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In this section, we introduce digital tools to assist you with citation management.

Citation management software or reference management software is software used for recording and utilising bibliographic citations for scholarly writing.

There are two components:

  • The citation which is a verbatim quotation published between quotation marks and / or a reference to a book or journal article. The citation appears in the body text.
  • The reference list which is a list of all the sources used for citations in the body text. The reference list is usually inserted at the end of the written work.

In both cases, the format for citations and reference lists are determined by the required citation style, for example: The American Psychological Association (APA) or the Oxford Citation style. For more information on citation styles, consult the OERu micro-course on Making your arguments more credible. Citation management software will assist in organising in text citations and generating reference lists within your word processor.

Choose or use the recommended tool

Selecting a software application is an important digital literacy, particularly when considering the adage “if you’re using it for free, you are the product.” Teaching the skills associated with software selection falls outside the scope of this micro-course. However, should you want to explore the process of selecting a software tool you can complete the optional activity below.

For learners pressed for time:

  • If you are already using a citation management tool, feel free to use this for the course.
  • If you don’t have a citation management tool, use Zotero which is an outstanding open source product suitable for this course.

Help resources for Zotero

web resources

Overview of citation management tools


Select a reference management tool (Optional)

The purpose of this activity is to select a reference management tool appropriate to your needs and to refine your skills in choosing software.

The OERu does not endorse any particular products as we respect freedom of software choice. There are a wide variety of citation management tools, both proprietary and open source. There are both online cloud services with browser plugins and software options you can download for working locally on your desktop. Some proprietary tools offer free versions, but as a proprietary service there is no guarantee that these will remain free in perpetuity. However, Zotero is a widely used open source tool available for Mac, Windows and Linux, with browser plugins for Chrome, Safari and Firefox.


  1. Review the tutorial “Selecting a reference management tool“, published by The Open University. (click on the next arrow on the top of the screen to sequence through the four pages of the tutorial).
  2. Scan the comparison of reference management software published by Wikipedia.
  3. Make a shortlist and study the features published on the websites of the reference management tools
  4. Select a tool taking the following into account:
    • Your preferences for accessing the tool
    • We recommend choosing a tool which provides integration with your preferred word processor.
    • Check whether there are online help resources published for your preferred tool on the source website or availability of video tutorials on Youtube.
    • Many citation management tools provide an option to maintain an online copy of your library with the ability to synchronise your local database with the online version for access using multiple devices. Check the terms and conditions for using the online cloud service from your provider. Many providers offer a free tier online service with restrictions, for example, limited storage space or feature set. Most of the free services would be more than adequate for the purposes of this course but you need to check the ability to export your library in the event that you want to change your citation management tool in the future.

What tool did you choose? Let us know by sharing a comment on WENotes, for example:

  1. I chose EndNote basic because …
  2. I selected Zotero because …
  3. I like Mendeley because …
  4. I prefer <insert tool> because …

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