How do you know which citation manager is right for you?

Check the chart below which compares several popular programs, and consider questions such as:

  • Do you use a Mac or PC, or both?
  • What is the norm in your field? What do your collaborators use?
  • Do you prefer a Web-based tool, or one that is installed on your computer?
  • Will you be sharing citations or your database with others?

RefWorks is a good choice for many undergraduates. It is free for students, Web-based, and easy to navigate.

It's not a lifetime commitment - you can change citation managers. And you can use more than one citation manager, have more than one RefWorks account, and move citations from one type of manager to another.

Consider taking a library workshop on a particular citation manager, or a session introducing all the features that they share.

Citation Manager Comparison

Desktop: $115.95 (version X7 academic pricing as of Aug. 2016) at U of M Bookstore
Web: Free to U of M students, staff, & faculty
Free for basic edition Free to U of M students and alumni. Free to staff & faculty while affiliated; available from RefWorks at cost afterwards. Free
Desktop: software (Mac/PC) Allows work offline
Web: Online access only Free access with EndNote or by registering in Web of Science EndNote Basic

Download a desktop version—allows offline use.

Also able to use/sync multiple computers online.

Cite references in documents while offline
Firefox plugin or standalone versions
Use on computer or flash drive or sync across computers
Allows work offline
Share libraries with other EndNote users and citations via EndNote Basic Allows the sharing of citations and papers with a single click at Create group accounts, share folders with other campus users, share read-only citations with anyone via public url, collaborate with anyone using RefShare. Create group libraries and sync through Zotero

Desktop: Good for users with ongoing projects preparing manuscripts.

Web: Good collaborating or undergraduate level research.

Good choice for papers for classes

Good choice if you already have a lot of pdfs for your research.
Good choice for papers for classes, group projects, and manuscripts
Good choice for papers for classes. Best choice for web-based sources (non-journal)
Ease of Use

Desktop: More difficult to learn.

Web: Moderately easy

Moderately easy
Moderately easy
Import Filters

Desktop: Can edit and create

Web: Cannot edit and create

Cannot edit and create
Cannot edit and create

Importing Citations

... from library databases
... from library catalog
Web: Yes
... from websites
Save manually
Use RefGrab-It to capture URL & page title
... from RSS feeds
Storage Capacity & Storing Files

Desktop: Unlimited
Can attach documents and other files
With X6: 2-yr subscription for 5GB of cloud storage

Web:  Limited to 10,000 references

1GB for free (500 MB for personal/500MB for groups)

More space available for a fee.

Limited to 5GB per account for file attachments
Can organize citations in folders
Very easy to attach files. Usually stores web pages, screen shots, and other objects automatically on saving citation
Text can be searchable
Notes & Tags
Can add notes & tags to citation. Can annotate pdfs
Can annotate pdfs
Can add notes & tags to citation
Can attach notes to citations
Word Processing Software Compatibility

Cite-While-You-Write: MS Word and OpenOffice
Also  Rich Text Format (RTF) & Open Document Format (ODF) documents.

Desktop: Works with LaTeX through BibTeX
Compatible with MS Word, Open Office, and BibTex
MSWord (Write-n-Cite)

Can format RTF, HTML, & OpenOffice .odt documents with manual citation insertion

Works with LaTeX through BibTeX
Weaker than others but more options
MSWord, OpenOffice, & Google Docs
Citation Styles
EndNote Desktop: 6000 styles available
Edit, create, & request additional styles
1180 styles (community generated)
~1600 styles available
Edit, create, & request additional styles
15 major styles (e.g., Chicago) as well as >1000 other user-developed styles

EndNote Desktop also substitutes journal abbreviations automatically from term lists and create records for figures and tables to add into papers.

Additional Resources

Find comparisons of a more comprehensive list of citation managers at Wikipedia's Comparison of reference management software