Creating Bibliographies – a survey of students

Stuart Church (@stuchurch) of Pure Usability is helping with the student engagement and the user experience aspects of the m-biblio project. Using Bristol Online Surveys, Stuart recently ran a survey of University of Bristol students with some questions on creating bibliographies. There were 67 respondents that covered a range of disciplines and degree schemes, including undergraduates, taught postgraduates and research postgraduates.

Ten of the students then joined a two hour workshop to further investigate the journey they make in creating bibliographies and to identify the pain points. It also examined how mobile devices might be used in the process of capturing and managing citations.

Work from the workshop with students

We will provide a detailed report on the workshop in a future blog post, but I thought it would be useful to provide the responses to the original survey.

1. Approximately how many references do you usually put in your essays?

None: 0.0% 0
1-5 4.5% 3
5-10 17.9% 12
10-20 41.8% 28
More than 20: 35.8% 24

2. What tends to be the approximate ratio of books to journal articles in your reference lists?

Pretty much all books 4.5% 3
25% books / 75% journal articles 34.3% 23
50% books / 50% journal articles 19.4% 13
75% books / 25% journal articles 17.9% 12
Pretty much all journal articles 17.9% 12
Varies too much to say 6.0% 4

3. How do you usually find your references?

Online citation databases (e.g. Web of Knowledge) 36
Google Scholar 49
University library system 38
Via reading lists provided by lecturers 44
Other (please specify): 7

For other, respondents included “a mix of the above”, “”, JSTOR, “reference list from other journal articles” and “using bibliographies from relevant books”.

4. Where do you store your references?

In word processor format (e.g. Word) 50
Using bibliographic software (e.g. EndNote, Papers) 14
In a hand-written notebook 15
I don’t store my references 6
Other (please specify): 1

For the “other”, there was a single comment: “When online, I bookmark them”.

5. What’s your biggest frustration about managing references?

This was a free text response but there were a number of common themes:

  • Citing the reference in the correct format
  • Copying the reference format easily from a paper
  • Different lecturers have different preferences for style of referencing, so its difficult to know what style to choose.
  • Endnote not supporting the style I want in word…
  • having to put them all in the exact harvard style of referencing
  • Inputting the data into Endnote
  • Missing information in the sources
  • Needing to know exact page numbers and having to look them up if i forgot to write them down
  • Remembering page numbers for quotations
  • Time-consuming
  • Too many references, often keeping track can be difficult

6. If you could design a simple piece of software to help you manage your references better, what would it do?

Once again, this was a free text response with a number of responses, including:

  • Allow me to: Record according to chosen system (Harvard, etc) Copy directly into essay/thesis Go back to original source (eg. to re-download or checkout of library)
  • Automatically put in references as I put in the sentences
  • Compile them, format them to the desired style and alphabetise
  • format my references
  • insert into word easily without adding random other numbers and things in/li>
  • it could help me to make a right order and help me to check what part I am missing for the references
  • it would automatically put them in alphabetically order and split them into the types of references they are eg books, journals etc
  • It would house your entire bibliography and help in shortening and referencing in the correct style for your department. it would also allow you to keep track of how many times you had referenced a certain source
  • Quick and easy to learn, will format in necessary style
  • Shape the references into the same referencing system.
  • take the journals and books you’ve read and write them in the correct format
  • You would type in title, author, chapter and page refs and the software would automatically create the bibliography reference in the correct standardised format


  1. It is interesting that EndNote / EndNote Web can deliver on most of the requirements given in 6. However, making the students aware of this and encouraging them to make use of it is another thing. Even if they know of it, they often don’t know it capabilities, and there is a steep learning curve which will put many off, especially if they only need to include a few references in their work.

    As well as training sessions, we should provide self-learning opportunities via the Library website/ University Portal including a short and sharp ‘idiot’s guide/beginner’s guide’ which focusses on the ‘Cite as you write’ function using Word and Endnote Web, but also mentions how to capture the references in the first place (which could include m-biblio, searching catalogues and databases, typing them in….)

  2. Hello

    Yes, it struck me that they are asking for a lot of the EndNote Web features. Somehow we have to publicise it more. When I demonstrate it to small groups of our Economics, Finance and Management students, or 1:1 to international students, most love it.

    Could we not list it in MetaLib? And have a news item on the Library homepage?

    And produce a Camtasia v short tutorial to Cite while u Write etc?

    Angela Joyce

  3. Very sad to see that only 14% are using Endnote, yet almost all of them want something that has the capabilities of Endnote! Attendance this year at Endnote Web sessions was very low, so we are clearly not getting to all those who need it.

    We have not produced an online guide to Endnote Web as the guide on the Adept Scientific pages is so good. Whichever it is, there is still the difficulty of getting students to it.

    I am aware that the Endnote Web webpages are far too hidden. This is because of they are part of the IT webpages. It is something I plan to discuss at the meeting in early May that has been arranged with relevant IT people.

    Can anyone tell me whether m-biblio would have any advantages over Endnote Web and Endnote which we already have? It seems to me the problem is marrying up students with the tools they need, and getting the information to them at the time they need it. We are not there yet!

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