Module 3: Organizing, Managing and Screening Sources

Citation Management Products

Picking a Citation Management System

When picking a tool, we suggest trying out a few in order to compare their features. You might also want to keep the following questions in mind when trying them out:

  • Is the tool within my budget?
  • Does it work well with the databases I use frequently?
  • Is it able to organize and filter a large number of citations?
  • Can it produce a in the primary style used in my discipline?
  • If I’m working with a research team, does the software allow me to collaborate with my colleagues smoothly?


If you are interested in a more comprehensive list of citation management tools available worldwide, please see the following chart from Wikipedia: Comparison of Reference Management Software.

Simple Solution: Using Excel/Google Sheets/Numbers

If you have a small and manageable number of sources, you can use a familiar spreadsheet program like Excel, Google Sheets or Numbers to manage your citation data and look for duplicates. You can create your own columns for important citation information like Author, Title, Year, Database, etc. and even a column to enter notes. You can enter your sources manually or use the exporting function found in most databases. For example, databases like PubMed and ProQuest allow you to export the bibliographic information attached to your sources as a .CSV file. This file can be opened as a spreadsheet in Excel, Google Sheets and Numbers. See Figure 3.1 below for an example of a spreadsheet used as a citation management tool.

Screenshot of a spreadsheet as a citation management tool with bibliographic information in columns.
Figure 3.1. Example of using a spreadsheet for citation management. Source: Kelly Dermody, licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY 4.0

Free Software

There are a number of free citation management tools available for you to use. The only requirement is that you sign up for an account and download the product to your device. The three most commonly used tools are Mendeley, Zotero and EndNote Basic. If you are having trouble picking between the three, Table 3.2 below offers a quick comparison chart. For a more in depth comparison you can use the following comparison chart from the University of Toronto Libraries to help you decide.

Table 3.2. Quick Comparison of Mendeley, Zotero and EndNote Basic
Product Mendeley Zotero EndNote Basic
Price Free Free and open source
  • Free* web-based system
  • Provides users with 2GB of online storage

*Note: this is the free basic version of EndNote 2.0 which is a paid product.

Availability Desktop and online Desktop and online Online only
Word processor MS Word Plugin MS Word and Google Doc Plugin Download “Cite While you Write” for both Windows and Mac.
  • Web Importer bookmarklet for most browsers
  • Can save and annotate PDFs
  • Shared folders for collaboration
  • Web Importer using Firefox, Chrome, or Safari plugin
  • Automatically import PDFs with citations, can add notes to PDFs
  • Shared folders for collaboration
  • Web Importer bookmarklet for most browsers
  • Add EndNote Click to import PDFs
  • Share folders with other EndNote Basic users
Important links

Paid Products

There are some important reasons for considering a paid product for your choice of citation management tool. They can offer technical support if anything goes wrong, larger storage space, collaboration, duplication and other special features that might meet your needs more than a free product. The following table offers a comparison of two popular paid products available on the market. Some libraries have institutional licenses to one or more of these products, which means as long as you are a student you will have access. Check with your library to see if you have access to these products. Table 3.3 below offers a quick comparison chart of two paid products, RefWorks and EndNote.

Table 3.3. Quick Comparison of Refworks and EndNote
Product RefWorks EndNote
Company Product of Ex Libris, a ProQuest company Product of Clarivate (owns Web of Science)
Availability Web based Desktop interface for Windows and Mac
Word Processor MS Word and Google Docs plugin “Cite While You Write” download for Windows and Mac
  • Read and annotate full-text documents with highlights and comments.
  • Collaborate on projects with shared folders.
  • Shared folders for collaboration.
  • Add EndNote Click to import PDFs.
  • Conduct large-scale literature reviews with analysis tools.
  • Deduplicate content by searching on unique identifiers.
Important Links RefWorks Account EndNote Account

Products Specifically for Systematic Reviews

Some citation managers may not be robust enough to handle a large evidence synthesis review or remove duplicate citations. Instead, you might need to use a tool specifically designed for systematic reviews. These tools incorporate automated features that help organize and speed up the review process.

The Systematic Review Toolbox is a searchable collection of tools you could potentially use to develop your systematic review. Below is a sample of some free and paid tools designed for systematic reviews.

Learning Activity

Complete the following steps to locate the tools available to you:

  1. See what paid products your library offers. Bookmark the resource guides on using the product.
  2. Take some time to try out 2-3 products before making a decision or a purchase.

Key Takeaways

Taking some time to pick a citation management tool that is right for you is an essential step in conducting a review. The right tool will help you maintain the integrity of your review and save you time.


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Advanced Research Skills: Conducting Literature and Systematic Reviews Copyright © 2021 by Kelly Dermody; Cecile Farnum; Daniel Jakubek; Jo-Anne Petropoulos; Jane Schmidt; and Reece Steinberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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