12 Best Reference Manager Software For Research

Reference manager software is a computer application used to manage references. This can include creating a database of references, inserting citations into a document, and creating bibliographies.

Some of these applications include social networking, highlighting and annotating PDFs, and sharing and collaboration tools.

Reference manager software, or citation managers as they are sometimes known, offer a one-time submission and citation service or serve as secure source repositories for long-term projects.

These tools can also cater to more than academic purposes: businesses can benefit from having a unified system to organize and share research data documents.

There are many options for research management software on the market today. Most research manager software are web-based. Although, some of these tools have desktop versions with more advanced features.

So, in this post, I share some of the best reference manager software I have reviewed to help you find the best product for your research needs.

Best Reference Manager Software For Research

1. EndNote

EndNote is a reference manager research that helps users accelerate their research by assisting them in searching through hundreds of online resources and PDFs for content to insert into their papers.

The application has powerful features, including unlimited simultaneous users, unlimited storage, PDF management with optical character recognition (OCR), 6,000+ reference styles, and smart search filters for refining searches and linking to Google Scholar for full-text searching.

Users can also import PDF files directly from their computers and edit them within the program.

The application also offers group sharing capabilities so that users can share access to their libraries with their team members and easily collaborate on projects together.

However, using EndNote in a collaborative text editor like Google Docs is tricky. Google Docs does not support EndNote Cite While You Write. Nevertheless, EndNote can still be used with Google Docs if unformatted citations are inserted, saved as RTF files, and then formatted using EndNote.

For security purposes, EndNote allows users to set passwords on their libraries and export citations in XML format that are importable into other applications like Microsoft Word or OpenOffice Writer.

Users of EndNote can also access their libraries on the go using their mobile devices and tablets via WebApp. The mobile app is available for both iOS and Android devices.

Pricing starts at $268.70 for a full license and a discounted price of $124.65 for a student license (after verifying academic status). You will need to contact the EndNote sales team for group and corporate pricing.

Explore the best alternatives to EndNote in this post.

2. Zotero

Zotero is an award-winning open-source reference manager research tool that is free to use and requires no subscription or registration.

This reference manager offers users several valuable features, including the ability to save PDFs of sources, pull together notes on a selected text, and save an annotated copy of a PDF using the Readability add-on.

Zotero supports automatic syncing across all platforms so that users can access their databases from any computer. With this feature, researchers can update their database from their smartphones or tablets without manually downloading the entire database to their devices.

Zotero’s autofill feature also deserves mention: using this feature, researchers save a great deal of time when filling out online forms such as journal submission forms.

You can also import your bibliography from applications like Mendeley, RefWorks, Papers, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, and more into Zotero.

Furthermore, using your Google account credentials, you can add your library to your Google account to access it from any computer or device. All bibliographic data can be exported in CSV format for other applications.

Zotero also allows users to collaborate via Zotero Groups. When creating a group, you can specify whether the group should be public (or private). Then, you can invite members and set preferences for who can see and edit the group library.

You can organize the entries in your library according to different metadata fields such as author name, title, publisher name, publication date, subject categories, etc.

Additionally, you can create smart folders that will automatically organize entries based on rules you set yourself.

Zotero is a free reference manager program; however, it only has 300 MB of storage. If you need more storage space, it has a subscription-based model of $20/year for 2 GB, $60/year for 6 GB, and $120/year for unlimited storage.

3. Mendeley

Another software that stacks up well for researchers is Mendeley.

It is a cloud-based citation management tool that supports full-text search, document management, social networking, and collaboration capabilities to help users organize and manage their research documents.

Users can collect and store up to 2GB (or upgrade for more) of research documents and PDFs and access them from anywhere using any internet-connected device.

Documents are automatically grouped by their titles so users can easily find what they are looking for using the software.

Furthermore, Mendeley allows users to create and manage their libraries, collaborate, and share their research with colleagues and friends.

It saves any changes made to your documents in the cloud so that you can always access the most recent version of your document from any location.

It also allows users to annotate documents, highlight text passages, add sticky notes, and write comments directly on the pages of the PDF documents.

Moreover, Mendeley syncs all changes you make to your PDF annotations across all your devices and computers so that you can work on a document anytime you want without downloading the file to your computer first.

The software has a built-in PDF reader that allows users to read PDFs directly within your web browser.

You can collaborate remotely with other Mendeley users by utilizing Mendeley’s group feature on projects or ongoing research by adding references to the group as if it were a collection. In addition to sharing citations, Mendeley group members can also share PDFs and any annotations made to them.

Mendeley also allows users to have unlimited private groups and delineate how many members a group can have based on their account status.

People using a free version can have groups with up to 25 members, while users with paid storage are entitled to have 50 members. An institutional status lets users have up to 100 members.

A unique job search feature in Mendeley allows users to search for jobs in science, technology, and health based on keywords and location. Users can find jobs that match their search criteria with just a few keywords and the “Search” button.

The price ranges from $55 for 5GB to $165 for unlimited storage.

The major drawback of this application is that it only exports the bibliography to OpenOffice, Microsoft Word, and LibreOffice.

Mendeley is a great citation management tool that can benefit researchers at all levels, from students to professors, and with diverse research projects.

Check out this interesting comparison between Zotero and Mendeley.

4. RefWorks

This program is popular among institutions and is one of the best reference management software for research.

RefWorks is a web-based application that allows users to easily create and manage bibliographies and insert citations in their papers using the “cite while you write” functionality.

It is compatible with Mac and Windows systems and enables users to collaborate with other users via the cloud.

Using RefWorks’ cloud storage service, users can save all their bibliographic data in a single location and access it from other computers or mobile devices; however, they can export their data in Excel/CSV format.

With RefWorks’ sharing feature, users can collaborate with others. You can share a folder with collaborators with either read-only or edit-only permissions. Users can invite individuals to join a shared folder or share a folder with anyone within their institution.

With a free account, a user can store up to 2GB of data; however, a paid subscription is necessary to access additional features such as full-text searching of references in PubMed and other databases. The subscription fee ranges from $70/year for individuals to $1,500 for institutions.

The only con I find with this software is its pricey subscription rate. But it makes up for that with its ease of use and compatibility with Google Docs – one of the most used online collaboration software today.

RefWorks is a robust reference manager software, and students, particularly undergraduates, can effortlessly adopt this user-friendly tool for managing references.

5. NVivo

NVivo differs from the other programs on this list because it doesn’t focus on organizing bibliographic data. Instead, it helps users analyze, visualize, and summarize data based on associations between variables and theories.

The software’s utility for researchers comes from its qualitative analysis capabilities and advanced data management and analysis features.

This freeware and cross-platform software is available as a standalone application and as a plug-in for Microsoft Word, Excel, and other cloud applications.

NVivo is a qualitative data analysis software tool used by professionals from various disciplines such as social sciences, health, education, marketing, and business research.

With NVivo, you can collect, manage, analyze, and report on qualitative data. NVivo has a companion app, Citavi (the reason NVivo is on this list), which allows you to collect and manage bibliographic data.

You can also collaborate with other users via cloud-based storage provided by NVivo. Users with a paid account can also share their data with other users who can work on that data simultaneously.

NVivo has a unique pricing model: you can either pay-as-you-go or yearly. In addition, you can also subscribe to Citavi – right in the UI of NVivo.

6. Papers

If you are looking for a less expensive tool with just as many features, Papers is an excellent choice.

Papers is a web-based application that offers powerful citation management and collaborative research features. This application has powerful built-in search functionality that allows users to quickly find relevant papers and journals without wasting time on manual searches.

Users can also organize their papers into folders and create multiple collections to track their research progress by saving specific sets of papers under these collections.

Like other tools in this list, users can export their bibliographies into MS Word/OpenOffice/LibreOffice formats; however, unlike its competitors, Papers was specially designed for Mac.

I am not saying it doesn’t work on other operating systems, but the experience isn’t as smooth as on a Mac.

Papers also feature a built-in powerful content management system that allows researchers to store and share PDFs, PDFs with captions, and PDFs with annotations.

As a researcher, you can share your workflow with your colleagues by allowing them to download or view your papers instantly.

The Papers Cite Faster feature grants you access to insert references from personal/shared libraries or use the built-in search engine. With 10,000+ supported citation styles, you can format your papers correctly every time.

And like most of the tools in this article, you can sync your Papers database to the cloud and access your citations and papers anytime you want from any device with an internet connection.

For just $36/year, students can upgrade to a Pro account and request a discount under certain conditions. See, it’s less expensive, but just as good nonetheless.

7. BibMe

After citing all the sources for your research paper, you still need to check for plagiarism and grammatical errors to ensure a well-written essay.

What if you can do all these in one place? Instead of switching between tools and switching between screens – you can do it all in one app with BibMe.

BibMe is an all-in-one tool: you can track your citations and references, search for keywords in your articles, check for plagiarism, and quickly edit your sources without getting distracted.

You will always have access to your citation data wherever you go since all data is stored and synchronized in the cloud.

Moreover, to guarantee you have the best result, BibMe uses similar technology in Turnitin to flag possible cases of plagiarism. So you get instant results, and you can fix it right away.

Additionally, with BibMe Expert Check, you can receive feedback from writing experts, who will assess based on your paper’s main idea, structure, and overall writing quality in 24 hours.

Getting an opinion on your paper, especially from a professional, can be the difference between a good paper and a great one.

BibMe offers a free version with over 7,000+ citation styles, including APA & Chicago. For $9.95 a month, BibMe Plus includes 7,000+ citations, unlimited grammar checks, and expert help for 30 papers.

8. EasyBib.com

In May 2016, Chegg, the online textbook service, acquired Imagine Easy Solutions, the parent company of BibMe and EasyBib.com. EasyBib.com and BibMe are similar in many ways.

EasyBib is a reference manager software similar to BibMe. It is also an all-in-one tool that lets you manage your references/citations/sources/papers/journals in one place without switching between tabs or apps.

It also allows you to upload PDFs and other files directly in your bibliography to access them later.

You can also use it to make quick edits to your citations without leaving the app – perfect if you forget to add an author or date or you want to make minor changes.

And with the EasyBib.com integration option, you can add a citation to your bibliography with just a few clicks.

It is the pricing plan that differentiates BibMe from EasyBib. There are two plans available with BibMe. However, with EasyBib, you can select another option known as EasyBib® Plus & Chegg® Study Pack.

This tier is higher than the Plus plan in BibMe, offering unlimited expert help for your papers at $19.95/month.

So, if you are familiar with BibMe and love the service, but need expert help more than 30 times per month, consider switching to EasyBib and subscribe to the Chegg Study Pack.

9. Cite This For Me

Cite This For Me is another popular citation tool and one of the best reference managers for research.

Like other tools mentioned in this article, Cite This For Me is a freemium service: free to use with a limited number of features and a paid upgrade to unlock the full suite of features.

To start using this application, select the website or article icon. If you’re using another source type, like a book, click “More” to see all available options. From there, a form will pop up and show you all the information you should look for in your source.

You can create a citation at any time and also go back and edit it as many times as you want.

Cite This For Me will automatically find reference information and fill out some forms for you to save time and effort when referencing websites, journal articles, etc.

This software also stacks up many citation styles you can use, including the most popular ones like APA, MLA, Chicago, and CSE.

The Cite This For Me Chrome extension lets you add sources to your bibliography with just one click. With this extension installed in your browser, you can save time by adding citations directly from your browser without having to open the app each time.

With Cite This For Me, you can export your bibliography into your project, paper, or document. But you’ll need to sign up for a premium account if you want to export it to Word.

Another benefit of a premium account is controlling ads and saving your work as you progress.

Also Read: Best Free Writing Assistant Software

10. JabRef

One of the fields free, open-source software can help with is research. This is because researchers usually need to manage large databases and then organize them properly to generate meaningful reports or insights – which can be difficult and expensive if the software is proprietary and costly.

One application that can help you manage data and organize it efficiently is JabRef – a reference manager/database/citation manager software that can create bibliographies for you in seconds.

It can generate bibliographies for journals and other publications and manage your references and citations in a database for easy access.

You can also export your references as plain text files for use with other bibliographic management software or databases.

And you can organize your information into groups to help you categorize your research and make it more organized.

JabRef Edit capabilities allow you to customize and add new metadata fields or reference types to the citation. It can also export your data into CSV and BibTex formats.

It supports importing from various file types, including CSV, BibTex, and any other file format that supports Cross Reference Table (CRT) references.

In addition, its cite-as-you-write function allows you to write complete bibliographic citations as you type automatically. Also, you can organize your research data by fields or in a tree structure.

You can also use JabRef with MS Word, LibreOffice, and OpenOffice to insert your citations into your documents.

The program is very user-friendly and it’s free, so you can download it and try it out to see if it’s right for you.

11. StudentShare.org

StudentShare.org is a database of essay samples that students can use to help write their papers by providing vivid examples of previous academic works. This platform has a free citation generator, which is why it makes this list.

To use the generator, select the citation type you intend to use, choose a website, journal, or other publication, and enter your source information. StudentShare will then generate a citation that you can use for your paper.

It is an easy-to-use tool that generates citations in MLA, APA, Chicago Manual of Style, Harvard, and more.

12. BibDesk

Last on our list is BibDesk, a reference manager software specifically designed for Mac users to help them create and edit their bibliographies easily and quickly.

This application helps you organize your resources by author, title, and other criteria – and automatically adds new resources to your database as you find them online or create them manually.

You can add as many authors as you want to your list and easily create multi-author bibliographies for your projects. It also allows you to easily import data from various file formats such as PubMed, EndNote, CSV, and others. Once imported, you can add and edit the information in BibDesk.

You can also add new references to your database by pasting in the URL of an online resource or using one of its built-in search mechanisms to find relevant resources to add to your list. As necessary, you can edit the entries in BibDesk and add or delete entries.

BibDesk comes with a comprehensive manual to help you get started if you are unfamiliar with these applications.

Also Read: Best Archive.is Alternatives


If I have to pick one from the list, I will go with Zotero as a general-purpose tool for managing research and generating bibliographies for papers, projects, etc.

Due to its comprehensive functionality and ease of use – even for beginners – this application is an excellent choice for students or researchers who need to organize their research and manage their data without spending much money on expensive software.

In addition, you can use it to generate citations and a bibliography in Google Docs, which is a plus.

About Author

Tom loves to write on technology, e-commerce & internet marketing. I started my first e-commerce company in college, designing and selling t-shirts for my campus bar crawl using print-on-demand. Having successfully established multiple 6 & 7-figure e-commerce businesses (in women’s fashion and hiking gear), I think I can share a tip or 2 to help you succeed.