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Citation Help: Citation Management

Do I need a citation manager?!

Honestly, it depends...

Citation management programs can make your life a LOT easier and the sooner you get started using one, the more benefit you can get from them. You probably do not need a citation manager for a single short paper. 

If you're only working with a few sources, spending hours working with an application to organize your citations will take longer than just working with your citations in a blank document (see Option #1).

BUT if you're in a writing heavy field, having a citation manager that stores all of your citations can be a HUGE help when you want to refer back to a particular citation down the road. 

You should definitely use a citation manager for a large research project (Like a thesis or dissertation)

The sources you'll juggle when completing a large research project can get out of control, and fast. And whereas you will breeze through sources quickly when writing a basic term paper, with a dissertation you're going to spend hours, days, months, weeks, and maybe even years working with the same sources. 

4 ways to manage your citations

1. A Blank Document


Citation management tools, like Zotero and Endnote Basic, take time to learn and can actually slow your writing and research down.  Sometimes, the simplest and best option is to open a Word, Google, or Pages document and store all your citations there.

Many databases, including the Library Catalog and WorldCat, will generate formatted citations that you can simply copy and paste into a document and tweak to include in your paper.

I do recommend keeping a separate document from your actual paper for your bibliography. It's just easier to format and organize a two page list that is self-standing than wrangling with page breaks that are constantly changing in a 15-20 page paper. 

2. Endnote Basic

Endnote Basic is a web-based citation tool derived from the paid application, Endnote (from Thomson Reuters). You can get an Endnote Basic account for free with your email address.

Why should I use it?

People choose Endnote because it's one of the oldest citation tools of the market and therefore, has some name recognition. It's usually recommended as the speediest citation tool in terms of how it grabs citations, though the learning curve is a bit steep. Endnote is often regarded as the de facto citation tool for science disciplines, but it's also used in other academic fields. However, while Endnote can grab lots of different citations from different places, it is primarily developed to work with databases and articles.

Downloading Endnote (not Basic)

If you are a faculty member or graduate student, you can download the full, paid version of Endnote via the University of Iowa. The full version of Endnote is a powerful tool, but only if you take the time to learn how to use it. If you intend to use the full version, I highly recommend finding a training course (there are several offered through the Libraries) that can show you how to use Endnote for more than basic citation grab-and-go. 

3. Zotero

Zotero is a free, open-source citation manager. It is available as either a web add-on in Firefox, or as a downloaded application with grab buttons for all the major browsers.

Why should I use it?

People choose Zotero over other citation managers because it's completely free and has a pretty gentle learning curve. Its also great at grabbing information from not just databases, but the web itself. Overall, Zotero is a nifty little program that can do pretty much anything that larger, vendor-owned products can do.

4. Mendeley

Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network that can help you organize your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest research.

Why should I use it?


Feature Comparison

  EndNote Mendeley Zotero
Format Web interface called EndNote Basic and desktop called EndNote Desktop, which can sync with online account Web interface and desktop, which can sync with online account Firefox extension and standalone version. Can sync with online account
Cost Web interface free to UI affiliates; desktop version free to faculty, staff, and graduate students but $113.95 for undergraduate students Free but there are costs for upgraded storage Free but there costs for upgraded storage
Where to get Download desktop version from ITS; Sign up for an web account Sign up for an account and download the desktop version​ Sign up for an account and download the Firefox extension or Standalone version
Cloud storage 2 GB storage for web interface 2 GB storage; 100 MB storage for sharing groups 300 MB storage
Platform Windows, Mac Windows, Mac, Linux Windows, Mac, Linux
Mobile application iOS iOS and Android iOS and Android
Update Can automatically update and manually update Updated on the Mendeley server Firefox checks by default for updates of extensions
Support BibTeX export for use with LaTeX Yes Yes Yes
Import references from indexes or databases Yes; direct import from Web of Science; hundreds of import filters available for databases; from websites using Capture Reference Yes; direct import from Science Direct and Scopus; from many databases and search engines using Web Importer Yes; from databases and websites using the RIS format
Duplicate detection Yes Yes Yes
Extract citation information from PDFs Desktop version - yes, uses DOI or PubMed ID fields; Web interface version - no Yes - PDF text analyzed for information, DOI, Arxiv, PubMed, Crossref ids all used; Mendeley also uses it's own database to check citations Yes - uses DOI or ther extracted information from PDF; matches in Google Scholar
Get full-text PDFs via the Libraries' subscription Yes Yes Yes
Annotate PDFs Yes Yes No, but can sync PDFs annotated with third party software
Collaboration and sharing Yes, can share exisiting library of references with others; with web interface, can share groups of references Yes, share open, invite-only and private groups of references; private group members can annotate a shared version of the PDF Yes, share public and private groups of references
Create in-text citations, footnotes and bibliographies Yes; When desktop version is installed, it will create an EndNote ribbon in Word processor; If use web interface only, Cite While You Write plugin is available for Word processor Yes; Mendeley's citation plugin is compatible with Word processor and LibreOffice Yes; Zotero's citation plugins are available for Word processor and LibreOffice
Number of citation styles 500 built-in; search 6,000+ styles by journal name or publisher 15 built-in; search 6000+ styles by name or example 18 built-in; 8000+ styles can be found
Edit or create citation styles Yes. You can also submit a request for the creation of a new citation style  Yes Yes

Ask a Librarian

Librarians are available to help you with your questions. Please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions you might have regarding citation styles, citation management, etc.

Ask a question below or contact your subject specialist librarian for more help!