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Mendeley Basics: Using Mendeley Desktop

A supplemental guide to the Mendeley Basics workshop offered at Marx Library

Why install Mendeley Desktop?

Mendeley Desktop and Mendeley Web provide two distinctly different ways to interact with your Mendeley library and other researchers. Here is a quick comparison of the differences.

Mendeley Web focuses on connecting researchers. With Mendeley Web, you can:

  • Create and share a scholarly profile with the Web (or with only other Mendeley users, depending on how you configure the settings);
  • Search Mendeley for relevant scholarly literature on any topic;
  • Create, join, and manage groups;
  • Discover articles that are trending in your research area;
  • View altmetrics on any article, such as the number of readers in Mendeley, their disciplines, and their level of scholarship (i.e., faculty, postdoc, other);
  • Add, edit, and organize your references;
  • View PDFs that have been uploaded to your Mendeley cloud.

Mendeley Desktop focuses on knowledge production and management. With Mendeley Desktop, you can:

  • Search Mendeley for relevant scholarly literature on any topic;
  • Create and manage groups;
  • Add, edit, and organize your references;
  • Link Mendeley to Microsoft Word and/or create a BibTeX library for a seamless writing experience;
  • Set your default citation style (for auto-generated citations);
  • Connect citations to PDFs on your computer (or import PDFs directly into Mendeley) for easy PDF management;
  • Annotate and mark up PDFs that are linked to citations within your library;
  • Link multiple PDFs and documents to a single reference record within your library.

In short, if you want to manage your reference library and/or use a reference manager for writing, Mendeley Desktop is the way to go. If you want to engage with the social component of Mendeley or access citations/articles on the go, Mendeley Web is a perfect supplement. Please note that only Mendeley Desktop gives you annotation features in its PDF viewer; the web viewer only gives you reading access.

Mendeley Magic: Auto-Import Citation Information with DOI Lookups!

Mendeley Magic refers to a feature in Mendeley Desktop that many people don't know about. Quite simply, it allows you to (A) enter in new references without any manual typing or (B) pull information from the could to update a reference.

Mendeley can look at arXIv IDs, DOIs, and PubMed IDs (PMIDs) to identify important information about a citation. If you have any one of these pieces for your article, you can take advantage of the auto-populate feature described above. Identifiers for many articles in the sciences and social sciences may be found in small text on (usually) the first page of a PDF article or on the record for the article on the journal's web site. Keep in mind that older articles and articles in the humanities are not consistently given DOIs.

To auto-populate a completely new reference from manual entry, go to File > Add Entry Manually. In the dialog box, scroll down until you see a section for Catalog IDs. Type or paste the identifier into the box and click on the magnifying glass to search for it.

If you have a document in your library already (possibly in the "Needs Review" folder), you can look up the information for the article in the same way. Navigate to the article's document information and scroll down until you see the section for Catalog IDs. Enter the appropriate information and click on the magnifying glass.

Occasionally, there will be some finessing of the DOI, especially when Mendeley tries to pull the DOI from the PDF automatically. The built-in Mendeley data extractor may add extra characters that will need to be checked and fixed before using the lookup feature.

How do I customize my citation style?

In the desktop version of Mendeley, look for the file menu. Click on View, then look through the list until you see Citation Style. There will be a small radio button (a circle) beside your citation style of choice. If you have a different preference, click More Styles. A dialog box will pop up and let you search for whichever citation style you need.

If your style isn't in the Installed tab, click the tab called Get More Styles. Mendeley has a very large library of citation styles. Click OK when done.

How do I add the Mendeley plug-in to my word processing software?

Open Mendeley Desktop. From the menu bar, click Tools, then Install MS Word Plugin.

Mendeley has provided a nice, succinct video explaining how their plugin works.

Mendeley and LaTeX: A Perfect Pair

If you write in LaTeX, Mendeley is an excellent solution. In Mendeley, you can do two things that some other reference managers struggle with:

  1. Escape problematic characters in the references.
  2. Generate BibTeX files that sync automatically with your Mendeley Library — including the citation keys.

This is not trivial. For reference management in a LaTeX writing environment, it's important to back up your .bib citation files to ensure that they are still there if something happens to your computer.

If you use Mendeley to collect your references and annotate your PDFs, you can generate the back-end BibTeX file.

The Mendeley citations (and the PDFs if you've enabled syncing) reside in the cloud and are synced down to your computer, so you still have your references if your computer fails. All you have to do is re-enable the BibTeX export on your new (or revitalized) computer after installing Mendeley.


Kayleigh Bohémier