12 May 2021 Blogs, Academic, Faculty, Librarian

How Resource Management Supports the Research Journey

Survey results reveal RefWorks features valued by students and researchers

“RefWorks is the least of my worries when it comes to remote learning, it’s made for this situation.”
– Dr. Adam Edwards, Library Liaison Manager, Middlesex University

The RefWorks user experience team recently conducted a global survey among more than 800 RefWorks users; we learned about the features they find most valuable -- and the features they haven't heard about.

The insights we gathered are very interesting. The answers were helpful in understanding where we may have gaps and how we can do a better job exposing the features that we and our users think are most beneficial.

What the Survey Revealed

It turned out that some of the valued Refworks features are also the most obscure. As a result, our team has focused on promoting the benefits of these features and providing more supplemental training and encourage RefWorks administrators to do the same. We also discovered that user workflows don’t always make use of all RefWorks features. For example, the ability to “Bulk Edit” is typically used by individuals working with very large collections. Likewise, the “Sharing” features are irrelevant to researchers working independently.

While some features are important and helpful in supporting complex workflows, the survey underscored the benefits of the basic features – collecting and managing references, and correctly formatting citations and bibliographies.

“In our follow up conversations with some of the responders, we learned that simply taking the survey increased overall awareness of features. Intrigued, a few responders looked up some of the features mentioned in the survey right away.”
– Gloria Murillo, RefWorks User Experience Sr. Designer

View the detailed survey results to learn more.

About the Survey

We surveyed 880 students and researchers who access Refworks through their library, and we asked participants to rank Refworks features: Very Valuable, Valuable, Not Valuable or Not Aware. (For the sake of simplicity, in this report, we are using the term "valuable" to refer to combined "very valuable" and "valuable" results.)

Each of the features fell into one of three categories: Search and Exploration, Staying Organized, and Collaboration. While we refer to these categories below, a user might prefer to organize their folders within RefWorks (e.g. by topic, subject or class name) before importing references -- while others like to jump right in by importing references and organize and collaborate later.

Very few of the features were rated as “not valuable” – typically that rating was given by under 10% of responders, and in only a handful of cases, around 10-15%. So, in this overview, we’re focusing on features that are most valuable and those that could use more exposure.


  • Students - 67%
  • Researchers - 18%

Search and Exploration

RefWorks enables users to find, collect, import, and save references to folders or projects from virtually any source. Searching and exploring these references in RefWorks is imperative for efficient work.

There are three features in this category that users found to be most valuable -- with over 75% of responders selecting the “valuable” options:

  • Search in a specific field
  • Search within a folder
  • Autocomplete by matching the title

Staying organized

Responders confirmed one of the best things about RefWorks is how it supports organization.

RefWorks provides projects, folders and sub-folders to help users better organize references whether working on their own or sharing and collaborating with peers.

It wasn’t a surprise to see each of these four features ranked as “valuable” by over 85% of responders:

  • Creating folders
  • Last Imported
  • Sort references
  • Reference views

Collaborating with others

Last, but not least, a portion of the survey inquired about collaboration. RefWorks has many sharing options for users to collaborate with peers and for faculty and students to interact. Worried that others will make changes to your references? No problem! Use View Only permission. Want to share the work equally with a colleague? Share an entire Project to allow full access, no problem.

Interestingly, many of those features were mutually called out as valuable and as unaware by those who took the survey. Many beginning researchers work on their own and have no need for collaborative features, so they may not even notice they are available.

  • Private sharing of folders: 51% valuable vs. 40% unaware
  • Public sharing of folders: 44% valuable vs. 42%% unaware
  • Project sharing: 49% valuable vs. 39% unaware

Looking toward the future

“One of my favorite things is that improvements to the main platform are immediately active for all of us. Unlike most citation managers, which require installing or downloading the new features, RefWorks is instantly better. I feel that nearly every week I notice something that’s new or improved.”
– Krista Clement, Reference Librarian, BC Cancer

Results from surveys like this help us validate and update our roadmap, identify areas where we should improve RefWorks or better communicate with our users. RefWorks is committed to helping you maximize your research productivity.

Learn more about the survey results.