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Scribendi Reviews: Citation Software

A Review of Free Citation Software

We know that creating and organizing citations are a major part of academic writing, and we also know that they can sometimes be a hassle, to say the least. It is often difficult to organize and format citations exactly to your journal's or professor's specifications. However, free citation software programs that can help ease your frustration are available both online and for download. This article will not tell you how to use citation software; instead, it will provide a review of the three most popular free referencing tools available on the Internet to help you decide which one is right for you.


Citeulike is online citation software that allows registered users to store their references, search for new references, and trade references with peers who are studying in similar fields. This citation software might prove useful to a student or academic who is writing a paper with many references to organize—Citeulike's specialty.

Citeulike's best qualities are the Search and Trade elements. The Search option allows you to search for articles using "CiteGeist." For example, if you are researching a paper on cloud computing, you can find the most frequently posted articles on this subject, and because they are the most frequently posted, they are likely to be quite relevant to your topic. The range of topics CiteGeist offers appears to be fairly broad as well, which is useful for academics in all fields. The Trade option allows members who are doing research in the same field to share references that they have discovered. This brings to mind the old adage "two heads are better than one," except, in this case, you have access to an entire network of heads.

Overall, Citeulike offers some useful tools, but there are a few downsides.


Zotero is an online add-on that offers bibliography management (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago). It allows users to create a library of references that can be managed and, most importantly, specifically formatted. This add-on, however, is only for the Firefox browser, so those using IE, Chrome, or Safari will not be able to use it.

The citation software consists of two separate Firefox add-ons. The first is a management system for references and bibliographies that can be used to store individual references or entire bibliographies. Bibliographies can then be exported directly to emails, papers, or other websites. The second add-on can be used for bibliography creation. This is likely what most people are looking for in a referencing program, and it delivers. It works as a plug-in for programs such as Word, and can be used to format your citations to the style of your preference. This means that if your professor has requested your paper be formatted according to the APA style guide, Zotero can create a bibliography that complies with APA guidelines. The user simply has to input the information and Zotero does the rest.

In terms of an entirely browser-based add-on, Zotero does an excellent job. Its only glaring weakness is its user interface, which is rather confusing and scattered. Since it is a browser-based program, it does not have a central command interface, leaving the user searching around for a "home," (a central platform in which to sort out and organize the information) that does not exist. The referencing process can be accomplished, but the method is decentralized and mish-mashed.

Zotero is a vast improvement over Citeulike. Although it offers almost the same features and the same—albeit different in nature—number of drawbacks, what puts Zotero in a higher class is the bibliography plug-in for Word. If you have to choose between Citeulike and Zotero, go for Zotero.

Mendeley Desktop

This program is in a whole different class. The two previous programs were web-based and fairly simple, whereas Mendeley Desktop is a proper program, featuring its own desktop icon.

Mendeley Desktop provides all the benefits of the previous two programs with none of the drawbacks. It can manage and store references, create bibliographies, and format references into specific styles. In fact, its style database is stocked with over 1,000 different style variations, which could prove very useful to the academic who must subscribe to an obscure style that isn't widely used. This is all done in two venues, as opposed to Zotero, which is scattered about. The main interface opens when the desktop icon is clicked, and it is easily navigable with user-friendly icons and prompts. The second interface, much like Zotero, is a plug-in for Word that serves as the bibliography builder and reference formatter. Mendeley Desktop also features an extensive library of references as well as a social networking element for researchers.

Mendeley Desktop is by far the most ergonomic manager, as a collection of references, bibliographies, or whole documents can be created using one button. This citation software, as a whole, is very intuitive.

All in all…

Citeulike and Zotero both offer unique elements, but Mendeley Desktop offers all these features and more. Hopefully, this short review has helped you. Should you continue to have issues with formatting and bibliography creation, feel free to send your work, along with your desired style guide, to our academic proofreaders and we will be happy to format and organize the citations for you.

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