Best 6 Free Citation Management Software For Researchers: Mendeley, Zotero & More

In today’s academic and research landscape, citation management tools have become indispensable. Zotero, Mendeley Basic, EndNote Basic, Citation Machine, JabRef, and Citavi each offer unique features catering to various user needs, from generating bibliographies to collaborating in real-time.

While some tools like Zotero are celebrated for being open-source, others, such as Citavi, are lauded for their all-inclusive features, making the research process seamless.

This article delves deep into each tool, highlighting their distinct functionalities and comparing their strengths, assisting researchers in choosing the perfect tool for their endeavours.

Best Citation Management Tools For Researchers

SoftwareKey Features
Zotero– Open source, free.
– Storing and syncing PDFs, web pages.
– Browser extension.
– Works with Word, LibreOffice, Google Docs.
– Collaboration features.
Mendeley Basic– Free citation tool.
– Import from web and PDFs.
– Annotate PDFs.
– Works with Word and LibreOffice.
– Social sharing.
EndNote Basic– Web-based, free.
– Works with Microsoft Word.
– 2GB storage.
– Library guides access.
Citation Machine– Free online tool
– Focuses on APA citation
– Export to Docs and Word
– URL import
JabRef– Open source
– Works with Word, LibreOffice
– LaTeX/BibTeX support
– Desktop app, database management
Citavi– Import PDFs and web pages
– Task planning
– Works with Word
– 30-day free trial


Zotero stands out as a robust citation management tool, offering a diverse range of features for researchers, students, and writers.

One of Zotero’s prime selling points is that it’s a free citation management software, allowing users to manage their citations, generate references, and create bibliographies seamlessly.

Unlike Mendeley, another free citation manager, and EndNote, which has both a premium version and a simplified EndNote Basic, Zotero remains steadfastly open source.

The Zotero library serves as your personal research assistant, where you can store PDFs, web pages, and other bibliographic records seamlessly. With the Zotero Connector browser extension, the platform automatically senses research on web-based platforms, making it easy to add papers directly to your library.

Sync features let you maintain the same Zotero library across multiple computers. And if you decide to sync, the first 2GB is free.

One distinct feature is Zotero’s compatibility with various word processors. It can work seamlessly with:

  • Microsoft Word
  • LibreOffice
  • Google Docs
  • And more.

Users can insert in-text citations and generate bibliographies in a whole range of journal styles, including APA, MLA, and Turabian. Directly inside Word or using Mendeley, you can “cite while you write.”

If collaboration is on your agenda, you can also share a Zotero library with as many people as you like and collaborate in real-time.

Mendeley Basic

Mendeley is a free citation management software that stands in league with tools like Zotero and EndNote Basic. Designed to streamline the citation process, Mendeley Basic enables researchers to manage their:

  • Citations
  • Generate bibliographies, and
  • Cite while they write.

With a free account, users can import citations from databases, web pages, and even directly from PDFs into their Mendeley desktop library.

Notably, Mendeley’s browser extension is a game-changer for researchers. Just as Zotero automatically senses research on web pages, Mendeley’s browser extension can add papers directly from the web to your library.

This tool even supports importing bibliographic records seamlessly from platforms like preprint from Its integration with Microsoft Word and LibreOffice allows users to insert in-text citations and generate references in popular citation styles like APA, MLA, and Turabian.

A standout feature is Mendeley’s ability to annotate PDFs, making it not only a citation manager but also a personal research assistant. With 2GB of free storage, it supports file syncing across multiple computers, ensuring your references are always up-to-date.

If you decide to sync, your bibliographic data is always backed up and available. Collaboratively, Mendeley empowers users to share a library with as many people as they grant permission to, fostering a social networking aspect in the research realm.

Beyond this, for those familiar with LaTeX, Mendeley can generate BibTeX entries for papers, making it a holistic tool for comprehensive reference management.

Endnote Basic

EndNote Basic, commonly referred to as EndNote Web, is a web-based citation management tool offered for free. It’s a simplified version of the more comprehensive EndNote desktop software available for purchase.

EndNote Basic stands tall among free citation management tools like Zotero and Mendeley. Zotero is a free, open-source personal research assistant, while Mendeley is a free citation manager with social networking capabilities, EndNote Basic has its unique offerings.

One of EndNote Basic’s main draws is its integration with Microsoft Word. Users can cite while they write, meaning they can insert in-text citations and automatically generate bibliographies in styles like:

  • APA
  • MLA, and
  • Turabian.

It also provides 2GB of storage, sufficient for most users to manage their citations and import bibliographic data. Unlike Zotero, which requires a browser extension (Zotero Connector) to work efficiently, EndNote Basic is web-based, making it accessible from multiple computers.

However, if you decide to sync, say, with a Zotero library, you’d have the capability to collaborate and share a Zotero library with as many people as you have permission to.

Moreover, while Mendeley and Zotero can integrate with Google Docs and LibreOffice, EndNote Basic’s unique selling proposition is its seamless file syncing and extensive library guides available through many university libraries.

Its ability to create citations, manage bibliographic records seamlessly, and even annotate PDFs gives it an edge for researchers looking for a free online reference management software solution.

Citation Machine

Citation Machine is a cutting-edge tool that offers free online citation management, simplifying the often complex process of crafting bibliographies.

Differing from popular tools like Zotero, Mendeley, and EndNote, it provides an intuitive browser interface that doesn’t require users to log in.

Unlike EndNote Basic, a web-based reference manager or the libreoffice integration seen in Zotero, Citation Machine focuses singularly on citations and bibliographies. There’s no extended library guides or management of PDFs. However, its simplicity is its strength.

Here are some of Citation Machine’s features:

  1. Variety in Citation Style: While some citation management tools, such as Zotero and Mendeley, support a wide array of citation styles, Citation Machine shines for its user-friendly APA generation. A boon for students, especially those diving into science and social sciences. Notably, while APA is highlighted, other styles like MLA are accessible too.
  2. Integration with Google Docs: After crafting your citations, the platform allows you to directly export your entire references page, making it a seamless fit with platforms like Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
  3. Attention to Detail: It doesn’t just generate a quick bibliography. Users must ensure the accuracy of details—verifying data against the original source. This might remind some of the Zotero library feature, but it’s less about managing a database and more about perfecting individual citations.
  4. Browser Extension & Syncing: Though it doesn’t boast the Zotero Connector or Mendeley’s browser extension for direct paper additions, users can easily import URLs. However, remember to periodically sync your work to a desktop or another platform like Google Docs—since it doesn’t save your work by default.
  5. Endnote Basic Comparison: Ad-Supported Free Use: Yes, it’s a free citation manager, but the platform sustains itself through ads. Sometimes, viewing a sponsored message is a small price for utilizing the free citation management tools.


JabRef stands out in the sea of citation management tools, functioning as a robust open-source reference management software for users to manage their citations and bibliographies.

Similar to popular tools like Zotero and Mendeley, JabRef offers a variety of features that cater to the academic and research community.

Firstly, the software integrates seamlessly with word processors such as Microsoft Word and LibreOffice, enabling users to insert in-text citations and generate bibliographies in a whole range of journal styles, including APA and MLA.

It also supports BibTeX, a format used in LaTeX, allowing for easy management of bibliographic records seamlessly.

For researchers accustomed to Zotero, the free citation manager has a feature known as the “Zotero Connector.” In contrast, JabRef doesn’t directly provide browser extension capabilities. However, it allows for importing citation information from databases and web pages with ease.

Unlike the limited 2GB storage on Zotero or the web-based interface of EndNote Web, JabRef is a desktop application, giving users direct control over their databases.

Although Mendeley is a free citation management software with social networking aspects, JabRef focuses on its core function: being an excellent citation manager and bibliography creator.

Those who collaborate on research papers will appreciate JabRef’s features that permit sharing bibliographic data and syncing across multiple computers.

While it might not automatically sense research like Zotero or offer the “cite while you write” feature seen in Mendeley and EndNote, its depth in citation tools and bibliographic management makes it a worthy choice for millions of researchers worldwide.


In the vast world of reference management software, Citavi stands out as an all-inclusive tool that seamlessly manages every step of the research process.

Much like Zotero and Mendeley, Citavi allows users to import sources directly, but its robust features don’t stop there.

Citavi’s users can effortlessly add PDF articles, books by ISBN, and even cite web pages via its browser extension.

The software’s built-in task planner and knowledge organizer are particularly handy, letting researchers like Lisa structure ideas, manage citations, and visualize connections.

A standout feature is Citavi’s integration with Microsoft Word, which facilitates the writing process by allowing users to insert in-text citations and automatically format them according to desired citation styles such as APA or MLA.

Additionally, its bibliography management ensures references appear correctly at the end of a research paper without the fuss of comma and period placement.

Furthermore, while not entirely free like Zotero’s basic plan or Mendeley’s free citation manager offerings, Citavi offers a full experience free for 30 days, making it an enticing option for many researchers.

It may not be open-source, but its unique combination of features places it among top citation management tools, offering a comprehensive solution for those seeking more than just a basic citation manager.

Wrapping Up: Cite With Ease With Citation Manager Tools

The landscape of citation management has been enriched by diverse tools such as Zotero, Mendeley Basic, EndNote Basic, Citation Machine, JabRef, and Citavi. Each brings its unique flair to the table, from open-source capabilities to all-inclusive research functionalities.

Whether you’re an academic, a writer, or a student, the choice available ensures that there’s a tool tailored for every need.

By understanding and comparing these offerings, researchers can streamline their processes, enhance collaboration, and elevate the quality of their work in the ever-evolving world of academic research.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.