EndNote 5: It's the Last Word in Footnotes

Compiling bibliographies is the bane of scholarly researchers. This simple, smart program could make their lives a lot easier

By Stephen H. Wildstrom

Looking at the world of commercial desktop software, I sometimes get the impression that we are down to a handful of companies, all producing thoroughly mature and generally unexciting products: Microsoft, Intuit, AOL, Lotus, and a smattering of others. True, there plenty of specialized programs out there, but with the exception of some first-rate graphics-arts programs from Adobe and Macromedia, I rarely run into them. So it was refreshing to have a program called EndNote 5 from the ISI Researchsoft division of Thomson Scientific (www.endnote.com) cross my desk a while ago.

EndNote for Windows or Macintosh ($330, or $110 for registered students) is a fine example of an application that does just one, very focused thing -- but does it extraordinarily well. A bibliographic tool for serious researchers, it is designed to search a vast variety of public and proprietary databases, extract bibliographic information, then format and compile the results for inclusion in books, journal articles, or other research reports.


  Although the number of books available online is relatively small, most scientific and technical journals are available in electronic form. In many cases, access to the full contents is restricted to subscribers of services, such as the National Library of Medicine's MedLine or the American Mathematical Society's SciMathNet. In nearly all cases, however, the table of contents and abstracts are available to anyone. In addition, the catalogs of virtually all research libraries, including universities, public libraries, and the Library of Congress are searchable from the Web.

EndNote simplifies the task of turning this vast store of information into a relatively easy-to-use tool. It includes tools for linking to and searching dozens of catalogs and online databases, as well as filters to extract data from those sources. But perhaps the best feature for scholarly writers is the way the program can use the information it has collected to produce footnotes -- or, as is much more common these days, in-line citations and bibliography entries tailored to the style of any of several hundred journals.

Although it's been a long time since I last wrote for a scholarly journal, I found a use for EndNote that demonstrates its power and flexibility. I have long wanted to catalog my home library and even though I have set up a FileMaker database for the job, the chore of entering the data has been daunting.


  Using EndNote, I found a library database that didn't require me to be a subscriber, faculty member, or student. It was the University of California's California Digital Library (www.cdlib.org), and EndNote includes a built-in link to its catalog. I then searched for my books by author, title, or keyword. All I had to do then was select the correct records from the search results and tell EndNote to copy them to my library, an operation that generates full catalog cards. With this help, I might even get the catalog finished some day.

EndNote is obviously not a program for a vast audience. But it is proof that however concentrated and dull mass-market software has become, there's plenty of life and creativity in the nooks and crannies of specialized applications.

Wildstrom is Technology & You columnist for BusinessWeek. Follow his Flash Product Reviews, only on BW Online

Edited by Beth Belton