Bibliographic Data (Endnote, Zotero etc.)

What type of literature can be imported into MAXQDA?

MAXQDA offers the possibility to import bibliographic data from literature management programs such as Endnote, Mendeley, Citavi and Zotero in order to conduct literature reviews or to review the state of research in literature. Such programs are mainly used in the scientific field for literature work, which means that they primarily serve the administration of literature references and the creation of literature lists and support the creation of scientific texts. Similar to MAXQDA, the literature management programs work with projects, which are containers containing all collected bibliographic information. The units of the projects consist of literature references (author, title, etc.), for which digital versions of the full texts in PDF format are often stored as attachments.

MAXQDA is compatible with all literature management programs that are able to export their literature databases in RIS format, which is a standard format for bibliographic information. With the following programs it is possible to import the assigned full texts into MAXQDA in addition to the literature references:

  • Endnote
  • Mendeley
  • Zotero

When importing into MAXQDA, each literature entry becomes its own text document. If full texts are imported, MAXQDA automatically connects them to the literature entries using the document link. The individual information in the literature entries is automatically coded for later analysis so that, for example, all titles or abstracts can be compiled and searched. The attachements can be automatically coded during the import with the keywords assigned to them and the notes for a literature entry can be saved as a document memo with the corresponding appendix.

Literature import in MAXQDA

Remarks on the RIS format

RIS is the short form for “Research Information System Format”. RIS files are simple text files in which all exported literature entries are listed one after the other. The RIS files contain so called ” tags “, which consist of two letters and are followed by the corresponding information. Important tags are for example:

TY – Type of reference, always marks the beginning of a new entry

ID – Unique identification number for each entry

AU – Author

TI – Title

PY – Publication date

ER – Closes entry, always located at end of entry

A detailed description of all RIS format tags can be found on Wikipedia under http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RIS_(file_format). An example of RIS source data is listed below:

TY – BOOK
AU – McLuhan, Marshall
AU – Fiore, Quentin
TI – The medium is the message
PY – 1967
CY – New York
PB – Bantam Books
ER –

Importing literature data from Endnote, Mendeley or Zotero

Before importing literature data into MAXQDA, you must export the desired data from your literature management program in the RIS format.

Export from Endnote

Export options Endnote
  1. Select the literature entries you want to export.
  2. Select File > Export… from the main menu.
  3. Enter a file name and select a directory.
  4. Set the file type to “Text Only” and the output style to “RefMan (RIS) Export” as shown in the following picture. If this output style is not available, open the selection list and select “Select Another Style…” at the top, where you can search for the output style.
  5. Click Save

Export from Zotero

Export options Zotero
  1. Right-click on a collection and choose Export Collection… Alternatively, choose File > Export Library… from the main menu to export the entire library.
  2. In the appearing dialog select “RIS” as format.
  3. If you want to export the notes and the associated files (especially the full texts), make sure to check the corresponding boxes for Export Notes and Export Files.
  4. After clicking OK, assign a file name and select a directory.
  5. Click Save

Starting the Import in MAXQDA

After you have exported the desired data, select Import > Reference Manager Data > Import from Endnote/Mendeley/Zotero in MAXQDA. The following dialog appears:

Import literature from Endnote

Click Select File… to select the exported file in RIS format. This file has either the extension RIS (Mendeley / Zotero) or TXT (Endnote).

MAXQDA analyzes the file and shows you various options for importing it. First you can choose if you want to import the references as well as the attachments (full texts) or only one of them.

Tip: MAXQDA checks by author, year, title and publication type which bibliographical references and which attachments already exist in the project file and indicates in brackets how much new data is added by the import. MAXQDA only imports new entries so that no duplicates are created.

For the import of attachements the following options are available:

Only PDF files – Select this option to ignore all other file formats such as Word documents when importing appendices.

Autocode keywords – By setting this option, a small area with all keywords contained in the literature reference is coded at the beginning of each attachment. This makes it easy to select full texts based on the keywords assigned to them. Please note that the keywords contained in a literature reference do not necessarily have to match the keywords actually assigned in the text by the authors.

Add notes as document memos – If this option is enabled, all notes for a literature reference are added as document memos in the “Document System”. The tag N1 of the RIS format is evaluated for the notes.

Store attachments in folder for external files – If this option is disabled, all PDF and image files will be copied to the MAXQDA project file. This is usually recommended if there are only a few or small attachments. If this option is enabled, PDF and image files will be saved in the External Files folder, so the project file itself will remain very small. Here you can find more information about externally stored files.

If you want to import attachments from Endnote, you have to click on Select file… at the bottom of the dialog to tell MAXQDA where the Endnote library from which you exported the data is located in your file system. This is necessary for MAXQDA to know where the attachements are located. The Endnote library has the file extension ENL.

By clicking OK the import process is started.

Import bibliographic data from other programs

If you neither use Endnote, Mendeley nor Zotero, you can still import a RIS file with bibliographic information. Export all desired references from your program in RIS format.

Tip: You can also export search results in RIS format from an online journal or catalogue, for example to analyse how the thematic focus of a journal’s titles has changed over the years.

Switch to the tab Import in MAXQDA and select the entry Reference Manager Data > Import Bibliographic Data from RIS File. A short explanation window will appear and then a selection dialog which lists only files with the endings RIS or TXT. Select the exported file and confirm your selection with OK.

Please note: When using this import option, no attachments (full texts) are imported.

What happens during the import?


  • A document group “REFERENCES” is created in the “Document System”.
  • All literature entries are added to the newly created document group as individual text documents. The entries are sorted alphabetically and marked with their own symbols.
  • The document name consists of the surnames and first names of the authors as well as the year. In the case of two authors these are linked with “&”, in the case of three or more authors only the first author is mentioned and “et al.” is added.
  • In the “Code System” a code “REFERENCES” with the two subcodes “RIS” and “KEYWORDS” is generated. The code “RIS” contains all RIS tags used in the import file as subcodes, e.g. “Type of reference” or “Abstract”. The code “KEYWORDS” contains all keywords assigned in the literature references as subcodes.
  • When importing, all references are automatically coded by coding each text section with the corresponding RIS code.
  • Each keyword in the literature reference is coded with the corresponding keyword in the code system.
  • DOI links are inserted into the text as hyperlinks, so that you can access the online version of a publication directly if required.

If attachements are imported, the following will also happen:

  • A document group “REFERENCES > ATTACHMENTS” is created in the “Document System”.
  • All attachments are imported into this document group as separate documents.
  • The documents retain their file names and are sorted in alphabetical ascending order of their references. The sorting of the document names is therefore not necessarily alphabetical and the same document names may occur, e.g. if there are several documents with “Table of Contents”.

And in case references and attachments are imported:

  • In addition, document links are created, which link the literature reference with the corresponding attachments, so that you can jump back and forth between literature reference and full text with a single click. In the literature reference, the document link can be found in the “Link to PDF (L1)” section (the name comes from the RIS format and also applies if it is a file format other than PDF). In the appendix, the document link is placed at the beginning of the document.

Adopting selected information as variables

The following variables are automatically assigned to each newly created document when importing literature data, including attachments if imported.

  • RIS_Type (Type of reference) – Text variable
  • RIS_Author (First author) – Text variable
  • RIS_Title (Title) – Text variable
  • RIS_Reference-ID (Identification number of the entry in the literature database, is only exported by a few programs, e.g. Endnote) – Integer
  • RIS_Year (Year of publication) – Integer

The variables are created as system variables and cannot be changed by the user.

Analyzing literature data in MAXQDA

After the import and the automatic pre-coding, the bibliographic data and the corresponding full texts are available in MAXQDA like normal documents. This means that they can be searched, coded, linked and assigned memos and are available for further analysis. Of course, the Visual Tools and all other functions such as the graphics and statistics functions can also be used. By importing the variable values, for example, only documents of a certain type can be selected for analyses, such as journal articles or anthology articles, or only publications from a certain year.

Some initial ideas for the analysis:

  • Right-click on a keyword in the code system and select the function Activate Documents Containing this Code. MAXQDA will then activate all literature entries and attachments to which this keyword has been assigned.
  • Double click on “RIS > Abstract” to open all abstracts in the “Coded segments” overview. Start the Smart Coding Tool by clicking on the symbol bearing the same name in the toolbar to encode and systematize the abstracts.
  • Activate the document group “REFERENCES” and activate the code “RIS > Title” to list all titles in the “Retrieved Segments” window. Click on the Word Cloud icon to start an analysis of the (most common) words in the title.

Exporting bibliographic data in RIS format

Bibliographic data from a MAXQDA project can be exported in RIS format for import into a reference management program, for example. The export function can be found in the Reports tab. Click on the Export icon and select the Bibliographic Data as RIS File entry from the menu.

After you have specified a saving directory, all documents of the project that contain literature references (indicated with a book symbol) are exported to a RIS file with UTF-8 encoding.