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Citation Tools: Software & Apps

What is research management software?

Over the course of your research, you may come across hundreds of relevant articles, PDFs, websites, or books that you'd like to cite in your work. Keeping track of these items manually can be extraordinarily difficult and time-consuming. However, there are two types of software tools that can make the job much easier: citation generators and research management software.

Citation generators are simple apps that take bibliographic information and generate citations and references in a desired citation style (such as APA or MLA). However, they are typically "one-off" uses; you may find yourself generating the same citation repeatedly. The following citation generator apps are all free to use:

By comparison, research management software builds a permanent database of references, which can then be used to generate citations and references. Unlike citation generators, research management software will "remember" your library of references, so you don't have to re-find or re-generate the same references over and over. They also come with other useful features for research:

  • Keep track of articles and studies you've read
  • Sync your library of references or PDFs across multiple devices
  • Annotate and "mark up" PDFs, or keep notes attached to references
  • Add "cite-while-you-write" functionality to Microsoft Word (insert citations from your library into your manuscript and generate the bibliography in the specified citation style)
  • Share your personal library of references with colleagues

University Libraries supports three major reference management softwares: Zotero, EndNote, and Mendeley. Zotero and Mendeley are free to use, while students and faculty can purchase EndNote at a discounted rate. For help selecting a reference management software, contact Paul Fehrmann (pfehrman@kent.edu), or check out the Zotero, EndNote, and Mendeley guide.

Comparisons of reference management tools

Differences between EndNote, Mendeley, and Zotero research management softwares.
  EndNote Mendeley Zotero
Official site endnote.com mendeley.com​ zotero.org
Cost for Kent State students Approximately $115 (purchase through kent.onthehub.com) Free (with paid options to upgrade PDF storage space) Free and open source
Cost for Kent State faculty Approximately $220 (purchase through kent.onthehub.com) Free (with paid options to upgrade PDF storage space) Free and open source
Operating systems
  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux
  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux
Access Desktop and web-based Desktop client or web-based Browser plug-in & desktop client or web-based
Primary strengths
  • Customizable
  • Can manage vast number of references
  • Excellent support
  • Strong PDF management
  • Strong PDF annotation options
  • Good sharing/collaboration options
  • Supports many formats (web pages, books, etc.)
  • One-click record capture
  • Good sharing/collaboration options
How does it work? Import references exported from databases Import references exported from databases; extracts metadata from PDFs Import references exported from databases; adds a button to web browser; click to extract data from compatible web sites; can extract metadata from PDFs 
Word processor functions? Automatically create and insert citations and reference page Automatically create and insert citations and reference page Automatically create and insert citations and reference page
Annotate PDFs? Yes Yes Yes, with “external” program (e.g., Adobe Reader)
Notes & tags Yes Yes Yes
Supports syncing? Yes Yes Yes
Mobile use App for iOS or EndNote Web App for iOS/Android Mobile site & app for iOS/Android
Citation styles All major styles All major styles; can customize styles All major styles; can customize styles
Link to support Support FAQ & Community Quick links & FAQ