Students, academics, authors, and researchers do their fair share of online research. With so many different databases, online journals, and websites, it can get pretty overwhelming to manage your references and keep them all organized—especially if you're doing it manually. But did you know that there are programs that can actually manage and keep track of your references for you? If not, then you are in for a treat! There are many different reference management software programs that can make the process of managing your references almost effortless. We've sifted through the most popular reference managers and have come up with the top five. Although they generally all perform the same tasks, you might find that one suits your needs better than another.

Up Close: The 5 Best Reference Management Programs

1. RefWorks

RefWorks is an exceptional reference management software program. Although it comes at a price, many colleges and universities have subscriptions to RefWorks, which means that you may already have it available to you through your school. Score! RefWorks is great because it allows users to generate and format bibliographies and manuscripts in hundreds of output styles, including some of the most common: APA, MLA, Chicago, Vancouver, and Turabian. It also allows users to manage more than just bibliographic data, which is why it's great for academics and researchers alike. I used RefWorks in university and had a really great experience with it, especially when writing my master's thesis. It really simplified the process of making my pages-long bibliography!

2. Zotero

Zotero is both free and open source, which means that you don't have to pay for it and that its design is publicly accessible. Zotero is a great choice as a reference manager, especially for students, because it runs as both a web service and an offline service on your personal device (laptop, iPad, cell phone, etc.). Zotero not only stores and formats your bibliographic information but also allows you to organize, tag, and search this information. It automatically and seamlessly extracts information from books, journal articles, and other online sources, making the entire process of creating a reference list effortless. I would definitely give this one a go!

3. EndNote

EndNote is great if you're collaborating on a research paper. It lets you share with up to 14 colleagues anywhere in the world, so it's definitely the top choice for collaborations. One of the highlights of this reference manager is that it includes reference types such as interviews, podcasts, conference papers, and press releases. It also lets you add citations to Microsoft PowerPoint slides, which is especially awesome if you're creating a presentation with a group. EndNote has a huge catalogue of format options with over 6,000 reference styles, so regardless of your discipline, you're bound to find one that fits your needs. Although EndNote isn't free, it's super high-quality, so it's worth every penny.

4. Mendeley

If you're in a technical or scientific field, Mendeley is an excellent option for you. This reference management software allows users to generate citations and bibliographies in Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, and LaTeX. As with EndNote, it's great for collaborative work, as it allows you to connect with colleagues and share your papers, notes, and annotations. It can be used on your computer via the web or through your iPhone or iPad, which makes it easy to do your work wherever you go. We give Mendeley our Scribendi stamp of approval!

5. CiteULike

U like? We do! CiteULike is cool because it works from within your web browser, which means that there's no software for you to install, and you can access your library from any computer with an Internet connection. As with the other reference managers, it automatically extracts the citation details so that you don't have to type them in yourself.

Quick Reference: The Five Best Reference Management Software Programs

Reference Management Software Comparison


Do you see a common trend with these reference managers? They make creating a bibliography so easy! I mean, I don't see why you'd ever go back to the "old-fashioned" way of doing it manually. I know I wouldn't! If you're new to using reference management software, it might be a good idea to try a few of them out to see which one works best for you. If you're in college or university, you might find it helpful to ask a professor if your school subscribes to any reference management programs (such as RefWorks, which is free at any subscribing academic institutions). Reference management software will make organizing your next bibliography a breeze, so take advantage of this opportunity to make your research just a little bit easier. And, once you've written your paper, don't forget to have it thoroughly edited by one of the expert editors at Scribendi.

Image source: Aleks Dorohovich/

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