Reference Managers

When writing a non-fiction academic work, one of the more difficult things is managing your references. Word 2007 (and greater) does a good job with its active references, making it easy to manage your sources, add references to individual papers, and create bibliographies on the fly. The only problem (such as it is) has to do with its flexibility. Fortunately, there are add-ins available that add additional functionality and flexibility.

The ability to import existing Word citations is an important feature for me. I don’t want to have to re-enter hundreds of citations manually simply to gain access to the features and flexibility offered by a third-party add-in. It is a simple enough problem to solve, as all the data is available in XML files and openly available XML schemas. It is a relatively straightforward task to transform the existing data into the application’s format.


One I’ve tried is EndNote, which seems to be a full-featured and flexible addition. Endnote is pricey — $250 for the application. I was about 300 pages into a book, and didn’t want to have to re-enter all my existing citations; Endnote comes with one quite useful feature — it will import your existing Word 2007 (and greater) citations. At the time I used the trial version, I couldn’t find this feature, so I never bought it. The free online version is quite powerful for academic researchers and has a plugin for Word (and Internet Explorer.) I could not get the online program to upload my Word document’s citations to EndNote, even after turning off my firewall. The trial version of the EndNote application worked well, and even purported to import all the citations from my Word document, as well as importing all the citations from my Word Master Source file. This was not, however, a seamless process; I had to do a lot of editing, and there were missing fields for some categories.


One that is both powerful and free is Mendeley. It is quite useful for academic work — you can drag in your files, or set up a watched folder. It will extract the metadata for you, making the task of citing much easier. My problem was that it wouldn’t import existing Word citations. This is a deal breaker for me.


Refworks is a powerful and flexible way to manage your citations. It is an online program, meaning it doesn’t install anything on your computer. This is valuable if you are using computers in libraries or at work where you are not allowed to install software. Unfortunately, Refworks requires the user to manually tag their bibliography for import into Refworks, making this one a dealbreaker.

Zotero is a free plugin. Unfortunately, it seems a bit buggy, and a number of Word features (like Track Changes) cause problems. I didn’t bother installing this to see how it worked — a quick run-through of the documentation was enough.


Papers (from Mekentosj — is also a full-featured program. It does not, however, do the one thing I need it to do, which is to import my existing Word citations.


I suppose if I was starting from scratch, I’d go with Manderley. It comes with the features I need in a reference manager, with the exception of not being able to import citations from Word. Even the most expensive reference manager, EndNote, couldn’t import the Word citations properly. It’s not like it is a technically difficult problem. The XML files are all on the computer; the schemas are all online, and data transformation is a relatively straightforward procedure. I have to believe the reference manager software providers are simply uninterested in the problem.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Microsoft Word Irritations

Charlie Brown in the pitcher's mound, yelling "Aaugh" in frustration.

The version of Microsoft Office provided at the workplace tends to be one or perhaps two generations behind. In this case we are approaching the release of Office 2016; I’m using Office 2013 at home while I’m stuck with Office 2010 at work. I can’t say for sure that all these things haven’t been fixed in 2013 because my writing at home tends to be much different than the document formats I use at work. However, I know that some of these are issues both with Word 2010 and Word 2013. Since software managers want to implement new features rather than fix existing features, these aren’t the type of issues that get fixed. From what I hear, Office 2016 has a new (old) look, plus new collaboration features. None of the reviews I’ve seen suggest they are doing much to improve existing functionality.

Headers and Footers

  1. When working with headers and footers, you can use “Link to Previous” to copy the header from one section to another. To modify the header or footer for that section (perhaps because you have changed the page orientation or margins), you unclick “Link to Previous”. When you do this, your cursor loses focus; it doesn’t stay where it was but moves to the beginning of the header or footer in use.


  1. There is seemingly no way to set the default table properties (such as Cell margins, header background color, etc.). You can set them for a particular document template, but when opening a document created by someone else you have to manually go through and change the table properties. Attaching a document template to an existing document will update the document styles for the table, but not the table properties.
  2. There is seemingly no way to apply the same table formats to multiple tables in a document. Suppose I have numerous tables of the same type in a document, and I want to make the table margins and column widths the same. I can’t do this all at once, but have to do them individually. (I suspect you could do it with macros, but my employer has disabled macros for security reasons.)
  3. When changing table properties on the Table Properties Modal, you can’t change properties on multiple tabs before submitting the changes. Switching a tab on the Table Properties Modal cancels out any changes you had made on the previous tab. You must make all your changes on one tab and Click OK; this closes the Table Properties Modal. You must then reopen the Table Properties Modal and move to the next tab. Or if you are on a Tab, make changes, and then click Options, your changes are cancelled and only the changes on the Options screen are applied.
  4. When changing row properties on the Row tab of the Table Properties Modal, there are two checkboxes. The first is “Allow row to break across pages.” The second is “Repeat as header row at the top of each page.”
    1. The first option is usually applied or unapplied to the entire table; usually you would select the entire table first, then navigate to the Row tab and check or uncheck the option.
    2. The second option is usually applied to the first row of a table. The problem is that you can only do one or the other on a single visit, but not both.
    3. If you need to deselect rows from breaking and designate the first row as the header, you have to make two visits to the Table Properties Modal. Meanwhile, there are edge cases where more than one row is used for the header, or where some rows may be allowed to break across pages while others are not.
    4. The solution is to implement a third checkbox with an option to make the first row repeated as the header row at the top of each page. This way you could select the entire table, deselect the ability to allow the row to break across pages (which makes tables difficult to read) and select the option to repeat the first row as the header without having to make two trips. (Yes, I know about the option on the Table Tools Layout ribbon to Repeat Header Rows.That doesn’t resolve the problem, as it still takes multiple clicks to accomplish what should be a simple task.)
  5. Tables are more difficult to work with than they need to be. As a consequence, I often create the table in Excel and then copy the contents over into a Word Table. This is less than ideal.
    1. What is needed is some of the spreadsheet functionality being added to the table to make it easier to create and edit. For example, suppose I have a Default Sort column with the values Ascending, Descending, andNone. If I begin typing Asc in a new cell, it should understand that I want to fill in Ascending and work the way a spreadsheet does.
    2. Similarly, if I am filling in a column or row with a series, the table should handle that the same way the spreadsheet does. Similarly, dragging text (like N/A) between cells should be as simple as grabbing the handle over a cell or group of cells.
    3. What would be nice is the ability to create a table and work it as a table, then tell it to behave like a spreadsheet and work it that way, then tell it to convert back to a table. That way I could use both table and spreadsheet functionality as appropriate.


  1. When using Insert Citation, there is no way to search or filter the citations. This functionality exists on Manage Sources and allows searching by Title, Author, or Tag. If you are using Word to write a professional or academic document, this missing functionality detracts from the user experience.

Tracked Changes

  1. Every time I save a document with tracked changes, Word warns me the document contains tracked changes and asks me if I want to continue. Every time, with no option to turn it off. Of course, I want to save the document with tracked changes. That is the point of tracked changes — making changes to an existing document and sending the document out for peer review.
  2. The same happens when printing a document with tracked changes, by the way. Instead if just asking if I really intended to print a document with tracked changes, give me a dialogue with some options: to print the document without tracked changes, to print the document with the tracked changes, or to print just the tracked changes. Or to Cancel altogether.

Cut and Paste

  1. When you Copy and Paste you generally end up with an extra paragraph mark which you then must delete.

Cropping Pictures

  1. When cropping a picture, the handles are always the same shade of blue, often blending into the background and making it hard to grab them. The handle color should always be in sharp contrast to the picture.


  1. In the document metadata, we have a field called “Tags”. In Quick Parts, this same data is called “Keywords”.

Margins and Page Layout

  1. When adding a section and switching between portrait and landscape (or vice versa), the custom margins must be reapplied to the new section. For example, if you are in portrait orientation and have margins of .75” left and .5”for all the rest, adding a new section in landscape orientation ends up with .75” at the top and .5” for all the rest. You have to reapply the custom margins to the new section.