Are you in the middle of searching for literature for your thesis and you have the feeling that you are slowly but surely losing the overview? Are you looking for a way of better reference management to make your collection of important books, internet sources, articles and PDFS clearer and more efficient?

You are certainly not alone in this. Students are constantly faced with precisely this problem of chaotic reference management. After all, organizing it yourself is often hardly profitable, especially for extensive work. What many don’t use or don’t even know: There are special programs that can help you manage your sources. Many universities and colleges even make some of them available to their students. But there are also many different options for orderly reference management that can be found and used on the Internet.

In this context, this article will not only help you understand how a reference management program works. It also shows you the various options.

What is a literature management system?

A literature management program helps you, as the name suggests, to sort and organize the sources compiled in the context of your thesis in a uniform and, above all, clear way. Such systems offer various features that help you to efficiently incorporate the literature found into your text. All reference management programs basically have the same functions. On the one hand, they serve to store all collected sources and, on the other hand, your task is to manage them, for example within the framework of systematically created bibliographies. The advantage for you is that many programs allow the direct import of entire full texts into your database. Some also offer the possibility of several authors working together on one transcript.

What options do I have for a reference management system?

As a student, you can often access a program made available by your department. For example, many universities offer the availability of licenses for systems such as Endnote (MAC, Windows) or Citavi (Windows). Free options such as using Mendeley can also be found online. I use Mendeley myself and can therefore recommend this free program to you. Please take a look my account!

Final grade

You can use the reference management program Endnote for Windows as well as on your Mac. For the latter, the program now even offers a mobile app. Endnote also has plugins for Firefox, Internet Explorer and Word. All you need to do is create a user account. This then makes it easier to share and collaborate with different sources by means of online synchronization. Data can be transferred using a direct search in databases and an online import.


Citavi is designed in a similar way to Endnote and can also be used on MAC and Windows to manage sources. In contrast to Endnote, this reference management program also offers plugins for LibreOffice, OpenOffice and LaTeX in addition to Word. In addition, Citavi can not only create general citation styles but also create your own.

The data transfer to the individual sources can take place via web or ISBN import, RSS feed or the classic direct search in network-based databases. Even if Citavi is not yet available as an online version, users can look forward to this additional benefit in the near future.


In contrast to Endnote (from 200 €) and Citavi (from 119 €), Mendeley is free and can therefore also be used by those students whose chair does not provide a program for free use. Here, too, as with Endnote, only the creation of a web account is required, which then enables collaboration and sharing of sources through online synchronization. In addition to Mac and Windows, Mendeley is also designed for use with Linux and offers the typical plugins for Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Word as well as those for Safari, BibTeX and LibreOffice.

Although the program is available free of charge, it scores with mobile apps for IOS and Android and, like Citavi, allows you to create general and custom citation styles.

As already explained for Endnote and Citavi, the data can be imported via a web. Mendeley also offers the Folder Watch and Drag & Drop features.


As you can see, there are various ways in which you can organize and manage your thesis better and more efficiently in relation to your literature sources. Of course, there are many other ways of managing literature in the ocean of the Internet. The three examples presented are only intended to give you an insight. Just ask around at your chair and see which program is offered or use the free Mendeley. In any case, from my own experience, I can only warmly recommend the use of such a literature management program.

If you would like to find out more about theses, please read my articles on the following areas:

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I blog about the influence of digitalization on our working world. For this purpose, I provide content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday professional life. I am an executive in an SME and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the Chair of IT Management.

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