Endnote: Interview with Jason Rollins

Reference management is a frequent topic on this blog. The last few years we have seen both a large increase in the number of available tools, but also big changes in how we use reference management software. But for many of us the first reference management software was Endnote.

I first used Endnote as a medical student in 1990 (Endnote Plus at that time, published by Niles Software), and I’m still a regular user. I can’t say that for many other programs (probably also Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, Adobe Photoshop, SPSS and until recently Freehand). The latest version – Endnote X4 – was just released/is about to be released (Windows in June, Macintosh in August). This is a good opportunity to look at how Endnote has changed over the years and why it is still such a popular application. For this I interviewed Jason Rollins, who is leading the Endnote development team.

Members of the EndNote development team: Jason Rollins, Jiaquan Ma, David Pedrick, Rachel Hubbard, Mayra Aguas, Paul Patanella, Lisa Epps, Lynette Grabow, Howard Harrison, Jennifer Melinn, Bill Colsher, Tilla Edmunds, Gandalf Sollenberger (with the Philadelphia in the background).

1. What is EndNote?

Researchers around the world depend on EndNote to simplify collaboration, reference collection, and bibliography formatting. It is these researchers who have molded the EndNote you see today, allowing us to address the pain points as technology evolves. While EndNote originated on the Macintosh and Windows desktops, users now have the added combination of the Web where they can transfer reference groups and share them with colleagues easily. EndNote connects to many parts of the research landscape including online resources for both basic bibliographic information and full text, word processors, ResearcherID for uniquely identifying personal works that will dovetail into the ORCID initiative as well as decreasing time to publish when submitting EndNote formatted documents into publishing systems.

2. How is EndNote different from other reference managers?

EndNote defined reference management software for generations of researchers and continues to offer the highest quality formatting available in any tool. Today some variation of the core functionality – searching, organizing, sharing, and citing of scholarly reference material – is available in many competing tools.

Two key differences between EndNote and other reference management tools include gathering and formatting references. First, EndNote is far more accurate and flexible when it comes to the variety of publishing styles it supports. EndNote not only provides over 4,500 formatting styles but it also allows for the most control and customization of this formatting. Our EndNote team works closely with leading publishers and editors across many academic disciplines to ensure that EndNote offers the formatting control our users need to meet exacting publisher specifications. Most of the power of this formatting is built-in and achieved automatically by EndNote – without the user having to think about it. Of course there are many customization options too; these allow users to easily make changes and tweaks to the way EndNote formats citations, footnotes, and bibliographies.

Second, EndNote offers the best options for easy import and export of user data. The Online Search, Find Full Text, importing, and Web capture options are all features that make it easy to obtain accurate bibliographic information and manage full text data in EndNote. The “RIS Tagged Data” format has become a de facto standard for hundreds of databases and software tools. Plus, the EndNote XML specification is something that is openly shared with partners and competitors alike in hopes of making it easier for our customers to move their data into and out of any system they may need to use.

3. What is new in EndNote X4?

There’s a longer list of new and improved features, but a few of the key features are new PDF functions, better support for collaborative writing and more robust footnote handling.

EndNote X4 can create records from PDFs using metadata and a DOI, attaching the original file to the newly created reference. Then, PDFs are further incorporated into users’ libraries by indexing the attached files and making them searchable along with the reference data.

The connection between EndNote and a word processor is more visible by incorporating cited references from documents right into the EndNote interface. This way, users can work with their references in a word processor, and focus on the references in a particular paper while managing things in EndNote. Editing and managing individual citations in Word now combines all the functionality in one place which is a big help for people working on large projects, or collaboratively. The “Traveling Library” sharing feature in Word has also been significantly improved to help people work together. The APA 6th style is fully supported and EndNote X4 offers much more customization and intelligence to the way footnote formatting styles are handled.

The full list of features, online videos, and a free trial version of EndNote X4 are available at www.endnote.com. EndNote version X4 was released in June for Windows with the Macintosh version available by the end of this summer.

4. How does EndNote handle PDF management? Can you share PDF files with other users?

With version X4, we have added more PDF-related functionality to EndNote. Now, you can import PDF meta-data and search the full text of attached PDF files. You can share EndNote library files that contain PDF attachments easily – or any other file type. EndNote Web does not currently support direct file attachments but this is something we are currently working on.

5. What is EndNote Web, how does it relate to EndNote?

EndNote provides EndNote Web to users for easy sharing and collaboration features. Transferring references up to the web provides extra flexibility to work with EndNote references anywhere. There’s a browser plug-in available with EndNote Web, that captures and saves references from web pages and allows users to send references to a desktop or web-based library. The web version has some features that the desktop doesn’t, and vice versa; each is complimentary to the other. EndNote Web is also integrated into the Web of Knowledge database platform and a limited version of EndNote Web is provided to ResearcherID users for managing their personal publication list.

6. Can I use EndNote with collaborative writing tools such as Google Docs or Microsoft Office Live?

While we do not have any custom built plug-ins or similar tools for Google Docs or Microsoft Office Live, as always, it’s easy to drag-and-drop or copy-and-paste in EndNote citations. If you look closely at other products that claim to be compatible, you’ll see that they are offering a simple copy and paste function as well. Based on our research thus far, these writing tools do not yet offer the right APIs to build more robust integration. This is something we hear from customers quite often so we will keep an eye on developments and hope to offer something more once the APIs are available.

7. How does EndNote help with reference management beyond writing manuscripts, e.g reading lists for students, writing blog posts, etc.?

You can easily use EndNote to include citations, hyperlinks, or any other reference data into nearly any type of document in almost any format and customize the output for your specific needs. You can share groups of references with both read only and read-write access; this supports sharing reading lists and more involved collaboration. But, reference management has evolved into so much more than just finding things to insert into a document. With the grouping, searching, and file attachment options, EndNote is a way to organize the majority of your research. These features make EndNote robust and flexible at handling a huge volume of items. Plus, you’ve always been able to store files of any type with EndNote, therefore making it possible to utilize much of the organizational capabilities for non-traditional sources like video clips or datasets.

8. EndNote has seen many updates since its initial release more than 20 years ago. What do you see as some of the most significant changes during that time?

EndNote started out for the Mac Plus and DOS; so clearly a lot has changed along with many of the major developments in personal software technology since the late 1980′s. EndNote introduced online searching and direct export to simplify the movement of references from discovery to a personal collection for citing in papers. Cite While You Write is often imitated but never duplicated for ease of use when citing references in Apple Pages, Microsoft Word, and OpenOffice.org Writer. The fundamental problem that EndNote has been solving for our customers has morphed over the years. While keeping up with changes in formatting rules and reference types, which have always been the core strength of EndNote, we have also evolved EndNote into a more complete reference management solution. Where at one time the majority of our users worked alone on a single computer writing a static manuscript, today most customers interact with a global network of collaborators on multiple projects that might be delivered in several formats. Now with EndNote Web and ResearcherID, EndNote users can easily promote their work and connect with others. Another area that has significantly changed over the last twenty years is the means by which users access research material, and as our user’s focus has shifted from basic reference data and description to inclusion of the full text of sources and supporting documentation, EndNote has too. EndNote supports this with OpenURL linking, proxy and open source authentication, browser plug-ins, and other functions.

Many of the developments we currently have underway will further support online sharing and connectivity and should prove to be some of the most valuable including mobile functionality and more.

9. What are your responsibilities at Thomson Reuters?

My team is responsible for the development of bibliographic management tools. This involves leading the development teams for EndNote and Reference Manager, listening to customer input, and coordinating partnerships.

10. What did you do before working at Thomson Reuters?

I joined the EndNote team in 2001. Before that, I was completing a PhD in Educational Technology from Drexel University and working for two different consulting firms and a small web start-up.

Copyright © 2010 Martin Fenner. Distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.