"It was time consuming and error prone – who would chose that?" So asks Isla Kuhn in this week's brief, referring to manually referencing an assignment. However, from my own experiences with reference-management software, I feel it also applies to several of the products out there, RefWorks and Endnote in particular. After several different people told me that it saved time, handily collated sources and allowed for greater precision of referencing, I took the plunge and used RefWorks when working on the research skills/dissertation proposal assignment for my MSc last year. Everything went in (pretty much) okay, and storing PDF versions of articles alongside the reference was admittedly pretty useful for multi-PC essay-writing. But Write'n'Cite (at that point at least) rendered the essay-in-progress a mess of quasi-HTML tags which made quickly finding a section difficult, and RefGrabIt (or whatever it was called at the time) often didn't pull all the required information from web pages, meaning everything had to be double-checked.
However, for me the worst part of the experience was when I had finished the assignment and tried to export the bibliography. It. Was. Junk. My department used an admittedly-awkward version of Harvard referencing, so I knew I'd have to tweak a few things, but random elements (fine in the RefWorks record) were absent from citations, author attributions were muddled and the style of the output made the bibliography looks more like a random collection of cut'n'paste web links than an academic record of reading. In the end I had to export the bibliography as plain-text, clean off residual formatting through Notepad and manually re-write pretty much every reference. Time-saving my arse.
So, obviously I'm going into the exploration of reference-collation software with an open mind... I need to install and play with the software over the weekend. Really, this post doesn't answer Thing 14 at all, but it does conveniently allow me to avoid including all the above negativity in my response.
tl;dr - I hate RefWorks; I can write references more quickly than exporting and re-editing output.