Jun 14, 2023 | Academic World, Uncategorized

Which Reference Management Software Should You Use?

By Edita.us

As an academic researcher, you know that reference management is hugely important. Fortunately, the days of manually inputting references and juggling giant stacks of paper articles are over! Reference managers like Zotero, RefWorks, Endnote, Citationsy, Mendeley, and others can help you store reference information, save documents, sort references, and export bibliographies with ease. Some can provide opportunities for collaboration, locate new papers of interest, proofread your writing, and even suggest which journals are the best fit for your research!

Given the sheer amount of information available online, management software is a vital part of the researcher’s toolkit, revolutionizing the modern-day workflow. As academic editors, we work with data from reference managers on a regular basis, and we have seen first-hand how much they can streamline the research process. That said, no option is flawless! Each program has its strengths and weaknesses, prone to mistakes and gaps in recording details. The way these programs import data depends on how much information is available and accessible within the source; for example, if a researcher selects a reference featuring incomplete or basic metadata, the entry in their personal library will also be limited. We always suggest proofreading and editing your imported references – or hiring an academic editor who can perform an extensive reference edit.

We have analyzed four popular reference managers to help you find the best fit for your needs! The table below compares Zotero, RefWorks, Endnote, Citationsy, and Mendeley, followed by in-depth summaries of each reference manager.

Comparative Overview
  Zotero RefWorks Endnote Citation     sy Mendeley




Free and open-source


$100 annually or institutional subscription


Free basic version, full version is $299 annually

Free basic version, more advanced versions is $5-20 monthly Free with option to purchase cloud storage and other features

Word integration?



Yes, but requires Write-N-Cite download     . Also works with Google Docs  

Yes,      also works with PowerPoint





Instant reference downloads through browser?  












Operating systems?

Windows, macOS, Linux, BSD, Unix, and third-party iOS and android apps  

Windows, macOS, chromeOS, and BSD


Windows, macOS, and iOS app


Any device with an internet connection and a browser


Windows, macOS, linux

Mobile phone compatibility? Yes (third-party apps) No Yes (iPhone) Yes Yes


How      do I get it?


Create an account     , download


Create an account,      download (check for institutional subscription)

Free version      accessible through a browser,      full version      available for download (check for institutional subscription)  

Accessible through      a browser, as a C     hrome extension, and      via an app


Create an account, download


Zotero was developed in 2006 by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, located in Fairfax County, Virginia, USA. Branded as “your personal research assistant”, Zotero is free and open- source, making it a brilliant resource for students and early-career researchers. Integrated within your web browser, it can easily grab reference information from documents across the web (including JSTOR articles, news articles, PDFs, and other sources) with a single click. It can also store whole PDFs, thinkpieces, and other documents, so you can easily find them again at a later date. Zotero is a great way to keep references organized, letting you sort information into collections and tag it with keywords.

Keywords are sometimes included within the downloaded record when using Google Chrome’s Zotero connector. If the reference is imported from a library catalog like your university’s catalog or WorldCat, the chance is high that all metadata will be downloaded. We recommend that you add your own tags every time you save a reference to make your references more discoverable when you need them most.

One problem with Zotero is that reference information grabbed from websites may have incorrect or missing information, so be sure to proofread and edit these when you are crafting your bibliography and/or citations, or let your editor know that you are using Zotero so they can conduct a comprehensive reference edit. The interface is also a   little cluttered and confusing, and it can be difficult for new users to get up to speed with all the features. There are some great guides available online from Harvard, University of Wisconsin, and University of New Mexico. According to its website, Zotero supports over 9,000 referencing systems, and you can create your own citation styles to meet academic journal standards. It can also sync across devices,      building collaborative bibliographies with other researchers. Overall, Zotero is a great resource!


RefWorks is one of the best reference managers – but, unlike Zotero, it comes with a price tag: $100 per year. Most users receive access through an institutional subscription, so check with your university or academic institution if you are interested in this software. Like Zotero, RefWorks can import reference materials and documents with a single click, and can export references in hundreds of citation styles.

RefWorks was developed by information-content and technology company ProQuest, and it ensures accurate reference information by consulting their extensive databases of academic records. This makes it more precise than Zotero, less prone to errors or incomplete information for scholarly papers and books – but it is still susceptible to mistakes with non-traditional sources like interviews, videos, and audio sources. Be sure to proofread and edit, and/or let your academic editor know that you are using this software in advance.

Where RefWorks really shines is in overall research management. You can use the software to organize your data, quickly search documents, annotate and highlight saved files, and sync seamlessly with a Dropbox account. It is also collaborative, allowing users to share information and documents, interact via comments and annotations, and integrate the management software into a joint Google Doc. RefWorks is one of the best reference managers out there.


Endnote, developed by Clarivate Analytics, is tailored slightly more toward science-based researchers; however, it can be used for any subject. The basic version is free, and the full version costs $299.95 per year – yet, as with RefWorks, many academic institutions purchase subscriptions, providing free or discounted software. Endnote lets you share your data and documents with up to 14 researchers worldwide, making it one of the top choices for collaborative researchers. Unlike Zotero and RefWorks, Endnote works well with sources like interviews, podcasts, and press releases.

One major downside of Endnote is that it does not capture references as easily as the other programs. Nevertheless, you can import references from PubMed, EBSCO, Google Scholar, and some other databases or enter them manually. It can also integrate with Microsoft PowerPoint, making it a great resource for those who frequently present their research aloud. It creates references in over 6,000 citation styles.

Endnote can also help with finding new sources. Its software supports searches for hundreds of online records, delivering full-text journal articles in an instant.  What’s more,      Endnote can help you optimize your workflow by using AI to automatically organize your references for you. Lastly, Endnote features Manuscript Matcher, a system that scans your research and creates a list of academic journals that are a good fit for your paper. The basic version retains many of these functions, including storage of up to 50,000 references and 2GB of attachments,      private collaborative groups, access through the iOS app, Manuscript Matching, database searching, a limited amount of reference uploads from databases, reference sorting, and Microsoft Word integration. The major problem with the basic version is that it creates references in only 21 citation styles. Overall, both Endnote Basic and the full Endnote program are high-quality, flexible tools.


Citationsy, founded in 2017 after reference manager RefMe was shut down, is another good resource for students and early-career researchers. The basic version is free of charge,      and advanced versions range from $5-20 per month. The basic option, called Citationsy Junior, can store up to 100 references, and while it cannot directly export to Microsoft Word, you can copy and paste references manually as needed. Citationsy Student ($5 per month) can save unlimited references and export to Word, and it automatically backs up every single reference in case you make a mistake. The top tier, Citationsy Academic ($20 per month), includes all those features as well as 24/7, round-the-clock support and, when purchased as a yearly plan ($200), proofreading and editing of one paper (up to 20 pages).

Citationsy brands itself as “referencing for people who value simplicity, privacy, and speed.” Its major selling points are its clean, simple user interface and its strict data protections. Easily accessible through your web browser, as a Chrome extension, and via a mobile app, it is the most flexible of the reference managers we have reviewed. Like the others, it automatically extracts all citation details – images included! You can even scan barcodes on books to retrieve their complete reference information, which is a unique and useful feature.

A collaborative tool, it claims to work seamlessly with user-friendly software such as screen readers, and you can export Citationsy references to other reference managers like RefWorks and Endnote. Citationsy creates citations in over 9,000 styles, but like all competitors, it can be prone to mistakes and incomplete information, so be sure to review your references or let your academic editor know that you used the software. Overall, Citationsy is a great option for those on a budget who want a clean, simple interface.


While mostly used by researchers in science and health, Mendeley holds value for scholars of any field.  While free to use, you can purchase extra cloud storage space, as well as a host of other features. Alongside an iPhone app, it boasts plugins for Word, BibTeX, LibreOffice, and several web browsers, allowing you to add sources straight from any website and/or drop article PDFs directly into its database. It offers over 7,000 different citations including APA, MLA, and Chicago.

You can create both public and private accounts (invite/password), but free users can create only one private group, featuring a maximum of three members. You can use tags and other labels to organize your reference library, adding notes and annotations. Of all the reference managers we tested, Mendeley was the worst at exporting metadata, so if you choose to use this option, be extra careful and double-check all your citations and bibliographies. Overall, it is a solid tool, accessible for students and those on a budget – but it has limitations.

Other available managers: bibase, bibdesk, biblioscape, bibsonomy, bookends, citavi, cite4me, citethisforme, easybib, figshare, jabref, kbibtex, mybib, notabene, paperpile, pybliographer, qiqqa, readcube papers, refbase, referencer, sorc’d, wikindx

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