Using Citation Managers: An Overview

This guide provides an introduction to citation managers. Which one is right for you?.

What Is a Citation Manager?



A citation manager is a database you create that allows you to store, organize, and share your research and citations.Citation managers are designed for students, scholars, and writers to streamline the research and writing process and save time.

With a citation manager you can:

  • Store, search, and organize your research in one convenient place that is synced to the cloud.
  • Save links, PDFs, and other file types, and make notes. 
  • Automatically insert citations in the style you specify, including MLA, APA, Chicago, etc. while you write your paper.
  • Create a bibliography or list of references with a click.
  • Share your citations with a fellow researcher / co-author.

Citation managers save you time!

Common Features

What are some common features of citation managers?


  • Allow you to organize your research into folders in the way that makes sense to you. Citing word cloud concepts including information, citations, sources, research, data, articles, etc.
  • Create citations using citation styles including APA, MLA, Chicago, and other journal and discipline-specific styles.
  • Store PDFs along with the citations to keep your research all in one place.
  • Allow you to highlight and make notes as you read.
  • Sync to the cloud so you can carry your articles with you wherever you go.
  • Work with library databases to pull the metadata (author, title, volume, page numbers, etc.) directly from a database in order to have all the information needed to create citations.
  • Pull metadata directly from PDF's you already have saved on your computer and add to your citation manager.
  • Integrate with Microsoft Word so you can insert citations as you write.
  • Are interoperable. Your "library" of citations is always yours and can be moved to another citation manager. EndNote, Mendeley, and Zotero all use the same .ris file extension.
  • Are supported by UTSA Libraries: Get technical help from our librarians.

Unique Features of Some Citation Managers

These citation managers are useful for any discipline.
In addition to the common features listed above, see the unique features listed below.
Not sure which citation manager to choose? Match the features to your needs.

Endnote logo

Download for free from ASAP

Unlimited storage

Great tech support by email and phone

Apple Store apps

Mendeley logo

Free download 

Storage limits with upgrade option for a fee

Notebook feature 

Zotero logo

Free download

Storage limits with upgrade option for a fee

Integrates with browser to capture web pages with snapshots

Integrates with Google Docs


For more information about similarities and differences, see the comparison chart.


Endnote desktop application view showing folders, files, and metadata

Each citation manager's desktop view looks very similar. 

  • Folders to organize at left
  • Items in a particular folder in the center
  • An icon to indicate an attached PDF
  • Editable fields on the right for the highlighted item in the center


View of Endnote citation tools in MS Word

Your citation manager's icon will be integrated into MS Word.

  • Choose the citation style you plan to use (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.)
  • Insert in-text citations as you write your paper
  • Automatically build your bibliography

Managing Citations in Computer Science, Engineering, & Math

LaTeX and BibTeX

  • LaTeX is used primarily in Computer Science, Engineering, and Math Example of coding in LaTeX and BibTeX
  • LaTeX is a typesetting system that uses a markup language (similar to HTML) to describe document structure.
  • LaTeX is available for free download. 
  • Documents created with LaTeX use a .tex file extension instead of the .docx extension in MS Word. 
  • You must invest time to learn LaTeX commands and syntax.
  • BibTeX is a citation tool used with LaTeX. 
  • Provides for storage of all references in an external, flat-file database. 
  • BibTeX uses .bib files instead of .ris files.
  • A .bib file is a text file that can be opened in WordPad