Organizing your References: A Review of Popular Citation Management Tools

by | Apr 28, 2021 | Dissertation Writing

Through your doctoral journey thus far, you have likely managed hundreds of references. Researching and writing your dissertation takes this collection and review process to a whole new level. The final published version of my dissertation had 240 references in it, and my dissertation EndNote library had 765 references that I reviewed during my dissertation research. Keeping all of the references organized so you can search and annotate your dissertation with ease is not for the faint of heart! There are many tools designed to make this easier and keep you organized. I’ll discuss the features of a few here, but which tool you use is a matter of personal choice and workflow practices. A word of caution: pick one and learn to use it well as it will save you countless hours while writing. So let’s dive into organizing your references: A review of popular citation management tools.

1. EndNote 20

I’ll start with EndNote 20. A license is $249 but they do offer a discounted rate for students at $115. Some universities offer the program to students through a school license, so you may want to check with a research librarian at your institution before purchasing. With EndNote, you can search from within the application and then use your school’s library to retrieve references. You can read, annotate, and search within your reference library. You can also create scripts to have EndNote sort and file your references for you.

EndNote will automatically update citations and the references as they change over time. The tool, like others, has a cite-while-you-write integration with Microsoft Word. You can access your reference library across platforms, online, or on an iPad. A great feature of EndNote on the iPad is that it allows handwritten digital notes to sync across all connected devices. With EndNote, you get unlimited storage. This means there are no limitations on the number of entries or the amount of PDF attachments.

EndNote 20

2. Zotero

Zotero is a free, open-source research tool. Although the database resides on your computer, you can elect to use their sync feature and share your references across devices via their cloud. The Zotero website has applications for Mac, Windows, and Linux. I could not find a Zotero version for Apple or Android tablets; however, third-party tools are available that interface with Zotero for both Apple and Android mobile devices.

Zotero can import data files from EndNote, Mendeley, Citivi, and other tools such as RefWorks can be imported by first exporting your files in a standard format such as RIS, BibTeX, or CSL JON.


3. Mendeley

Mendeley is now part of the Elsevier family of journals. Mendeley comes as three tools that can be used individually or as a toolset. The Mendeley Reference Manager is the repository of your references and includes the Mendeley notebook, which integrates your highlights and notes from multiple references. Mendeley Cite is a plugin for the Microsoft Word family that inserts references and bibliographies as you type. The Mendeley Desktop allows you to organize and search your library, annotate documents, and cite as you write.

Mendeley syncs its data to a cloud which enables you to retrieve your reference library across multiple devices or via a web browser. Additionally, it is compatible with both Apple and Android devices. Mendeley is free, but additional storage for your references is a premium service. Mendeley charges a monthly fee of $4.99 for 5 GB, $9.99 for 10 GB, or $14.99 for unlimited space.


Which tool is right for you? Well, it depends on you, your workflow, and whether your dissertation is the end of your journey or just the beginning. Click the button below to schedule a free strategy call with one of our coaches so you can finish your dissertation!