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Citation and Reference Management

What is Reference Management Software?

Reference management software can be very useful if you need to use a lot of information sources for your research. This type of software allows you to:

  • collect, store, and organize references from library databases and websites
  • format your references automatically in your chosen citation style
  • automatically generate in-text citations and a reference list as you write a paper
  • save or link to full-text documents (e.g., PDFs)
  • share your references with others
  • sync references across multiple devices

Choosing Reference Management Software

The University of Alberta Library does not recommend or endorse any particular product, but we have gathered information on some of the most popular options for reference management software.

For a simple visual comparison of these three reference managers, use our decision tree. For a detailed comparison, use the table below. Software features change regularly, so if you find additional or conflicting information, feel free to contact us and we will try to incorporate the information.

Note: U of A access to RefWorks ended December 31, 2021.

  Endnote X9 Endnote basic Mendeley
ACCESS AND  COST COMPARISON        
Product and Vendor EndNote X9 Desktop
(Clarivate)
EndNote Basic
(Clarivate)
Mendeley
(Elsevier)
Zotero
(open source)
Where to get it UAlberta IST OnTheHub EndNote Online Mendeley download Zotero download
Costs

$140 via UAlberta OnTheHub (one-time cost)

Free

Free (cost to upgrade storage)

Free (cost to upgrade storage)

Operating system
  • Windows 7 SP1 or later
  • ​​​​​macOS 10.10 or later
  • Windows 7 or later
  • ​​​​​macOS 
  • Linux
  • Windows 7 or later
  • ​​​​​macOS 10.11 or later, including Catalina and Big Sur 1 
  • Linux
  • Chromebook
Main access (web/cloud or desktop/laptop)

Mainly single desktop/laptop. Can sync to cloud through Endnote Online/Basic.

Web/cloud only

Desktop/laptop and web/cloud. Can sync with multiple computers.

Desktop/laptop and web/cloud. Can sync with multiple computers.

Mobile version (phone, tablet) Yes (iOS, not Android) Yes (iOS, not Android) No Yes (iOS or 3rd party options)
Registration/account required? Only for cloud sync and collaborator sharing. Can use locally without an account. Yes Yes Only for cloud sync and collaborator sharing. Can use locally without an account.
Support options

Email or phone

Community forum

Email or phone

Community forum

Email, phone, or chat DIY support only, via user forums
Accessibility ADA Compliance ADA Compliance Accessibility Accessibility forum posts
PROS / CONS EndNote X9 EndNote Basic Mendeley Zotero
Best features

Ability to store a large number of references and PDFs (10,000+); partially automated retrieval of full text (30-50% will be retrieved); deduplicates large numbers of references; increased citation accuracy due to large number of reference types; highly customizable; ability to work offline.

Cloud-based, so option to work away from primary workstation.

Free (up to 2GB of online storage); user-friendly interface; easy to add references; PDF annotation within the program; ability to work offline; connects with MS Word.

Free (up to 300 MB online storage); open source; user-friendly interface; easy to add references; PDF annotation within the program; ability to work offline; connects with MS Word, Google Docs, and LibreOffice.

Possible drawbacks

Price (~$140); license tied to one device; steeper learning curve than other options; importing non-traditional types of reference (e.g., webpages) can be challenging.

Limited storage capacity; limited citation styles.

Does not connect with Google Docs; limited storage space when sharing with groups; difficulty importing accurate metadata for some source types.

Limited free cloud-based storage space; works best with one primary workstation.

REFERENCE MANAGEMENT FEATURES EndNote X9 EndNote Basic Mendeley Zotero
Storage (references and file attachments) Unlimited 50,000 references or 2GB Unlimited on local computer, 2GB in cloud (can pay to upgrade) Unlimited on local computer, 300MB in cloud (can pay to upgrade)
Reference import methods
  • Manual
  • RIS file
  • Direct from many databases
  • Manual
  • RIS file
  • Direct from many databases
  • Manual
  • RIS file
  • Direct from some Elsevier databases
  • PDF drag & drop
  • Identifier (e.g., DOI)
  • Manual
  • RIS file
  • PDF drag & drop
  • Identifier (e.g., DOI, ISBN)
Browser import

Capture Reference Tool

  • Chrome 
  • ​​​​​Firefox 
  • Safari

Capture Reference Tool

  • Chrome 
  • ​​​​​Firefox 
  • Safari

Mendeley Web Importer

  • Chrome 
  • ​​​​​Firefox 
  • Edge

 

Zotero Connector

  • Chrome
  • ​​​​​Firefox
  • Safari (bundled with Zotero 6 download)
  • Edge
Duplicate record detection Yes Yes Yes

Yes

Customizable metadata fields Yes No, but can add notes No, but can use tags and add notes No, but can use tags and add notes
Search within own records  Simple and advanced Simple search only Simple and advanced Simple and advanced
Search external catalogues or databases Yes (7000+) Yes (5) Yes (in online version), details are unclear No
Annotate PDFs Yes No Yes Yes
Collaboration tools  Share full library Share folders Groups for sharing ideas and references. Private groups only. Share folders. All collaborators must have Zotero account.
Export records Yes, but doesn't transfer attachments Yes, but doesn't transfer attachments Yes, in desktop version, but doesn't transfer attachments Yes, but doesn't transfer attachments
CITATION GENERATION FEATURES EndNote X9 EndNote Basic Mendeley Zotero
Word processor integration (e.g. MS Word, Google Docs) 
  • MS Word
  • LibreOffice
  • MS Word
  • LibreOffice
  • MS Word
  • LibreOffice
  • MS Word
  • LibreOffice
  • Google Docs
Number of citation styles 7,000+ predefined Top 21 most commonly used styles 9000+ pre-defined 9000+ pre-defined
Custom style editing Yes No Yes Yes