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Citation Managers

Software and apps to help you organize and format citations for your research papers.

All citation managers will have much the same functionalities: Importing references from databases and Google Scholar, creating citations and bibliographies for Word and Google Docs, allowing you to add notes for your items, and so on.

When you choose, it's important to know how each citation manager stands out, good or bad.

Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

1.  Do you do a lot of group work?

Zotero is far and away the strongest option for managing group research.  You can have unlimited shared collections, each with an unlimited number of members, and you can customize how visible your shared collections are.

Mendeley also allows groups, but in the free version a group can have at most three members.

2.  How much storage do you need?

Most managers come with a limited amount of cloud storage, and offer users a chance to purchase more space.  Zotero offers 300 megabytes for free; Mendeley 2 GB.  If you do not use cloud storage (i.e., save everything on one hard drive), then this isn't an issue.  If you save numerous entire electronic books, data files, or other large items then paying for extra cloud storage, or not using cloud storage at all, is going to be the way to go regardless of which citation manager you use.  Active researchers typically prune files not in active use, and keep abstracts and notes in their citation managers.

3.  Do you work with websites, "gray literature," YouTube videos, or other "non-academic" sources?

Zotero is much better able to handle "regular" websites than Mendeley or its other competitors.  Zotero will save a snapshot of any website along with the data about when you visited, to make citation easier.  Mendeley is optimized to work with databases, particularly Elsevier databases.

4.  Do you find yourself downloading duplicate articles?

If you download or import a lot of search results, from time to time you'll probably add the same article several times.  Zotero will flag potential duplicate items to help keep your library tidy.  Mendeley does not have this feature at this time.

5.  Are you a tinkerer?

Zotero is open-source, so over the years users have created a number of add-ons and extensions.  (With the most recent major upgrade, some of these are currently broken, however.)  Mendeley (and other mainstream choices) is proprietary software--Mendeley is developed by Elsevier--and so user-generated content is much rarer.  Bother Zotero and Mendeley have robust user groups, however, and support is a discussion board away.

Fun Zotero tricks:

Zotero allows you to add the UND Library's proxy link, so you can look up items in the Chester Fritz catalog from Zotero.  This is especially handy if you import a list of references from someone else, and want to see if they are available at UND.

Fun Mendeley tricks:

If you import references from Google Scholar or some of the UND databases, along with the references it will save the website it drew from.  This might be handy for Google Scholar, but note that the URL from, say, EBSCO will not be a stable, proxied link you can return to later.  You would have to manually insert the permalink to the search results.  (This is also possible in Zotero, but takes a couple of extra steps.)



In our experience, the strongest case for Zotero is its ability to handle shared collections, and how it works with websites and the "regular internet."  Mendeley comes with a greater amount of cloud storage, and if you work extensively with Elsevier products like Engineering Village/Compendex or Science Direct, it is a more native application.  But both have much the same features overall.

Still need help deciding?

Take a look at the comparison chart below to see how the features of the different citation managers compare:


I need to / I want to EndNote Online Zotero Mendeley RefWorks LITE
Direct export from databases  Yes  Yes Yes Yes
Use with a Mac or PC Yes Yes Yes  
Sync with laptop/pc and web account n/a
Yes Yes
Work on a group project & share citations Yes Yes Yes
(Max 3 in group)
Create folders  Yes Yes Yes Yes
Add tags & notes  Notes not tags Yes Yes Yes
Use with Google Docs Yes
Firefox browser plug-in Yes Yes Yes  
Safari browser plug-in Yes Yes    
Microsoft Edge browser plug-in Yes Yes Yes  
Chrome browser plug-in  Yes Yes Yes  
Use with Microsoft Word  Yes Yes Yes
Import web pages and sites like Flickr Yes Yes
Annotate PDFs within citation manager   Yes Yes Yes