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Citing Sources: Citation management tools

What can citation management tools do?

Citation management tools help you keep track of your research in the following ways:

  • keep all of your citations in one place
  • easily import citations from library catalogues, databases, and websites
  • format citations and easily create bibliographies and works cited lists
  • organize your citations into different projects or categories
  • save and organize images, audio files, videos, PDFs, and other file types
  • take and save notes on items in your collection of citations
  • share your citations easily with others

Citation management tools are also called bibliography management or reference management tools or software.

How would I use citation management tools?

A few examples of how you might use these tools:

  • In the initial stages of research for a project, use citation management software to import the citation information of books and journal articles that look relevant to your topic. After this initial scan, look through your citations to decide which you would like to look at more closely. Because you saved the citation information as you found it, you can easily go back to all the sources that looked interesting without redoing your searches.
  • When you have finished writing an essay, use citation management software to easily create bibliographies and works cited lists. If you have been using the software throughout your research, your citations are all in one place and you will not need to go back to the library or databases to locate citations.
  • If your research involves images, use citation management software to save and organize images and their citation information as you find them. This can eliminate the need to download images and create file folders on your computer or cloud-based storage. Organize these image files alongside other citations for the same project, so that all of your research, both textual and image-based, is in one place.

Which citation management tool should I use?

There are several popular citation management tools. They share the same basic functions, as outlined in the box to the left. This chart explains some of the key differences:

Name Cost Strengths and special features Access and devices Supports images?
Zotero Free, with 300MB of storage. Option to pay for extra storage space.

Intuitive and very easy to use. Integrates directly into browser so that you can add a citation with one click.

Manages a variety of formats and file types (web pages, PDFs, audio, video, images, etc.)

Can sync with multiple computers.



Browser extension: Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera

Desktop application: Mac, Windows, Linux

Word processing extension: Microsoft Word or LibreOffice.

Yes. Import and organize image files and URLs.

Mendeley Free, with 2GB of storage. Option to pay for extra storage space.

Excellent for use with PDFs, but also handles a variety of file formats.

Annotate PDFs.

Extract metadata from PDFs.

Provides more free storage than Zotero.

Fairly easy to use.

Can sync with multiple computers.

Desktop application: Mac, Windows or Linux

Browser extension: Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Internet Explorer

Word processing extension: Microsoft Word or LibreOffice.

Mobile: iOS and Android apps


Student license: $49

Regular license: $79

Free 30-day trial.

Free iOS app.

Specializes in managing PDFs, particularly scientific articles.

Annotate PDFs

Search some databases directly within the program (JSTOR, Google Scholar, PubMed, etc.).


Mac and iOS programs Yes. Import images using Dropbox.

Free EndNote Basic account, a limited, web-only service.

Sells different versions of EndNote X7 software and online access from $150-$300 USD.

Free 30-day trial of EndNote X7 software.

Highly customizable, but steeper learning curve.

High storage capacity and therefore excellent for large projects like theses or book-length works.

Annotate PDFs.

Search many databases directly.

Desktop application: Mac, Windows

Mobile: iPad app


Keep in mind: these tools generally make it easy to import citations from one citation management tool to another. If you try one and find that you do not like it, just import your citations to another tool.

For a comprehensive comparison of citation management tools, consult this chart on Wikipedia.

Image Management

Citation management tools are particularly useful for art and design research because most allow you to organize and link images with your research. The following links outline how to organize images with Mendeley and Zotero.

What about Refworks?

The OCAD U library is terminating its institutional subscription to RefWorks citation management software effective August 31, 2016, after a thorough evaluation of local usage, cost effectiveness, potential impact on our users and the availability of comparable free citation management systems.

If you currently or previously used RefWorks for citation management, there are several options for making it through this transition.

Easily import your citations to Mendeley or Zotero by following these instructions.

Alternatively, subscribe to RefWorks as an individual for $100 USD per year. Start the process by signing up for a free 30-day trial.