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Top 5 Free Reference Management Software for Research

Best Reference Management Software for PhD Research

Dr. Somasundaram R

Top 5 Free Reference Management Software for Research

Table of contents

Highlights:, 2. endnote | the best reference management tool.

Reference management software is used to organize and communicate research papers, as well as to create bibliographies for academic publications. Managing the reference materials that have been downloaded is a difficult task for any academic writer. Finding an acceptable research reference to support a statement is critical while writing a research paper or thesis. As a result, using reference management software to organize the materials in chronological order and generate bibliographies is critical. In order to accomplish this, ilovephd has compiled a list of the Top 5 Free Reference Management Software for Research.

1. Mendeley – Reference Management Software

Mendeley is a product and service provider for academic scholars situated in London, United Kingdom. It is best known for its reference manager, which is used to organize and distribute research papers as well as generate bibliographies for academic publications.


  • Access your library, everywhere

Add papers directly from your browser with a few clicks or import any documents from your desktop. Access your library from anywhere. Windows, Mac, Linux, and all browsers.

  • Easy referencing

Generate references, citations, and bibliographies in a whole range of journal styles with just a few clicks.

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EndNote is a commercial reference management software tool that may be used to keep track of bibliographies and references while writing essays, reports, and articles.


  • Write Faster

Insert in-text citations while simultaneously creating a bibliography with the Cite While You Write feature in Microsoft® Word.

  • Research Better

Use tools that find PDFs for you throughout your search process. Then, easily read, review, annotate and search PDFs in your library.

  • Stay Organized

Create rules to automatically organize references as you work. And, use the new Tabs feature for easier multitasking.

  • Collaborate Easier

Easily collaborate across geographic boundaries. Share some or all of your library and set permissions for access.

  • Get Published

Match your paper with relevant, reputable journals using Manuscript Matcher.

  • Work From Anywhere

Access your research anytime, anywhere from the cloud. Move seamlessly between online and desktop and iPad applications.

3. Zotero | Your personal research assistant

Zotero is a free and open-source reference management software that allows you to organize your bibliographic data and research resources.

phd reference manager

  • Collect with a click

Zotero is the only software that automatically senses research on the web. Need an article from JSTOR or a preprint from arXiv.org? A news story from the New York Times or a book from a library? Zotero has you covered, everywhere.

  • Organize your way

Zotero helps you organize your research any way you want. You can sort items into collections and tag them with keywords. Or create saved searches that automatically fill with relevant materials as you work.

  • Cite in style

Zotero instantly creates references and bibliographies for any text editor, and directly inside Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs. With support for over 100,000 citation styles, you can format your work to match any style guide or publication.

  • Stay in sync

Zotero can optionally synchronize your data across devices, keeping your notes, files, and bibliographic records seamlessly up to date. If you decide to sync, you can also always access your research from any web browser.

  • Collaborate freely

Zotero lets you co-write a paper with a colleague, distribute course materials to students, or build a collaborative bibliography. You can share a Zotero library with as many people as you like, at no cost.

4. JabRef – Free Reference Manager

JabRef is a cross-platform, open-source citation and reference management program. Its native formats are BibTeX and BibLaTeX, and it is therefore commonly used for LaTeX. JabRef is an acronym for Java, Alver, Batada, and Reference.

phd reference manager

Import options for over 15 reference formats.

Easily retrieve and link full-text articles.

Fetch complete bibliographic information based on ISBN, DOI, PubMed-ID, and arXiv-ID.

Import new references directly from the web browser with one click using the official browser extension.

Complete and improve bibliographic data by comparing with curated online catalogs such as Google Scholar, Springer or MathSciNet.

Automatically rename and move associated files according to customizable rules.

Customize and add new metadata fields or reference types.

Group your research into hierarchical collections.

Organize articles based on keywords, tags, search terms, or your manual assignments.

Advanced search and filter features.

Keep track of what you read: ranking, priority, printed, quality-assured.

Native BibTeX and BibLaTeX support, perfect for text-based typesetting systems such as LaTeX and Markdown.

Cite-as-you-write functionality for external applications such as Emacs, Kile, LyX, Texmaker, TeXstudio, Vim, and WinEdt.

Format references in one of the many thousand built-in citation styles or create your style.

Support for Word and LibreOffice/OpenOffice for inserting and formatting citations.

5. Citavi – Best Reference Management Software

Citavi is a Microsoft Windows application for reference management and knowledge organization developed by Swiss Academic Software in Wädenswil, Switzerland.


  • Work efficiently

Whether you just need a quick bibliography, you’re searching a team library of 20,000 sources, or you want to keep track of notes, Citavi’s tools help you work faster and more effectively.

  • See the big picture

Big projects with tons of sources can feel overwhelming. Break your work down into tasks, keep track of important information from your articles, and sift through your sources to find the ones you really need – alone or in a team.

  • Data security made easy

Citavi is the only reference management program for teams that gives you the option of storing your information on your own server instead of in the cloud. Individuals can also choose between local and online projects. Citavi automatically creates backups so you never lose your information.

  • Write with style

Say goodbye to wasted time formatting citations and bibliographies. Citavi offers over 10,000 citation styles: APA, Chicago, MLA, Turabian, etc., etc. Need one that’s not there? You can create it yourself.

Hope this article helps you to know the Top 5 Free Reference Management Software for Research to organize your research reference articles.

  • Reference Management Software
  • Research Tools

Dr. Somasundaram R

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Which reference manager?: Comparison of EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero

  • Comparison of EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero
  • Referencing guides

Reference management tools

A reference management tool is a software for storing and managing information resources. Generally, a reference management tool can help you:

  • import references from search engines, databases and websites 
  • save PDFs, images and other documents
  • annotate PDFs
  • insert citations and create bibliographies on Word documents  
  • collaborate with other researchers

EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero are the most popular reference management tools used by many researchers and students.

Find more details about these three tools in the following comparison table and detailed instructions in our online guides for each tool.

EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero: which is the best tool for you

 The following comparison table of EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero may help you choose a right tool to meet your research needs.


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  • Last Updated: Jan 25, 2023 11:42 AM
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Speed up your PhD research workflow today. Try Paperpile—a modern reference manager for collecting, organizing, and formatting citations.

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Switching to Paperpile as my reference manager was the best decision I made in my PhD and it just got even better now that I can access my entire database from my phone!

Ignacio Ramos-Tapia

Today writing my Ph.D. thesis I have realized how I progress using @paperpile compared to other reference management that I used in the past. Only cant say thanks is the best inversion in mi 5 years of PhD 😂

Shefali Christopher

After EndNote lost hours of my work @paperpile saved my PhD.

Niko Hensley


@paperpile = now making references the easiest part of a PhD, not the hardest #truelove

Smart and efficient user interface

Smart and efficient UI

Worried that learning how to use a reference manager will take time away from your PhD research? Paperpile’s intuitive interface simplifies reference management. You’ll be collecting and organizing references in no time.

Have a clean and organized research library

labels and folders

Your library will grow quickly during your PhD. Organize your papers with folders, labels, and stars so you can easily find references when writing your thesis.

Save references instantly

download references

Immediately save an important reference to read later. Paperpile’s Chrome extension makes it a breeze to import reference metadata. Download PDFs to your library with one click.

Access your library wherever you go

Research papers on Google Drive and Android

Read and annotate papers on iOS and Android. Your papers are synced between the web app and all your mobile devices.

Highlight and annotate your PDFs

Highlight and annotate your PDFs

Form a consistent notetaking habit that will stay with you beyond your PhD. Add highlights, notes, and annotations to your papers. Never forget an important idea again.

Share papers with your collaborators

Share papers

Keep your advisor in the loop. Create shared folders and build your library together. Use private sharing links to share with all of your collaborators—not just Paperpile users.

Reference management for Google Docs and Word

Citations in Google Docs

Have confidence that your thesis citations are formatted correctly in Google Docs and Word. Format your citations and bibliography in one of thousands of citation styles.

Simplify your PhD research workflow now.

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Using Reference Management Software

Holly Sharp

  • By Holly Sharp
  • February 13, 2022

Reference Manager

Reference management software solutions offer a powerful way for you to stay on top of all the academic papers, book chapters and websites that you read, helping you to keep track of all these potential references. These reference management tools are designed to let you capture, organise and reference material that you come across in our research.

Why use Reference Management Software?

First off, we should be clear on what this software isn’t. It isn’t a solution for identifying the quality of the sources that you’re acquiring and, unfortunately, it won’t filter out the good study designs from the poor ones. That will come from your skill and experience in being able to critically appraise each reference and determine what the useful sources are.

When you do come across a reference however that you think is important, reference management software makes the process of logging these references a lot easier, particularly when it comes to finding a particular document that you want to cite in your journal paper. These managers ultimately save you time in both saving and then finding key references.

What can Reference Management Software help you do?

There are a few features which make dedicated reference management tools an attractive option for staying organised with references. Some of the main ‘selling points’ are:

  • You can quickly collate all references you come across into a single library system that can be stored locally on your computer and/or in the cloud via online accounts.
  • Your library of references can be separated out into several sub-groups with tags, allowing you to filter references by specific subject areas, authors, publication years etc.
  • These libraries often enable you to save the original PDFs of papers rather than requiring you to re-download them from a journal site.
  • Many reference managers allow you to add your own notes to references, which can be useful as a way of reminding yourself of key points you’d read in a particular paper.
  • When linked with word processing software (e.g. Microsoft Word), the reference manager can automatically format and insert references within your writing, in the style of your choosing (useful if a particular journal asks for a specific referencing style such as APA, Harvard etc. in your manuscript submission).
  • You can share your library of references with other collaborators on a project, or others in your research group.

Which Reference Manager Should I use?

There are several reference management tools available, some of which have a cost associated with them, whilst others are free to use. Which one you use will ultimately come down to a combination of ease of use for you personally and ease of access to the software (some universities purchase licenses for paid options for their staff/students to use).

There are several useful guides online that go through an in-depth comparison of the different software options and their pros and cons of use. I won’t do that here but will give you an overview of the two options that I’ve tried in the past and which may be a good starting point for you to consider.

The desktop version of EndNote is a ‘paid for’ service that allows you to install a powerful reference manager on your computer. It can handle a large number of documents in terms of how it stores these in its library system and also in the ease of searching through these when needed.

EndNote has a plugin tool that integrates with Microsoft Word, letting you cite your references directly in the text. There’s also an online version of EndNote (EndNote Online) which by itself has a number of limitations but can be a very handy tool if used in combination with the desktop version; you can back up the desktop library to the cloud and then even access the library from other computers that don’t have the software installed. Whilst it is a paid application, most universities tend to have a subscription to this.

Mendeley is another similar reference manager that can be installed on most computers. This can be done for free although you are limited to a maximum of 2GB of storage of downloaded PDFs on the free version (which is still very generous).

Like EndNote, Mendeley can be incorporated into the Microsoft Word workflow via a plugin; you have the option here to select the referencing style or format that you’d like. The software also allows users to directly annotate and make comments on PDF documents, which can come in useful.

There is an online component to this too which tends to have mixed reviews however it’s worth trying it yourself to see if it fits your work style.

In my experience, most of the commonly used reference management software options will do what you want in terms of tracking and managing your references. If you’re affiliated with a university it’s likely that you’ll have access to several options so I’d recommend trying a few to figure out what works for you.

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JabRef supports you in every step of your research

Read more about it below or get going straight away.

  • Import options for over 15 reference formats
  • Easily retrieve and link full-text articles
  • Fetch complete bibliographic information based on ISBN, DOI, PubMed-ID and arXiv-ID


  • Complete and improve bibliographic data by comparing with curated online catalogues such as Google Scholar, Springer or MathSciNet
  • Automatically rename and move associated files according to customizable rules
  • Customize and add new metadata fields or reference types

phd reference manager

  • Group your research into hierarchical collections
  • Organize articles based on keywords, tags, search terms or your manual assignments
  • Advanced search and filter features
  • Keep track of what you read: ranking, priority, printed, quality-assured

phd reference manager

  • Native BibTeX and BibLaTeX support, perfect for text-based typesetting systems such as LaTeX and Markdown.
  • Cite-as-you-write functionality for external applications such as Emacs, Kile, LyX, Texmaker, TeXstudio, Vim and WinEdt.
  • Format references in one of the many thousand built-in citation styles or create your style
  • Support for Word and LibreOffice/OpenOffice for inserting and formatting citations

phd reference manager

Get Involved!

JabRef was founded 2003 and has since been used by many students and researchers. Our mission is to advance knowledge and improve scientific research. We value open access to information and believe modern science can built on an open institutional structure. This is why we develop JabRef as free open-source software and save your data in a simple text-based file format with no vendor lock-in.

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10 Best Reference Management Software for Research

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Best Reference Management Software

Table of Contents


When it comes to doing research, the process of gathering and organizing information is just as important as the actual research itself.

That’s where reference management software comes in. It can help you gather, organize, and cite your sources more effectively- saving you time and energy in the long run. 

Good reference management software can make all the difference for academic researchers and Ph.D. students- from making sure your references are formatted correctly to helping you find and use them quickly and easily. 

It allows you to keep track of your references, create bibliographies, and collaborate with other researchers.

But with so many different types of software to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you? 

This article aims to give you an overview of the most common names on the market and discussed their strengths and weakness preliminarily. 

Why Use A Reference Management Software For Research?

Whether you’re a Ph.D. student or an academic researcher, it’s important to use a reference management tool for research. Here are three reasons why:

1.  It can help you find information quickly and easily. With the right software, you can quickly and easily find the information you need- no more wasted time searching through endless pages of results.

2. It makes collaboration much easier. Have a group project? Reference management software will help you share resources with ease. No more passing around notes or spending hours trying to compile everything together by hand!

3. It can help you stay organized. When you’re dealing with a lot of information, it’s important to have a system for keeping track of it all. Reference manager can help you do just that.

Best Reference Management Software

Mendeley-most popular reference management tool.

Mendeley is a software that helps researchers manage their references. It can be used to create bibliographies and citations, and it also allows users to collaborate with other researchers. Mendeley can be accessed online or offline, and it is available for both Windows and Mac users.

Mendeley reference manager allows you to store, organize, and search all of your references from just one reference library. It makes it easy to add references and bibliographies to your google docs. Mendeley reference manager allows you to read, highlight, and annotate PDFs, and retain all of your ideas in one location across numerous pages.

  • Increased collaboration as it allows you to invite your teammates who have Mendeley to share the same paper.
  • Portability is made easier as the software can simultaneously be installed on different devices. 
  • It offers a browser plugin that works with Firefox and Google Chrome, so all you need to do is bookmark your desired web pages, and it saves on your Mendeley library. 
  • Not allow you to edit subscript and superscript characters in the title. For instance, number 2 in H2O needs to be in a small subscript which cannot be done through it. 

Pricing/Free Version

  • Free Version available with up to 2GB of cloud storage. 
  • Paid plans start from $4.99/month.

Endnote software is used to manage and import references. It can help Ph.D. students with compiling, storing, and managing references. Endnote desktop software helps to create citations and bibliographies. It also allows for the sharing of references with colleagues.

  • Endnote basic allows you to search databases and import citation info in Microsoft word. 
  • It has both online and offline options, the ability to edit output styles based on Journal requirements, and allows you to attach pdfs to references. 
  • Does NOT work well with Google Drive
  • Not free and takes longer to learn
  • Free 30-day trial available.
  • Paid version comes with a one-time cost of $99.

Zotero-Free Citation Management Software

Zotero is a reference management software that can be used by students and researchers of all levels. It’s a great way to keep track of your sources, as well as easily create citations and bibliographies. Here are some of the ways Zotero can be especially helpful for Ph.D. students:

Zotero helps you stay organized by allowing you to collect and save information about your sources in one place.

It can be used to create citation information and bibliographies in no time, so you can spend less time on paperwork and more time on your research.

Zotero integrates with many popular word processing programs, so you can easily use it as a citation management program for your papers as you write them.

  • It is an open-source and free citation management software. 
  • Works as a plugin to your web-based browser thus allowing one-click import of the references. 
  • It also has social features(shared bibliographies) and can import BibTeX and export to various word processing software (MS Word, Latex, etc.)
  • Zotero saves your citation library to your local computer but syncs with multiple computers so you can work from wherever you want. 
  • The only shortcoming I noticed is that it does not work with WordPress, where I write a lot of my papers. Although there is a WordPress widget for Zotero, it still needs some work. 
  • Free plan available. 

phd reference manager

Docear is one of the most unique and powerful reference management tools that helps researchers manage their references and PDFs. It integrates a number of features, such as PDF management, reference management, mind mapping, and note-taking. Because of its versatile features, Docear is an ideal tool for students, academics, and professionals.

  • Not just a reference manager, but also a composer of all research work. 
  • Very good for drafting your new paper by automatically including all of your comments in pdf files in your word file.
  • Might not be easy to understand at first, as it has a unique way of handling all of your references.
  • Free – open source

Below is Docear’s view on how it compares with Zotero and Mendeley

phd reference manager

Citavi – Powerful Thematic Knowledge Organization Tool 

Citavi is incredibly versatile which makes it so popular among academic researchers. It can be used to manage references for all types of research projects, from essays and theses to books and articles. This makes it an essential tool for any researcher who wants to stay organized and efficient.

Citavi is easy to use. It’s simple enough that even novice researchers can quickly learn how to use it without any trouble. But it’s also powerful enough that more experienced researchers will appreciate all its features.

  • Compatible with the most common writing software that makes it easy to get your manuscript done in a brief period.
  • It is easy to handle and is able to sort all the things you will need in your research(references, notes, tasks).
  • Citavi’s Add-In for MS Word and its LaTeX support ensures accurate citations. You can choose the style of the bibliography you want automatically inserted. There are over 10,000 professional citation styles available for all academic disciplines.
  • The software is not always compatible with all devices, which can be a problem for researchers who want to work on their references on the go.
  • Free trial available

phd reference manager

There are a number of different software options available for reference management, each with its own pros and cons. But if you’re looking for software that can help you manage your references effectively and efficiently, Wizfolio is definitely worth considering.

Wizfolio is a cloud-based reference management software that was designed specifically for academic researchers. It allows you to quickly and easily gather all of your references in one place, as well as organize them according to your own personal preferences. Wizfolio also comes with a number of helpful features that make it fairly convenient to use.

  • It integrates with the web browser and word processing software. 
  • The web browser integration is very useful as all you have to do is click to add a page as a reference. It is also an operating system independent. 
  • It also integrates with WordPress and allows you to easily share references easily between researchers.
  • It can be difficult to keep track of all your references if you don’t use the software correctly. 

Pricing/Free version

  • Contact Wizfolio to get a customized quote.

phd reference manager

If you’re an academic researcher, Paperpile should be your go-to reference management software. It’s designed specifically for academics, making it the perfect choice for those who need to keep track of a large number of citations. Paperpile makes it easy to import references from a variety of sources, including PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science. 

It also has powerful search features that allow you to quickly find the information you need. And if you’re working on a collaborative project, Paperpile makes it easy to share references with your colleagues.

  • They can link to your Google account, so theoretically, you’ll have 15GB of storage and a nice Chrome extension, so adding papers to your library is incredibly simple. In addition, Google Docs integration for citations is available, and a beta test for Word is currently underway.
  • Paperpile is a web-based reference management software that makes it easy to import references from databases, journals, and websites.
  • It automatically formats citations and bibliographies in a variety of styles, including APA, MLA, and Chicago.
  • Paperpile is not as comprehensive as some of the other software options available. 
  • Free to use for one user and two papers.
  • Paid plans from $2.99/month.

If you’re an academic researcher, then you know the importance of using the right tools for the job. And when it comes to reference management, there’s no better tool than RefWorks.

RefWorks is a web-based application that allows you to create and manage your references from anywhere in the world. With RefWorks, you can easily import citations from databases, journals, and websites, and then create bibliographies in any format you need.

But perhaps the best thing about RefWorks is its collaborative features. With RefWorks, you can share your references with colleagues or classmates and work together on projects. You can also create groups to collaborate on research topics.

  • Has Proprietary, Operating system support, Export file formats, Citation styles and Word processor integration.
  • Offers partial support for reference list file formats.
  • Supports import file formats.
  • Does not has database connectivity.
  • Doesn’t store copies of articles.
  • Free trial subscription available.
  • Get a customized quote from the sales team.

phd reference manager

Papers is a Mac OS X and Windows reference management program for academic researchers and Ph.D. students used for managing bibliographies and references for writing essays and articles. It’s mostly used to collect references and maintain a PDF document library, but it also offers a unified interface for document repository searches, metadata editing, full screen viewing, and a range of document import and export options.

  • It is very easy to fill with PDFs and bibliographic data can easily added.
  • It is integrated well to work with Word for Mac.
  • Papers is available for the iPhone/iPad, which offers the opportunity to carry all your references with you in your smartphone.
  • Many users have complained about the software’s clunky interface and how difficult it can be to navigate.
  • 30 day free trial available.
  • From $3/month.

Sciwheel – Next Generation Reference Managers

SciWheel is a reference management software that can be very significant for academic researchers. It helps manage references, PDFs, notes, and ideas. SciWheel has a powerful search engine that makes it easy to find any document you need. It also allows you to create groups for your documents, making it easy to keep track of your research.

  • A user-friendly interface that is easy to learn and use.
  • Integrated search capabilities that allow you to search for information both inside and outside of SciWheel.
  • Collaborative features that allow you to share information with other researchers.
  • The software can be slow and cumbersome at times.
  • It can be difficult to find information that is buried deep in the system.
  • Free plan available.
  • From $9.95/month.

Ultimate Guide to Best Reference Management Softwares for Academic Research

What is a reference management software.

Reference management software, or citation manager, is a program or online service that helps you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. Most of these programs also allow you to create bibliographies and footnotes in your papers.

Citation managers help you find sources more quickly and easily. Most programs have built-in search engines that allow you to quickly find articles and other resources related to your topic. They also allow you to save search parameters and customize your results. The more sources you find, the better equipped you will be to make an informed decision about how to word your paper’s thesis statement and plan out the rest of the writing process.

What Features Should You Look For In A Reference Management Software?

When looking for a reference management software, it’s important to consider the features that will be most helpful for academic researchers. Some features to look for include:

  • The ability to import citations from a variety of sources, including online databases, journals, and the internet.
  • The ability to organize citations into folders or groups.
  • The ability to create bibliographies or reference lists in a variety of formats, such as MLA, APA, and Chicago.
  • The ability to export citations and bibliographies into Word documents or PDFs.
  • A search function that allows you to quickly find the citation you need.
  • A user-friendly interface that allows for quick and efficient organization.

Final thoughts

In scholarly articles and research documents, citations play an important role for both researchers and readers. It is also very time-consuming to integrate these citations accurately into research documents without the aid of reference management software. 

We have provided an overview of the most common names for citation managers in the market and discussed their strengths and weaknesses.

There is more.

Check out our other articles on Best Academic Tools for Researchers below.

  • Need help with writing? Check out the Best Writing Tools here . 
  • Finished writing? Make sure you check it with Best Proofreading Tools 
  • Want to get the creative juice flowing? Check out the Best Mind Mapping Tools 
  • Looking for research ideas? Check out these Academic Search Engines 
  • Swamped with tasks and multiple projects? Try the Best Project Management Tools to stay ahead of the schedule 
  • Running survey research? Check out the dos and don’ts in the Best Survey Tools for Research
  • Still taking notes in meetings? Try these Transcription Tools For Researchers and focus on what matters

phd reference manager

Check out our other articles on the Best Academic Tools Series for Research below.

  • Learn how to get more done with these Academic Writing Tools  
  • Learn how to proofread your work with these Proofreading Tools
  • Learn how to broaden your research landscape with these Academic Search Engines
  • Learn how to manage multiple research projects with these Project Management Tools
  • Learn how to run effective survey research with these Survey Tools for Research
  • Learn how get more insights from important conversations and interviews with Transcription Tools
  • Learn how to manage the ever-growing list of references with these Reference Management Software
  • Learn how to double your productivity with literature reviews with these AI-Based Summary Generators
  • Learn how to build and develop your audience with these Academic Social Network Sites
  • Learn how to make sure your content is original and trustworthy with these Plagiarism Checkers
  • Learn how to talk about your work effectively with these Science Communication Tools

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10 thoughts on “10 Best Reference Management Software for Research”

Hello Joannah,

Thank you so much for all this information. It was a great read and gave me some good cites to look into. However, I would recommend that you also look into Opendemia. Opendemia allows students to manage their references, take notes, and create bibliographies. This tool has really helped me with my research papers and I think other students reading this article can benefit from this as well.

Thanks for the comment. We will look into it.

Thank you! Here is the website: https://www.opendemia.com

Thank you for a good overview, very helpful. I just want to mention that as a researcher it is very important for me to have a product that can last me throughout my career. In my mind, this requires, for a good and bad, a bigger company behind the product. I believe this is something you should also consider here.

Interesting point Peter. Love to hear more elaboration from you!

I agree. A single, reliable software package that works for your entire career sounds wonderful. Having to learn new packages, or even new versions of your old package is a waste of time. It may tickle the fancy of computer nerds and business folks who want a steady stream of income. However, adapting to the newest and latest software every few years sounds like self-abuse to me.

Thanks for the overview. You say that EndNote one-time cost is $99. I’m quoted almost four times that amount. Is that possible a regional issue? (I am in Iceland)

I ran a quick check and saw that upgrading from the trial will cost from USD $99.95 to USD $109.95. I’m not sure how they could quote you 4X as much.

Some of the reference managers mentioned in the article are no longer available. However, it’s worth noting that there are newer options like CiteDrive, which is considered one of the most modern reference managers available. Overall, it’s a great article!

I was a long term user of Ref 11.

Do you know of any current software that will import files from that?

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phd reference manager

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Your personal research assistant

Zotero is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, annotate, cite, and share research.

Available for Mac, Windows, Linux, and iOS

Just need to create a quick bibliography? Try ZoteroBib .

Meet Zotero.

Collect with a click..

Zotero automatically senses research as you browse the web. Need an article from JSTOR or a preprint from arXiv.org? A news story from the New York Times or a book from a library? Zotero has you covered, everywhere.

Organize your way.

Zotero helps you organize your research any way you want. You can sort items into collections and tag them with keywords. Or create saved searches that automatically fill with relevant materials as you work.

Cite in style.

Zotero instantly creates references and bibliographies for any text editor, and directly inside Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs. With support for over 10,000 citation styles, you can format your work to match any style guide or publication.

Stay in sync.

Zotero can optionally synchronize your data across devices, keeping your files, notes, and bibliographic records seamlessly up to date. If you decide to sync, you can also always access your research from any web browser.

Collaborate freely.

Zotero lets you co-write a paper with a colleague, distribute course materials to students, or build a collaborative bibliography. You can share a Zotero library with as many people you like, at no cost.

Zotero is open source and developed by an independent, nonprofit organization that has no financial interest in your private information. With Zotero, you always stay in control of your own data.

Still not sure which program to use for your research? See why we think you should choose Zotero .

Ready to try Zotero?


How To Use Zotero For Reference Management (An Illustrative Guide)

reference management using Zotero

As a PhD student, you will be required to read hundreds and hundreds of scholarly papers and other literature in order to produce a quality dissertation.

Effective management of literature will not only save you time but also your sanity. Luckily there are many reference management softwares available, some free, while others at a cost. Zotero is one such free software.

This article teaches you how to use Zotero for reference management in step-by-step instructions. The article covers the following topics:

What is Zotero?

How to install zotero, creating folders in zotero, saving references in zotero folders, drag and drop method, saving directly from the web browser, using zotero for in-text citations and creating bibliographies, final thoughts on using zotero for reference management, related articles.

Zotero is a free and open-source software that is used to store, organize, and cite references, as well as publish and share research works with others. It is one of the best reference management softwares available for free.

Step 1: Go to https://www.zotero.org/ and then downloads:

phd reference manager

Step 2: Download the Zotero application for your computer’s operating system:

phd reference manager

Step 3: Install the application on your computer. Once completed, you will get the following confirmation message “Success! You installed Zotero” as shown below:

successful installation of Zotero

Step 4: Install the Zotero Connector for your browser (depending on the browser you use). The Connector for browser enables one to save documents directly from the browser to Zotero.

phd reference manager

Step 5: Register for a free account. Once you enable sync, your Zotero library on your computer will link with your Zotero’s online account, thereby enabling you to access your work anywhere.

phd reference manager

Step 6: Go through the documentation provided on the Zotero website.

phd reference manager

Step 7: Link Zotero with Word processor. This enables you to use Zotero for citation and creation of reference list directly into Word.

Go to Zotero icon on the top bar then from the drop-down menu, select Preferences > Cite > Word processors and install the add-in for the word processor you use.

phd reference manager

Once the word processor is installed, you need to specify the referencing style that you will use. In this case, the APA 7th edition has been selected:

phd reference manager

Once you’ve completed the 7 steps, you are now ready to start using Zotero for research.

The first thing you want to do after installing Zotero is to create folders in which your documents will be stored.

Organizing your references in folders is a good and effective way of managing your references. It saves you time spent on looking for specific papers and also helps you compartmentalize your writing.

Depending on your dissertation topic, you can create different folders for the different chapters of your dissertation, for instance, introduction, literature review, research methodology, discussion of findings etc.

You can also create folders for your coursework (if your PhD programme has a coursework component) and a different folder for the dissertation work.

To create a new folder in Zotero:

  • Open Zotero.
  • On the left-hand pane, there is a folder-like icon which if you hover on you’ll see it named “new collection.”

phd reference manager

  • Click on it. A new collection dialog box will open prompting you to give a name to the new folder, as shown below.

phd reference manager

  • Give the new folder the name you want to. In this case, I have named it “Data analysis.” The new folder will appear as the first item under the “My Library” folder, as shown below:

phd reference manager

There are two ways of saving references in your Zotero folders:

This method is used if the references/documents are already saved in your computer. All you need to do is:

  • Open Zotero
  • Click on the document of interest that’s already saved in your computer.
  • Drag the document and drop it in the relevant Zotero folder.

With Zotero, one does not need to save the references/documents to the computer first in order to save to the Zotero folders. You can save directly from your web browsers as you are searching for and reading documents of interest.

This method requires one to have downloaded the Zotero web browser connector.

To save directly from the web browser:

  • Open the document in the web browser you use (e.g. Chrome). As an example I have opened a document called “The economics of ehealth” in Google Chrome.
  • With the document open, go to the Chrome extensions on the far hand-right side and click on it. A drop-down menu will open with all the Chrome extensions that you have installed, one of which should be the Zotero connector, as shown below:

saving documents to Zotero using Zotero connector

  • Click on the Zotero connector. A dialog box will open prompting you to save the document to a folder of your choice.

Saving document from we browser to Zotero folders

  • Click done on the bottom right-hand side of the dialog box. The document will be saved to the folder selected. In this case it was saved in the PhD dissertation folder, as shown below:

Web document saved to Zotero

Documents saved using the Zotero connector need not be pdf files. Even web pages can be saved directly into Zotero without converting them into pdf first.

The following is an example of a web page saved directly into Zotero using the Zotero connector for Chrome:

Saving webpages directly from web browser to Zotero

To open documents saved in Zotero, you can either double-click on their title (in the centre pane), or right click then select open.

Reference management is one of the hardest and time-consuming tasks for any doctoral student or researcher.

Luckily, reference management tools and softwares such as Zotero make the task much easier and manageable.

To successfully create in-text citations and bibliographies/reference lists, one must first specify the reference style that is allowed by their institution.

Second, the Zotero word processor add-in must be installed in their word processor.

To add an in-text citation using Zotero:

  • Open the word document in which the citation will be added.
  • Click the Zotero icon on the word document.
  • On the left-hand side, you will see two icons. Select the first one named “add/edit citation.”
  • A search bar with the Zotero icon will appear. Search the name of the author or the title of the document you want to cite from your Zotero library and select it.

How to add an in-text citation in Zotero

  • This action will bring the name of the authors of the document and the citation will be automatically added to the document where the cursor is placed.

Adding in-text citation in word using Zotero

To add a bibliography at the end of the document:

  • On the left-hand side, select the second icon named “add/edit bibliography.”
  • Zotero will automatically add the corresponding bibliographies for all the in-text citations.

How to add bibliography using Zotero

It is important to note that while Zotero will do a pretty good job at automatically adding in-text citations and bibliographies, it is the responsibility of the student to identify and correct any errors made in the citations and bibliographies. For instance, errors in the placement of brackets, italicising the references, placement of commas etc.

Hence making reference to the reference style guides should be done each time the student is editing his/her work.

In conclusion, Zotero is a powerful tool for research because it enables one to add documents, add in-text citations and create bibliographies automatically. In the process, it saves the user much time and effort that could be spent if the tasks were to be done manually. Zotero is therefore worth learning by every student and researcher.

How To Use Mendeley For Reference Management (An Illustrative Guide)

How to Use RefWorks for Reference Management (A Detailed Guide)

How to Use Citavi for Reference Management (A Detailed Guide)

How to Use EndNote for Reference Management (A Comprehensive Guide)

How to Write a Concept Paper

How to Choose a Research Topic for Your PhD Thesis

Grace Njeri-Otieno

Grace Njeri-Otieno is a Kenyan, a wife, a mom, and currently a PhD student, among many other balls she juggles. She holds a Bachelors' and Masters' degrees in Economics and has more than 7 years' experience with an INGO. She was inspired to start this site so as to share the lessons learned throughout her PhD journey with other PhD students. Her vision for this site is "to become a go-to resource center for PhD students in all their spheres of learning."

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