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Reference managers

An introductory guide to three common Reference managers - EndNote, Zotero and Mendeley.

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What are reference managers?

A reference manager is a software tool designed to help you collect, store and manage your references for your research and academic work. The reference manager facilitates the process in various documents, such as essays, theses, reports, and manuscripts for publication.

Three of the most common reference managers are EndNote, Zotero and Mendeley.

This guide provides:

  • a comparison table outlining the different features of each reference manager
  • instructions on changing from one reference manager to another one
  • instructions on using each reference manager
  • the various help options available

Common features

Some common features of reference managers include:

  • Save references from library databases as well as library catalogues such as LibrarySearch
  • Auto-generate citations and bibliographies in word processing applications such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs and LibreOffice
  • Attach and annotate PDFs and other files 
  • Share collections of references with others
  • Available in a desktop version and an online version
  • Sync your references across multiple devices

The following table on reference manager common features may help you to decide which tool suits your needs.

Features EndNote Zotero Mendeley
Cost Free, for RMIT staff and students Free Free
Available on Windows and Mac OS Yes Yes yes
Import from databases Yes Yes Yes
Add tags to references Yes Yes Yes
Private groups Yes Yes Yes
Full-text searching across PDFs Yes Yes, not enabled by default Yes
Extract citations from PDFs Yes Yes Yes
Annotate and highlight PDFs Yes Yes Yes
Ability to transfer a library between applications Yes Yes Yes, with desktop version
Public groups No Yes Yes
RMIT Harvard style Yes Yes Yes
Library support Yes Limited Limited
Organise PDFs and other documents Yes Yes (free version has storage limits) Yes
Community network No Yes Yes
Mobile apps for iOS and android iPad only Yes (see third party) Yes
Selective syncing of documents No Yes Yes
Import citations from web pages Yes, EndNote Online only Yes (also archive page) Yes
Web-based Limited Yes Yes
Word processor compatibility MS Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs, Apple Pages MS Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs MS Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, LaTeX
Storage capacity Unlimited (2gb for EndNote Online) 300mb (free) 100gb (institutional edition)
Other features Insert figures and charts with word processor integration Sync library with multiple computers, use tags to organise and search Sync with library from multiple computers