Skip to Main Content

Citation Management

How do you keep all those citations straight? With a citation manager, of course.

What is Citation Management?

Keeping track of your sources (and citing them properly) is an essential part of academic research.  Citations help you avoid plagiarism and demonstrate to your professor and the academic community all of the work that you did to find credible sources.  Academic writing is about building on the work of previous researchers, and your citations show that.

Citation managers are designed to help you keep information about your research organized, they're like iTunes for your research.  They allow you to organize and retrieve the citations for books, articles, and Web sites that you've found. The citation manager then works with your word-processing software to insert formatted footnotes or citations into a paper and create a bibliography.

A citation manager allows you to:

  • Import files and citation information like author, date, format, and title.
  • Organize your personal research library.
  • Share citation information with classmates and colleagues.

Once you import a citation, you can:

  • Link to the original article.
  • Save and take notes on PDFs.
  • Organize your sources using tags or folders.
  • Create bibliographies automatically.


Choosing a citation manager

There are lots of options for choosing a citation manager, and they have different strengths and weaknesses.  On the "Choosing a citation manager" page we outline the strengths and weaknesses of several free options, but here we'll talk about some of the considerations you should think about when choosing:

  • What do the other people in your field use?  Since one of the functions of a citation manager is to collaborate and share, you want to use the same system as your colleagues and classmates.  Talk to your professor about what they use and recommend.
  • How many citations do I need to manage?  If you are just looking to create a bibliography from a few sources, then an online citation generator like Zoterobib could be perfect for you.  But if you need to keep track of more than 5 or 6 citations for a term paper, it would be worth looking into a full fledged citation manager.
  • Do I want to store PDFs of the articles I found?  Both Zotero and Mendeley will allow you to upload the full PDFs of articles and attach them to the citation information.  They have different amounts of storage in their free options.