Skip to Main Content

Help with Library Research

Citation Managers: What You Need to Know

An overview of citation management software, a description of popular products (e.g. Zotero, Mendeley), and a discussion regarding various value-added features to help choose a citation manager that works best for you.

Citation Managers

Citation managers are desktop or web based programs that allow you to collect, organize, share, and cite references.

While it might seem like citation managers are an "easy" way to cite your references and create bibliographies, you should always double-check what the program has generated. Citation managers are only as good as the information you put into them, so if there is information lacking in the citation manager, then that information will be missing from your final reference. You should also make sure that the formatting of the reference/citation is in accordance with the citation style you are using.


Zotero (pronounced "zoh-TAIR-oh") is free citation software that collects, manages, and cites research sources. It automatically updates itself periodically to work with new online sources and new bibliographic styles.

Zotero allows you to attach PDFs, notes and images to your citations, organize them into collections for different projects and create bibliographies. There is a limit of 300mb of free storage for PDFs and other file attachments.

Getting started with Zotero
Other useful Zotero guides

Choosing a Citation Manager

There are many websites out there that will list reviews of citation manager software, or provide comparisons of different products. In the end, testing out a product for yourself is what will help you come to your conclusion. Below is a list of questions you should keep in mind when evaluating different citation managers for yourself.

Key questions to choosing the right citation manager for you:

Ease of Use/Usability
  • Do I like the interface? Is it intuitive to me?
  • Do I easily find the functions I’m looking for?
Operating System
  • What software can I use with my operating system (Linux, Mac, Windows)?
  • Which software offers an online version?
  • Which software offers a mobile version/app?
  • Are there any training courses for beginners?
  • Are there any materials for self-training (e.g. videos, manuals)?
  • Is there any support if I need help (library, company, IT hotline, forum etc.)?
  • What external programs should my reference management software support (e.g. word processor)?
  • Does the software cost anything?
  • Is there a campus license at my institution (university/company)?
  • Are there potentially additional costs (e.g. after leaving institution, need for more storage space)?
What features should my reference management software offer?
  • Catalogue and database search from within the program?
  • Indexing and structuring of content?
  • Searching for full text?
  • PDF editing?
  • Generating bibliographies?
  • Managing quotes/ideas?
  • Online access?
  • Sharing and/or jointly editing references?
  • Task planning?
  • LaTeX support?
Where do I usually work?
  • Do I always use the same computer or do I switch sometimes?
  • Do I have permission to install software on the computer I use?
  • What reference management software do my colleagues/collaborators use?

Adapted from Universitätsbibliothek Technische Universität München, (2016), “Reference Management Software Comparison”, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.

Additional resource
Ivey, C., & Crum, J. (2018). Choosing the right citation management tool: Endnote, Mendeley, Refworks, or Zotero. Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 106(3), 399–403.

You should also ask yourself "what research am I using this for?" If you are just looking to get a citation manager for a single assignment that requires minimal resources (5-10), you may be better off keeping track of these on your own through other means.

Citation Manager Comparisons

There are many different citation managers and multiple sources that offer comparisons.


The MSVU Library RefWorks subscription ended April 2021. You will no longer be able to access RefWorks with your MSVU login. If you require assistance in exporting citations formerly stored in RefWorks to another citation manager contact