very modern and the user interface is intuitive. Oftentimes, you can have a great piece of software, but the design is so bad it inhibits your ability to effectively use it. You will never have that problem with Mendeley.

Getting started is easy. You can drag and drop files into Mendeley or import existing libraries. They also have a browser plugin so you can easily save files and references you discover online. Organising references is just like Zotero, where you have your main library and various folders for different projects. You can also star your favourite items. Mendeley also has a Microsoft Word plugin, which will auto-generate citations and bibliographies according to many different style guidelines.


However, Mendeley allows further interaction with your documents. There is a built in PDF viewer that allows you to highlight and add notes to your PDF documents. There is also a dedicated iPad app so you can read and annotate documents on a mobile device.

One of the features Mendeley prides itself on is the ability to interact with other scholars. In addition to being a reference manager, Mendeley is also an academic social network. You can follow other researchers and stay up to date on their activity, similar to a Facebook newsfeed. This allows for easy group collaboration on projects and the ability to find people working on similar topics.

In addition to easily sharing information amongst various project members, Mendeley is also accessible across multiple devices. This is a great feature. You can download the desktop version for access on your main computer and use the iOS version to access your library on mobile platforms. Additionally, there is a web platform, so you can access your library on any computer with internet access, such as a computer at your university library. This a big advantage that Mendeley has over competing services.

So with all these great features, you must be thinking, ‘This is great, but how much does it cost?’ Mendeley is a freemium service, meaning that it is free to use, but you can upgrade to a premium subscription. They have three tiered plans ranging from £3.99 to £11.99 per month. This mostly corresponds to how much personal library space you are allocated (from 5GB to unlimited). A free account receives 2GB of storage. There are also some additional features, such as the number of collaborators you can invite to groups and the number of groups you can create.

Overall, Mendeley is a very well done service that is pleasant to use, accessible across devices and provides more services than a simple reference manager. If you only want a reference manager, you might prefer Zotero, but if you want a PDF editor and the ability for group collaboration, Mendeley is your best bet.


Drew Thomas is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews studying the Protestant Reformation and the History of the Book. Follow him on Twitter @DrewBThomas and Instagram @drewbt.


(Cover Image ⓒ, Image 1 ⓒ, Image 2 ⓒ