Using Citation Management Software

By Gary Qin |

Producing scholarly work involves reading and synthesizing an often overwhelming amount of information from various sources such as journal articles, books, websites, reports, etc. Having a well-organized set of references from which to pull from can make the difference when writing scholarly papers like essays and manuscripts. Citation management software, also known as reference management software or bibliographic management software, helps you collect, organize, store, and use references. Using citation management software spares you the guesswork, time, and frustration often involved with using citations, footnotes, and bibliographies in your writing.

Citation management software allows you to easily:

  • Import references from online databases, library catalogs, and PDF files
  • Organize all your references into a searchable database
  • Share references with collaborators
  • Generate and insert citations, footnotes, and bibliographies in MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style, and thousands of other styles into word processors like Microsoft Word and Google Docs
  • Convert the citation style of your documents automatically to suit submission requirements

All citation management software does the items above. When choosing which one to invest time in learning and setting up, it comes down to understanding the differences and determining which software better suits your needs. While the following is not an exhaustive list of the citation management software out there, it includes the most commonly mentioned software:

  1. PaperPile is a free web-only app that uses Google Drive’s cloud storage and is designed for use on Google Docs. If you use a Chromebook, this is your only software option.
  2. Mendeley is a free (to a point) web- and browser-based software that works well if your references are primarily PDF files. It has an integrated PDF viewer and can create citations using the browser extension. It has the strongest website and community platform out of the four listed here.
  3. Zotero is free, open-source web- and browser-based software that works well if you have diverse references. Its single-click capture lets you import references from more databases, catalogs, and websites than Menedeley’s browser extension. You can also retrieve PDF metadata, creating citation records from importing a PDF into the software.
  4. EndNote is a desktop and cloud-based software with a one-time purchase (student discounts available) that offers good customer support and some additional features that might be necessary for your discipline and workflow, such as online database searching from within the software. 

You should do your own research and play around with all the different citation management software out there. All are free to try, and you can move your reference library between them relatively easily, so there is no harm in trying out multiple software. I hope this was helpful, and if you weren’t already using citation management software, this article convinced you to give them a try. 

[Image Description: Chi, the titular grey and white kitten from the Japanese manga series Chi’s Sweet Home, happily typing on a keyboard]

Caption: Happy writing (and citing)