Mendeley Reference Manager: A Step-by-step Guide

Deepmala Mazumdar
Najiya Sundus K. Meethal
Published Online: April 13th, 2021 | Read Time: 11 minutes, 36 seconds

Reference managers (such as Mendeley, Zotero, Endnote) are applications that help scientific writers to search, store and organize literature. Additionally, these platforms allow to systematically insert citations and references in any chosen style while writing manuscripts. These tools allow changing referencestyle with a few clicks.

Reference managers are tools made aiming at academicians and authors of scientific writing. This comes in handy for students for writing thesis and assignments.

Writing scholarly papers in any discipline requires the citation of relevant literature. Managing references, in-text citations, and integrating these in the suggested format is a tedious process, especially when done manually. Digital storing of scholarly publications has been available for more than 25 years. In the past 10 years, the ‘Reference Managers’ have become an indispensable part of the scientific writers. Amongst others ‘Mendeley’ is an open reference manager which allows easy storing and managing of scholarly papers. In addition to that, Mendeley’s strength lies in its academic social networking. This chapter gives an overview of the important features and describes the steps of using the ‘Mendeley’ reference manager.

Mendeley was released in 2008 with the aim of providing open access to reference managers to the scientific world. Mendeley is owned by Elsevier since 2013 and ameliorated to be a cross-platform friendly application. It can be used as a desktop application, web-based browser even as on the go version in your phone (iPhone, iPad, and Android applications), fig 1.

Figure 1: Mendeley cross-platform applications; From Left to Right, Desktop version, Mobile application, Web-based browser.

Getting started with Mendeley: Download, install & signup

To start using Mendeley, you can start by downloading the application for your desktop. It is a freely downloadable application. Type ‘Mendeley’ onto google and it will direct the user to the downloading browser. Fig 2 illustrates the downloading steps for windows users. Next, you need to start with creating an account in Mendeley you will have access to the features through your account.

Figure 2: Stepwise installation guide to download Mendeley for Desktop for Windows users. Left top panel, type ​​Mendeley onto Google and choose your operating system; Left bottom panel, select Mendeley for the desktop to initiate the downloading; Right panel, Mendeley desktop application. [For iOS user:]

How to add and sort literature to Mendeley application:

Once you have Mendeley installed in your system you can store your files just by dragging them from your folder to the Mendeley window, Fig 3. The files you store in your Mendeley application will be synchronized across all your Mendeley platforms (such as Mendeley web browser, mobile applications) which will allow you to access your literature anywhere.

Figure 3: Open the Mendeley desktop application and drag your literature piece into it as shown in the left panel; Right panel, the literature is uploaded in the application and you can view the publication details of the selected article in the extreme right pan.

In the Mendeley application, you can make folders to sort your literature. Additionally, this application allows you to read your document, open multiple documents. You can also highlight and add notes while you read an article and save it with the notes in, figure 4.

Figure 4: Illustrates how to sort literature by adding folders (left panel); Right panel, shows article with a note added.

Mendeley for citing and referencing literature:

Mendeley comes very handy while writing scholarly papers which demands meticulous citations and referencing of literature. You need to plug in with Microsoft Word (MS Word), see figure 5. This will enable you to use Mendeley's citation from MS word.

Figure 5: The top left panel shows the installation of Mendeley to MS word plugin; Right panel, MS word document after installation with the Mendeley citation option highlighted in the toolbar under the option References.

Next, when you are using MS word and want to cite a piece of literature you need to insert citations’ and a Mendeley pop-up will appear, figure 6. Mendeley library will allow you to access your saved articles in the Mendeley application. To cite any literature, select the relevant ones and use the ‘cite’ option shown at the top bar (figure 7, left top panel). This will send citations to your plugin MS word document directly. This process you can use to insert citations in your piece of writing. Once you have completed your paper, you can generate the bibliography by clicking on the option ‘Insert Bibliography’, figure 7, right panel. Using ‘insert bibliography’ you can insert your list of references you have cited in your document.

Figure 6: Left panel, shows the word option for “insert citation” in the MS word toolbar; Top left panel, the Mendeley pop up with the option to access “Mendeley library” (highlighted in the left bottom panel)

Figure 7: Left top panel, shows the popped up ‘Mendeley library’ with the option to “cite” enabled; Left bottom panel, showing the direct citation in the MS word document; Right panel, illustrating insert bibliography under the Reference’s toolbar in the MS word.

There are different types of in-text citations, it can be in square brackets, superscripts, and other variations. Different journals come with their referencing guidelines on how to cite references within the text. Similar variations are there for referencing styles. While submitting a paper to a new journal it is a must to adhere to the guidelines. To change the referencing style in Mendeley, you need to use the option ‘styles’ under the References toolbar, figure 8. This would generate in-text citation and reference in any style in a single click.

Figure 8: Left top panel, shows the ‘style’ option under ‘referencing’ with a drop-down list of available styles; Left bottom panel, showing more style options in the popped up Mendeley application, referencing style not installed in the Mendeley application can be availed from ‘get more styles’; Right panel, illustrating the MS word document with in-text citation and ‘Vancouver’ style referencing as chosen in the style box.

To add more than one citation for one statement we can follow the same steps described earlier. One additional step is to select the number of in-text citations you want to merge, and this will enable the option ‘Merge citation’ in place of ‘Insert citation’, figure 9 left panel. selecting the newly appeared ‘Merge citation’ will merge the citations together, figure 9 right panel. This can be done for as many citations as required.

Figure 9: Left panel illustrates the ‘Merge Citation’ option which appears upon selecting more than one in-text citation; Right panel, shows the citations merged using the Mendeley ‘Merge Citation’.

Create/participate in a research group

Mendeley web browser has an additional feature that allows collaboration with authors and writers available in the forum [fig 10]. This platform also allows to create groups or join existing public groups. Creating private groups among colleagues or project collaborators comes in handy to share references while preparing for a grant proposal or manuscript. Additionally, private groups allow sharing full-text articles and reading them in the web browser.

Figure 10: Left panel illustrates the Mendeley web browser with the option groups highlighted; Right panel, shows the option to create group’ and the groups will be available to access at the ‘library’.

Tips for getting the most with Mendeley:

  1. Read and note wherever you are: The cross-platform compatibility of Mendeley makes it handy to use even when on the go. It allows seamless synchronization of the notes and highlights you make in your articles while reading on any platform.
  2. Search extensively: Mendeley application works as a search engine where the search box allows easy search of literature from your library as well as on the web.
  3. Store wisely: Label your references based on the projects and store them together for easy accessibility. Additionally, it allows attaching supplementary files like spreadsheets, figures, slides, and more to the folders.
  4. Quick revising of reference styles: in combination with MS-word plug-in, Mendeley allows writers to change citation and referencing style in any chosen format.
  5. Network and connect with peers: Sharing papers, discussing work with specialists from your disciplinary is one of the best ways to network in the scientific community. Mendeley has both private and public group features available on the desktop and web-based platform.

To know more about Mendeley:

1. (Last accessed: 20th Feb 2021; 10:04 am IST)

2. Referencing in Microsoft word with Mendeley Desktop: (Last accessed: 20th Feb 2021; 10:04 am IST)

Deepmala Mazumdar
Doctoral Research Student, Vestibular and Ocular Motor Research group, Dept. of Neuroscience, Erasmus MC, Netherlands
Deepmala Mazumdar is currently pursuing her doctoral research from Dept. of Neuroscience, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She has completed her bachelors in optometry degree from West Bengal University of Technology (2007-2011). She subsequently joined Elite School of Optometry, Chennai where she completed her post-graduation studies in optometry (M.Phil. Optometry; 2011-2013). Following which she has joined as a senior research optometrist at Medical Research Foundation, Chennai. She is actively involved in providing academic guidance and supervision in the research activities of undergraduate and post graduate optometry students at the Elite School of Optometry (ESO), Chennai. She has played integral roles in various collaborative research activities and was successful in projecting the fundamental findings as scientific publications and presentations at several national/international platforms. Her area of interest is Glaucoma, Eye movements and Visual Acuity charts. Her PhD research involves analysis of eye movement behaviour in patients with neuro-degenerative diseases. She was awarded the best outgoing student for bachelors in optometry degree in 2011. She received the Second-best poster award presented in ASIA-ARVO 2013. She was awarded the IJO platinum award for best publication, the Ruby Banik award for best researcher by the Vision Research Foundation, Chennai, and the young clinical mentor award for the contribution towards optometric education and teaching in Elite School of Optometry in 2019.
Najiya Sundus K. Meethal
Senior Research Optometrist, I-Move project, Medical and Vision Research Foundation, Chennai, India, Doctoral Research Student, Vestibular and Ocular Motor Research group, Dept. of Neuroscience, Erasmus MC, The Netherlands
Najiya Sundus K. Meethal (B.S., M.Phil.) has completed her Under graduation (B.S. optometry, 2012) and Post-graduation (M.Phil. in optometry, 2015) from Elite School of Optometry, Chennai. She has secured the institutional award for the Best outgoing student during the Bachelors as well as the Masters program along with the Luxottica Excellence Award for Research Methodology. Currently she is pursuing her doctoral studies at the Dept. of Neuroscience, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, The Netherlands and she is also a research associate at Medical Research Foundation, Chennai. Her doctoral research falls under an Indo-Dutch collaboration and is focused on evaluating eye movement behaviour and pupillary dynamics in neurodegenerative diseases. She has successfully transferred her scientific findings into peer-reviewed publications and has presented her work at various national and international scientific platforms. She is dynamically involved in providing academic guidance and supervision in clinical as well research activities of undergraduate and post graduate optometry students at the Elite School of Optometry (ESO) and the Sankara Nethralaya Academy (TSNA), Chennai. She has bagged a few prestigious awards during her career as a researcher and academician. The credits include Dr. Narasimhan memorial award (Medical Research Foundation) for the Best Research in Optometry (2017), The Young clinical mentor award for the contribution towards optometric education and teaching in Elite School of Optometry, Chennai (2019), and The Ruby Banik award for the best research in clinical ophthalmology instituted by Vision Research Foundation, Chennai (2020).
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