Keeping Sane with Citation Managers

Keeping Sane With Citation Managers

work space

By Aisling Sampson

Most of us have been there at least once – you’re under the gun to finish that paper, and you can’t remember which article needs to be cited where, adding in-text citations send you way over word count, or you don’t have enough time to build and format your references. Easy marks down the drain, your stress is ramping up, and you kick yourself – again. It’s time to meet your new best friend, the citation manager.

Why a Citation Manager?

Life is short and time is precious. Why labour over formatting and pasting cites when a program will do all that, and more, in a few keystrokes? If you’ve never used a citation manager, here is what you’re missing:

  • Automatically pull citation information with your article pdfs.
  • Folders organize your research materials.
  • Articles are searchable, with tagging and note-taking functions.
  • Automatic pdf downloads (if available – some you may have to download manually).
  • Cite as you go and never fret about word count again.
  • Seamless switching between styles – APA 6, MLA, or Chicago??? No worries – you’ve got that covered.
  • Collaborate between group members if your cite tool has cloud functions (most do).
  • Reference or Bibliography creation with one simple mouse click (you will still need to proof cites and bibliography for errors – a small price to pay).

Which Citation Manager?

There are many citation managers with different features and perks. Many (not all) are free or cost nothing while you are a student. RefWorks, Zotero, EndNote, and Mendeley, are the most common. Personally, I use Zotero, but Queen’s library has an excellent guide to citation managers here . U of T has an in-depth citation manager comparison chart here. The learning curve isn’t steep, and most citation managers allow migration to a different manager, so changing your mind after the fact isn’t that big a deal. But checking with your faculty supervisors and peers is still a good idea. Different levels of education (undergrad or grad) and different disciplines have different preferences. Also, Queen’s now has a site license for desktop EndNote for Queen’s students. I’m going to download EndNote this weekend for a spin. So, when you have a chance, taking some time to investigate citation managers now will save a lot of time and effort later.


If you're ever unsure of how to cite a source and want to confirm, email your prof or TA for clarification.