Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Converting from one reference management software to another

During my comprehensive exams, I was not entirely happy with using Sente to manage my documents. Although the software is powerful, it seemed for me to be overly complex, and changing minor things, such as a classification as a journal proceeding to that of a conference proceeding (and the fields that corresponded) involved flipping through pages of a not-so-friendly manual to understand and do. Second, I didn’t trust it enough to build a mostly flaw-free bibliography for me, considering that it would involve about a hundred citations!

The University of Rochester offers free Refworks for its students, but because I had already had three years worth of literature in my Sente database, I held back on converting over. In fact, it wasn’t until after I finished my exams that I had considered using a new reference manager. My decision to use Mendeley came from a fellow colleague who used the program and raved about how easy it was to use – plus, it was free. The problem with using free software offered by the university is that after you graduate, you end up paying for the subscription. So… I converted over. Needless to say, it hasn’t been quite easy, and there are pros and cons to moving from one reference manager to another.


  • Mendeley offers more technical support and has a more active community. That means you can get help quickly without being slowed down.
  • The reference manager interface is far more intuitive, and so far, more flexible in allowing me to make changes, annotate, and tag things the way they need to be tagged.
  • The Word plugin interface is much easier to use, and I can now build a bibliography from it. The advantage to having software build your bibliography is that you can change between different styles quickly (e.g., from APA to MLA) without getting all confused about what goes where.
  • Mendeley is free and I can access it on my phone, iPad and computers



  • I have four years of material stored on Sente, and although I can import the citations into Mendeley, it does not easily import the actual documents. So, I either have to re-import the documents, or, at times, run both Sente and Mendeley to make sure I have the things I need. This is a BIG con.
  • You lose stuff. It’s inevitable, but when converting from one software to another, it’s inevitable that stuff gets lost. Just make sure the most important stuff is filed where you can find it (that’s why I have scads of hard copy, alphabetized papers in file folders).
  • There’s always a slight learning curve when going from one software to another – however, I find that I pick up Mendeley a lot easier than when I learned Sente

Ultimately, you have to find a reference manager that works well with your own personal style. That may not be easy, and unfortunately, we may have to make quick decisions and stick with them. However, there ARE points where moving from one to another is ideal. For me, the flexibility and ability to trust that Mendeley will make a fairly accurate biblio was enough for me to switch over. I still waited until after I finished comps to do so.

For those who are thinking of moving from one management software to another, take your time and check out all your options. If you are unhappy with your current software, don’t wait too long, though, otherwise, it will be harder to switch. I’d also advise making the switch AFTER a major project, so that starting over isn’t such a big impact for you. For example, when I switched from comprehensives to thesis, my literature also took a switch from general online learning theories to virtual worlds-specific learning theories. That gap meant that now I knew where to go when I needed certain references. Albeit, sometimes, you still have to have two software programs running. It’s a small price to pay, however, for the amount of trust I have to have in my software program!

Happy Referencing!






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