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    How to Upgrade your Institution


    In this page you will find instructions for upgrading your institution from legacy RefWorks to (new) RefWorks. Two upgrade options are available. Read through the descriptions and find the option most suitable for you at this time, which may also be a combination of both options.

    Before implementing any upgrade option, make sure to read the Admin Upgrade Guide, which provides all the information you need about upgrading your institution from legacy RefWorks to RefWorks: reasons to upgrade, considerations when creating your upgrade plan, actions to take before and after upgrading, extensive FAQ, and more.

    Regardless of the upgrade path you choose, we suggest asking users to notify you when they no longer have use for their legacy account. This will allow you to delete the accounts and to have an accurate picture of legacy vs. RefWorks usage at your institution.

    Institutional Upgrade

    This is the recommended option, which allows you to upgrade legacy RefWorks accounts in bulk, giving you control of the upgrade schedule, and with no action needed by users. This will allow you to easily end legacy support knowing that 100% of your users have RefWorks accounts with all their legacy folders and references. 

    However, if preferred, you can start the upgrade process by allowing users to upgrade at their own pace, using the User Upgrade option. At a later time, you can upgrade remaining legacy RefWorks users using the Institutional Upgrade option.

    User Upgrade

    This option allows users to upgrade their accounts at their own pace, though you may want to provide them with a deadline so that you can stop supporting legacy RefWorks.

    If choosing this option, at any later time you can use the Institutional Upgrade option to complete the process for users who have not yet upgraded.

    How to Upgrade - Institutional Upgrade

    Determine your Approach

    The institutional upgrade tool provides the information and flexibility to support your strategy for upgrading users, whether you want to upgrade users in batches or all at once:
    • Upgrading one department at a time - Administrators work closely with department staff to determine the best plan for upgrading accounts associated with that department.
    • Upgrade based on target groups - Some administrators may want to upgrade simpler accounts first and keep a closer eye on more complex accounts. Some fields that could be used to determine complexity:
      • Role (for example, undergraduate versus faculty)
      • Number of references saved in an account
      • Infer intricacy of an account by looking at the number of folders and subfolders in an account
      • Look at the number of logins in the last 12 months or the last login date to determine activity level
    • Upgrade all users at once – the only downside to this method would be if a user had already manually upgraded their account, a new Project will be created based the account username, followed by Admin Upgrade. Users can delete the Project if it is out of date.
    As mentioned before, we recommend disabling the creation of new legacy accounts before performing the upgrade.

    Using the Tool

    The Institutional Upgrade feature can be found in the legacy Administrator Tool. Look for the Institutional Upgrade link between the Customize and Help links in the top navigation.

    Institutional Upgrade option in header bar.
    Institutional Upgrade

    Generate and Download the Legacy Account Spreadsheet

    Go to section 1 to generate a spreadsheet containing the most up-to-date legacy account information. Depending on the number of users and the size of the accounts, this process may take a few minutes.  

    If you stay on this page while it is being processed, you can refresh the page in the browser to see if the spreadsheet is ready. You are not required to stay on this page or stay logged into the administrator tool while it is generating the spreadsheet. Additionally, you have the option of receiving an email notification when the spreadsheet is ready for download.

    The tool can only save one email address at a time and will always save the last one entered. 

    Once the spreadsheet is ready, you will see a timestamp and a link to download the excel file. The 10 most recently generated spreadsheets will be saved in this table.

    Modify the Spreadsheet as Necessary

    Download and open the spreadsheet. You will notice the following tabs:

    • Instructions tab - A quick summary of how to interpret and use the spreadsheet. 
    • Legacy users for Upgrade tab - Worksheet containing available upgrade actions, account upgrade status, and legacy account information. 
    Upgrade Actions
    Select Accounts for Upgrade (column A) 

    The Select Account column allows you to select an action to apply to an account:

    • Upgrade: By default, legacy RefWorks accounts that have not yet been upgraded and have been active in the last 12 months are preset for upgrade, unless the legacy account has no references. 
    • Do not upgrade: By default, legacy RefWorks accounts that have an email match with a RefWorks account, that have no references, or that have been upgraded via the institutional upgrade tool, are preset not to be upgraded. If you set them to Upgrade, references added since the last upgrade will be added to the corresponding RefWorks account. 
    • Unable to upgrade: If an account does not have an email address or because it is too large, it will be preset as unavailable for upgrade. Refer to the Details column (column D) for more information.

    You can change the selection as needed:

    • Type "Upgrade" or "Do not upgrade" in the cell. After typing in once, you may copy and paste it into other cells. 
    • Do not change cells that contain "Unable to upgrade", they will update automatically if upgrade requirements are met.
    Upgrade Status (Columns B-D) 

    The Upgrade Status section provides information relevant to the upgrade status of legacy accounts:

    Last Upgrade (Column B)

    This column indicates if/when an account was upgraded.

    Upgrade Status (Column C)

    In addition to providing the upgrade status of an account, this column indicates who initiated the upgrade and if an error was encountered during the upgrade.

    • Not upgraded: The legacy account has not been upgraded or the account is not eligible to be upgraded through the institutional upgrade process.  
    • Upgrade error: The account encountered a technical issue during the institutional upgrade process. 
    • Upgraded by admin: Upgrade initiated by admin through the institutional upgrade process 
    • Upgraded by user: If there is an email match between a legacy account and RefWorks account, it will be marked as upgraded by user. However, this does not necessarily mean the legacy account was upgraded and is actively being used by the user. Scenarios include:
      1. A user upgraded their legacy account to RefWorks and has been actively using RefWorks, making their legacy account out of date.

      2. A user upgraded their legacy account to RefWorks for the purpose of checking it out but continued using legacy instead. Depending on how much time has passed, they may not even remember they have a (new) RefWorks account.

      3. A user created a (new) RefWorks account from scratch using the same email address as their legacy account. These users may not want their legacy account information to clutter their RefWorks account.

      4. A user may have upgraded their legacy account but then changed their email address in one of the accounts, so it will not appear as a match in this column (this is the least likely scenario).

    For scenarios a, b, and c 

    If the legacy account goes through the institutional upgrade process, the legacy account will be added to the RefWorks account as a separate Project, so users can easily ignore or delete the undesired/outdated Project from the RefWorks Manage Projects page.

    For scenario d

    After the institutional upgrade, the user will have two RefWorks accounts, each associated with a different email address. The user will get their second RefWorks account information in an upgrade welcome email. If they do not want two RefWorks accounts, they can share Projects with the other account before closing it. If users need help dealing with two RefWorks accounts, they can reach out to support:

    Details (Column D)

    The Details column provides additional information about the upgrade status. Below is a list of the several types of alerts that may appear in this column:

    • The institutional upgrade was successfully completed 
    • Legacy account is missing an email address (this is not common); simply type in user’s valid email address to enable admin upgrade.
    • Legacy account's email address is associated with a RefWorks account at a different institution; simply type in user’s valid email address to enable admin upgrade.
    • Institutional upgrade encountered a technical error: Try upgrading the account again later. If this problem persists, please contact support at:
    • Account exceeds 40,000 references and is not eligible for institutional upgrade. Users can manually export references to Bibliographic Software format (RIS) and import references to RefWorks.
    • A RefWorks account with the same email address (as the legacy account) exists: If you upgrade this account, references added to the legacy account since the last upgrade will be added to the corresponding RefWorks account.
    • Account contains no references: If you upgrade this account, it will result in a RefWorks account storing no references.
    Legacy RefWorks Columns (Columns B-D and F-N)

    You can filter columns to view data and segment accounts in a way that supports your institution’s upgrade strategy. However, you will not be able to modify any values other than:

    • Select Accounts (Columns A) 
    • Email Address (Column E) 

    Upload the Spreadsheet

    Once you are satisfied with the selected actions (Upgrade or Do Not Upgrade) you can save the file under a different name or keep the original file name.  

    Go to section 2 of the Institutional Upgrade Tool and click on the Browse… button to locate the spreadsheet. Once it is uploaded, review the filename to verify you have uploaded the correct file.

    Start Institutional Upgrade

    Once the spreadsheet has been uploaded, the Start institutional upgrade button in section 3 will be enabled. Before you start the upgrade process, note the following:

    • The typical upgrade time is several hours, though times may vary based on the number of institutions upgrading simultaneously and the number of accounts at your institution.  
    • You will not be able to cancel the upgrade process once it starts. The upgrade process will run until it is complete. 
    • You do not need to stay on the page or be logged into the admin tool while the institutional upgrade is in process. Additionally, if you would like to receive an email notification once the process is complete, enter your email address. (As noted above, only the most recent email address entered is saved.) While on the processing page, you can refresh the page in the browser, at any time, to get an updated status.

    When you are ready to initiate the process, click on the Start institutional upgrade button.

    Upgrade Complete

    Once the upgrade is complete, a high-level summary of the upgrade process will appear at the top of the page. 

    After the upgrade is complete, we recommend generating a new spreadsheet (with the most up-to-date information) and reviewing the upgrade status section (Columns B – D) to get a complete picture of the institutional upgrade. 

    Once all your institution’s legacy accounts have been upgraded to RefWorks, contact RefWorks Tech Support to deactivate your legacy access. We will save user data for 120 days after deactivation before deletion.

    User Perspective

    Once an Account is Upgraded by the Admin

    Once a RefWorks account has been created through the institutional upgrade process, the user will receive a welcome email with information regarding their (new) RefWorks account.

    Welcome email.

    Welcome Email

    Users will proceed to log in to RefWorks with the email address where they received the welcome email, and use the same password as for their legacy account.

    RefWorks will automatically populate settings, including the Role and Area of Focus fields, if the values the user has in legacy are defined in the institution in RefWorks. In cases where the user has a value in legacy that is not defined as an option in RefWorks, then the user will be able to select the appropriate Role and Area of Focus from the dropdown in Settings.

    First-time Logging in to Legacy (after Account has been Upgraded by the Admin) 

    The first-time a user logs into their legacy account post-upgrade, they will see a modal congratulating them on having an upgraded RefWorks account, along with a button that will take users to their upgraded account. Users can see the email address to which their account information was sent and have the option of having it resent. 

    In addition, users are warned that any changes made to their legacy account will not automatically be reflected in their upgraded account. If a user wants to import references added to their legacy account since the institutional upgrade was completed, they can check the ‘Include references’ checkbox before clicking on the Go to my upgraded RefWorks account button.

    Message that displays after upgrading.

    Message after Upgrading
    Subsequent Visits to Legacy (after Account has been Upgraded by the Admin)

    On subsequent visits to legacy, users will see a different banner at the top of the screen, recommending to use their upgraded RefWorks account. Clicking on the Import references to my upgraded RefWorks account button imports references added to their legacy account since the institutional upgrade to their upgraded RefWorks account. (Clicking on the More details link will re-launch the congratulations modal.)

    Banner Displayed on Subsequent Visits to Legacy

    Banner Displayed on Subsequent Visits to Legacy

    Subscription to Legacy after it has been Deactivated

    If a user tries to log into their legacy account after your institution’s access has been deactivated, they will receive information explaining how to access their RefWorks account.

    Subscription after Deactivation.

    Subscription after Deactivation


    What happens if I upgrade legacy accounts with the same email address? 

    Upgrading multiple legacy accounts associated with the same email address will result in a single RefWorks account, with a Project for each legacy account. Each Project will be named [legacyUserlogin], Admin Upgrade. As an example, for the legacy user login user123, if an account is found in RefWorks having the same email address then a Project will be created with the name user123, Admin Upgrade. If there are multiple accounts or logins associated with the same email at the time of upgrade, the same logic would apply for each one.

    Would you Like us to Upgrade on your Behalf?

    If you would like us to upgrade your institution on your behalf, send a request to RefWorks Tech Support:

    • Category: New RefWorks 
    • Subject: Upgrade My Institution to RefWorks  
    • Description should include the following info:
      • Whom to upgrade

      • If there is a specific time frame when this should be done. (Please allow a period of at least 1 month between submitting request and desired upgrade date.)

    The backend upgrade made on your behalf does not include notifying your users of upcoming changes. Please, follow the Admin Checklist - Institutional Upgrade recommendations to ensure a smooth user experience.

    How to Upgrade - User Upgrade

    Once RefWorks is set up for your institution (if it isn't, refer to Admin Upgrade Guide – Before Upgrading) you can instruct users to upgrade their legacy RefWorks accounts using several methods:

    1. Using an upgrade button in the legacy UI which will automatically upgrade the legacy account to a RefWorks. This is the recommended option. To enable the upgrade button contact RefWorks support.
      "Upgrade to the latest Refworks version" button.
      Upgrade to RefWorks Button
    2. Opening a RefWorks account and importing legacy references from within RefWorks.
      The above two methods upgrade references (excluding references in Deleted References), attachments, folders, and custom citation styles.
    3. Opening a RefWorks account, exporting references from legacy RefWorks to a reference file and importing the file to RefWorks.

      This method only upgrades references (excluding references in Deleted References) and does not upgrade attachments, folders, or custom citation styles.

    Refer your users to the User Upgrade Guide for details about upgrading using each of these methods. 


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