March 08, 2013

Thomson Reuters RefScan

Thomson Reuters have recently released a new free application, RefScan, for iPhone and iPad. It is designed to provide a quick way to collect your references on the move. This is similar to a number of applications for mobiles and tablets that utilise the inbuilt camera as a scanner for QR codes or barcodes. There are a few other mobile reference tools available and they were discussed on this blog last year.

RefScan logo

The main feature of RefScan is its ability to scan the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) attached to a journal article and to search for the article. Once found, the reference for it can be saved into your EndNote Web account.

The process can be seen below:


The application also allows you to perform a basic search within the Web of Knowledge database, the results of which you can also directly import into EndNote Web. You can also add references manually.

I decided to test the application by trying to import a number of different articles from a variety of journals.

The first thing I noticed was that the scanning function is quite sensitive, blurring the image. I found it took several attempts to work successfully, which could become very frustrating. It appears to scan some typefaces more effectively than others and I found some serif fonts, like Time New Roman, scanned incorrectly and misread characters. Some typefaces needed more adjustments to make the scan as clear as possible, which could be problematic as DOI’s are usually included in a small font size on the page.

If the DOI does scan correctly, and the reference is found, the EndNote Web import works smoothly and effectively, including all the information usually imported from Web of Knowledge, such as abstracts.

As the application only searches for DOI’s within the Web of Knowledge database, the scanner only works with journals in that database, and (unless you already knew the title was in the system), you would not be able to tell this from the journal itself. You are also relying on the print copy to display the DOI for the article, which is not always done.

If RefScan finds no match, it gives you the option to manually add the reference details and import into EndNote Web. I would find this quite a fiddly and laborious process using a mobile phone keyboard (though better on an iPad). The manual reference gives you limited options, and the default type given to any manual reference is Journal article, and can’t be changed in the application.

I would also mention that every reference has to be imported separately, which could be time-consuming if you have a large number to add.

Manual reference

The other main issue I found was that my EndNote Web account could not be accessed directly in the application. This meant I could not easily check the reference once imported. Instead I needed to use a link to the EndNote Web mobile site in my browser. The problem with this method is that it requires you to log in to your account again, so the process is not seamless between RefScan and EndNote Web. Unfortunately currently EndNote Web does not have a standalone application for iPhone and iPad (though EndNote does have a browser application for iPad only), which limits its mobile effectiveness with RefScan.

Also I could download the application on my iPhone, but as it is only compatible with iOS 10.5.1 or greater, it would not work for Android users, or people with older technology.

Overall RefScan is an interesting idea, but is not yet developed or reliable enough for me to adopt regularly. The benefits of speed and mobility are currently outweighed by the frustration caused by its downsides. In fact I found it be more time-consuming to use the application than to make a note of the DOI, and find the article at a later date for import. Having said that, I would be very interested to see how the application evolves, as there is potential there for it to become far more useful.

Additional links


EndNote Web support in the Library

EndNote for iPad

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