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
MSVU Library Zotero tip:

To set up Zotero to access the Check for Full Text @ MSVU service:

  1. Choose Preferences from the Edit option on the Zotero toolbar.
  2. Select the Advanced tab.
  3. At the bottom of the preferences window, paste this url into the "Resolver" box:
  4. Click OK.

Once you've set this up, you can check for full text via the MSVU Library for any article in your Zotero Library. 

  1. Select the article in your Zotero 'library' or 'collection'
  2. Click the green arrow icon on the Zotero toolbar 
  3. Choose Library Lookup


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 University Library of the Technical University of Munich offers a thorough and detailed comparison of 8 different citation managers in their Reference Management Software Comparison (2016).
  • Wikipedia offers a more concise comparison of 30 citation managers - Comparison of Reference Management Software. It's important to note that there are some citation managers listed in their comparison that have been shut down, or have costly subscription fees.

For quick reference, we have compiled a comparison chart of two widely used, free-to-use citation managers:


Zotero Mendeley
Cost Free Free (Open Source)
Language English (Source Language), being translated into 54 languages. Full list here: English
Installation Desktop, Web based Desktop, Web based
Platforms Windows, macOS, Linux Windows (7 or later), macOS, Linux
Mobile Apps

>Mobile-friendly website

>Third party mobile apps:

Android, iOS
Browser Capability

Firefox, Chrome, Safari

Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari
Browser Plug-Ins Firefox, Chrome, Safari Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari
Database Export

Yes - Databases with specific export format (e.g. RIS, BibTeX)

Yes - Databases with specific export format (e.g. RIS, BibTeX) or COinS format
Document Types Supported 33 document types 20 document types

Yes (folders; multiple levels; automatic allocations and multiple allocations possible)

Yes (folders; multiple levels; multiple allocations possible)

Citation Styles Supported 16 citation styles with installation 16 citation styles with installation
Word Processor Integration

Microsoft Word plug-in + OpenOffice and LibreOffice extensions

Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, Google Docs

Community forums on website are also a resource for help.

They also have video tutorials on YouTube:

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


From: Ivey, C., & Crum, J. (2018). Choosing the right citation management tool: EndNote, Mendeley, RefWorks, or ZoteroJournal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA, 106(3), 399-403.

Limited Access to RefWorks

The Mount Library RefWorks subscription ends in April 2021. After that date, access will be limited. Please move your citations to another citation management system.


An online chat-based reference service provided by Novanet libraries.

This guide is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License. You may copy the guide as long as credit is included. We encourage you to license your derivative works under Creative Commons as well to encourage sharing and reuse of educational materials. Please be aware that many of our guides contain links to subscription-based services for which access is restricted, and collections of resources that may have additional rights reserved. Please consult the licenses and terms of use for each resource.