A quick overview of digital citation managers

Faculty and staff, take heart! Your bibliography-building and library-management tasks need not be a source of stress or boredom. A swell bunch of tools are at your disposal to support the technical end of academic activity.

In this post, we’ll talk briefly about three digital citation managers. You’re likely to be familiar with EndNote, but there are two others – Zotero and CiteULike – that might be new to you. The idea is to offer three points for each tool: the developer’s overview (The Pitch); the application to your own work (The Potential); and how much it will set you back (The Price). Think about each one and pick what’s best for you!


The Pitch: This citation software has been around the longest, and therefore claims itself as the “industry standard” for digital reference management. Since the mid-90s, EndNote has helped researchers build bibliographies, search for academic resources, and compile personal research libraries online. When this tool came out, the prospect of spending bleary-eyed hours manually building and checking – and re-checking, and re-checking, and re-checking – bibliographies became distinctly less likely.

The Potential: While digital reference management might not yet be the standard, it is at least a viable alternative. If you’re a researcher yourself, you have either used or heard about EndNote, so maybe it’s a good place to introduce your students to online resource management. Bibliographic style output includes MLA, APA, Chicago, and oh yeah, roughly 2,800 others. Keep tabs on current releases and new features here: http://www.endnote.com/eninfo.asp. Learn tips and tricks for using it, including Google Scholar integration, here: https://icoblog.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/afraid-to-use-endnote-here-are-some-tricks/.

The Price: If you want to require EndNote for an assignment or a whole class, just send students to http://iuware.iu.edu to download the locally-free version or to http://www.myendnoteweb.com to use the free online version. However, note that the downloadable version is pay-to-play if you don’t have an Indiana University account. Price tends to hover around the $100 mark.


The Pitch: The Firefox plug-in Zotero has adopted four terms to describe its functionality: collect, organize, cite, and share. What this amounts to is a process that technologically aids the basic steps of scholarly research. As you locate valuable sources, you can arrange them in an order that works for you and automatically generate bibliographical citations for them. It kind of acts like EndNote’s cousin, only it lives inside a browser.

The Potential: Zotero is generally designed for academic research, but it really shines at the beginning and end of the process. When you’re browsing for sources online, you can save them to Zotero in one click. And later, when you’re building your bibliography, you can export citations from Zotero and paste them in a word processing document in formats including APA, MLA, Chicago styles, or any number of other popular citation styles. Zotero also accepts user-submitted, custom styles. This is almost certainly going to be useful to research for established scholars and graduate students, but it could be a good starting point for undergraduates, as well.

The Price: Free. But for now, it only works with Firefox. Check it out: http://www.zotero.org/.


The Pitch: CiteULike is a web-based, browser-driven citation manager has a lot in common with Zotero. It draws citation info from documents that you’re browsing online, and it provides a structure to help you organize your research, among other features such as library sharing. It was developed in 2004 for academic research in science, but its functionality makes it more widely applicable.

The Potential: This product does much of what Zotero does, but in a slightly different way. You can use it at any stage of academic research, either for your students or for yourself, but expect more of a do-it-yourself aesthetic in terms of filling in the details of your individual citations, attaching copies of articles, etc. The functionality is all there, you’ll just have a larger hand in making it work. Also be aware that CiteULike does not support bibliography building internally, like EndNote and Zotero; however, it does allow for easy export of bibliographic information to such tools.

The Price: This one’s another freebie! Create your account at http://www.citeulike.org/.

This has been what you might call a breakneck introduction to digital citation managers. There are features not covered in this post for lack of space, but click on those links to learn more. Our purpose has been to quickly orient you toward a few options for this specific type of technological assistance. Hopefully it’s been helpful!


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