Zotero vs Mendeley – Which Is Better?

If you write essays, you must have come across citation tools like Zotero and Mendeley. Citations play a significant role in writing and researching as they show readers that you’ve done proper research.

Citing other people’s work also indicates that you are a responsible scholar when you give credit to other researchers. Citations and bibliographies can also help readers track the sources you just used in your writing.

Zotero and Mendeley are citation management software that let you download articles and citations from various sites and databases. They also help you organize and store the citations electronically and format them for your bibliography or paper.

They make it easy to share references with other researchers, and understanding the unique features of Zotero and Mendeley can help you make better decisions for your paper.

If you have yet to decide on the tool to use, I hope this guide can help you choose the citation manager that fits your needs. So, let’s get straight to it.

Zotero vs Mendeley – What are They?


Zotero is a free and easy-to-use citation management tool that allows you to collect, cite, organize, annotate, and share research.

The tool serves as your research assistant to help you save references from the web, research databases, and library catalogs. Zotero is 100% safe to use.

It is a product of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. It works as a Firefox extension to provide users with automated access to bibliographic information for online resources.

Zotero is useful for graduate students, undergraduates, faculty, or anyone who uses the internet to research and needs to organize references.

With Zotero, you can add PDFs, images, video and audio files, write annotations, and attach them to your citation. Zotero works within your browser to enable you to collect research.

The tool can index all you captured and let you search the full-text content. Zotero organizes your files into collections where you can assign tags to every item in it. When you are ready to create citations in your Word document, Zotero adds them up in a couple of clicks.

The good thing about Zotero is that it is cloud-based; therefore, you can access all your data on any device anywhere there is internet connectivity. Zotero updates itself automatically to work with new bibliographic styles and online sources.

Currently, over 100 colleges and organizations recommend the use of Zotero. You can easily download the tool on a computer running Firefox, Flock browser, or Netscape.

You can access all your sources in a Zotero library, even when you are offline. Zotero can only get better as its developers are working towards a version that can run as an online application and store sources centrally rather than on local machines.


Mendeley is a web and desktop citation management tool that helps you simplify your reference management workflow. Like any other citation management tool, Mendeley allows you to collect and organize citations, easily insert them into documents, and format bibliographies.

This tool also will enable you to annotate and highlight your PDFs. You can use Mendeley on more than one computer. Simply download it to as many computers as you wish, then sync them with a single click.

It gives you access to your citations regardless of where you are. Mendeley is considered an academic social network, as it allows you to share research with others.

With the tool, you can collaborate with others by creating a collection of papers in private groups and sharing the PDFs and annotations with any member of the private or public group.

Mendeley was founded in London in 2007 by three German Ph.D. students. Its beta version was released in 2008, and the tool grew to experience early success by winning several awards, including the European Start-up of the year award in 2009.

Mendeley is now owned by Elsevier, a leading science and health education provider. It has released a new version that simplifies your workflow to help you focus on achieving your goals.

The latest version of its desktop and web products is now called the Mendeley Reference Manager, built based on the researchers’ feedback to manage your citations more quickly and effectively.

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Zotero vs Mendeley – Getting Started


You can open Zotero on your operating system’s dock like any other program. To install Zotero on your device, follow these steps:

  1. Using Firefox or Chrome, visit www.zotero.org/download to download the Zotero tool.
  2. Install the Zotero tool for the browser of your preference on Windows, Linux-32-bit, Linux 64-bit, or MacOS.
  3. Create an account using your college email address, if you have one, where you’ll receive a prompt. If you don’t get a prompt, visit Zotero.org/user/register.
  4. Open the Zotero app on your device. On your PC, go to the Edit menu and select preferences. On your Mac, go to the Zotero menu and click on preferences.
  5. Go to the General tab and automatically uncheck items with subject headings and keywords.
  6. Add your username and password in the Sync tab.
  7. In the Zotero Cite tab, open a word processor tab and check the box following the Use Classic Add Citation dialog.
  8. Change the Zotero language to English if your computer is set to a different language in the advanced tab.

Once the installation process is complete, we recommend you open Word to confirm whether your Zotero tools have been added. If you don’t see the Zotero tab, try closing and re-opening Word and Zotero.

If you are using Google docs, click on Zotero and follow the steps to connect the Zotero tool to your Google account.

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I have better news for you if you have been fumbling about managing your citations manually. This guide will show you how to optimize your citation management and references using Mendeley.

  1. Open your browser and type Mendeley and click on the download hyperlink.
  2. Select Download Mendeley Desktop.
  3. When the save file pop-up appears, click on it to save the Mendeley tool.
  4. To the right-hand corner of your browser, click on the download button. A list of applications you would have downloaded from the internet will open. Click to download the Mendeley-Desktop-1.17.11-win32.exe.
  5. When the pop-up appears on your monitor, click yes. You will then be guided to a Wizard setup, so follow the instructions to install the application eventually.

How to reference or cite on Mendeley

  1. On the top-left corner of the Mendeley application, click on tools to select the “install WS Word plugin” option.
  2. Open your document in Word and select reference from the toolbar. Directly below it, you’ll see the insert citation option.
  3. Select insert citation, then go to Mendeley to open your library of the references saved on the application. Click on the document of relevance and select cite. This should transfer the citation directly to your word document.
  4. Once all the above is done, you can insert a bibliography by clicking on “insert bibliography” on the toolbar. This procedure will insert all references you have used in your written document.

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Zotero vs Mendeley – Features

Zotero Features

Collect Items

Zotero allows you to gather various items such as books, articles, sections, documents, reports, recordings, artwork, and more. It also allows you to collect group-related files, notes, snapshots, and links as attachments to the items.

You can use the Zotero connector to create and save items automatically. For manual saving of items, use the Zotero toolbar. You can also subscribe to RSS feeds to get updates from journals, websites, and newspapers, among other sources.


The organize feature on Zotero helps you set up collections and organize items as guided by the research topics. Items can belong to various collections.

So, assign tags to each item for sub-topics if need be and use the search button to search for items within the library based on the metadata, content, or tags.

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Zotero allows you to create citations and bibliographies of items. You can choose a citation format of your preference, i.e., Chicago, MLA, APA, or any other. Use word processor plugins like Word and OpenOffice/LibreOffice to add your bibliographies and citations.

You can also create bibliographies manually by dragging and dropping items into a word processing program.


Zotero lets you create group libraries to share items with teams, colleagues, or any other research group. Group libraries can be private, public with a closed membership, or public with open membership.

If you access your data through different computers, you can either use your account online on Zotero.org or use Zotero on multiple computers and sync your libraries.


Zotero optionally synchronizes your data across devices while keeping your notes, files, and bibliographic records seamlessly up to date. Once you sync your data, you can always access your research via any web browser.

The good thing with Zotero is that you can also disable automatic sync by simply unchecking the “sync automatically.” You can also sync manually by clicking the “sync with Zotero.org” button on the right-hand side of your Zotero toolbar.


Zotero is an open-source platform that an independent non-profit organization developed. The organization has zero interest in your private information; therefore, you can always stay in control of your data when using Zotero.

Mendeley Features

Import and create references

Mendeley has an online import bookmark that virtually works with any browser. Drag and drop files and folders, or add files automatically through watched folders. Mendeley will then extract information automatically from any added PDFs and manually add various materials.

Mendeley also gives you multiple search options to automatically fill in empty citation fields like Google Scholar, DOI, and PubMed.

Unique options to annotate and organize PDFs

Mendeley automatically renames PDFs by author, the title of the journal, year, or more. It also organizes PDFs into multiple folders. You can set preferences to automatically rename and save your PDFs from a watched folder into an organized PDF library.

Open PDF files within the Mendeley platform to easily search and save highlights annotations. You can also add tags and search full texts of most of the PDFs and keywords.

Integrates with OpenOffice, Word, and BibTex

Mendeley integrates well with Word, OpenOffice, and BibTex, so you can easily insert library citations into new documents, including end-notes, in-text citations, and footnotes. Mendeley has built-in support for over 1000 citation styles.

Sync and collaborate across various computers and with multiple people

Mendeley sync buttons allow you to integrate the desktop and online versions of the library. The tool gives you free online library storage of up to 1GB; however, there are options to upgrade to more for a fee.

You can create groups between various Mendeley users to share items through a separate communal library. You can also create your Mendeley profile, add published research, and collect statistics on citations, downloads, or more.

Connect with other users and discover research through the online interface

You can join a group or start a new one to connect with other users who have similar interests. This feature allows you to browse discipline-specific papers or research through the extensive Mendeley citation library.

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Zotero vs Mendeley – Pricing


Zotero is a free program that allows you to synchronize your PDFs, images, and web snapshots, among other files on your devices, as well as share Zotero attachments in group libraries and access files through your online library on www.zotero.org.

The program gives you free access to cloud storage of up to 300 MB, which can accommodate up to 100 PDFs. Zotero also offers different pricing plans if you wish to upgrade your storage once you reach the 300MB limit.

Their plans include:

  • 2 GB at $20 per year
  • 6GB at $60 per year
  • Limited package goes for $120 per year

In addition to individual storage, Zotero offers storage plans for institutions and labs.


Mendeley announced adjustments to its storage offering to give users a better experience. Users who used to get free storage of up to 1GB can now enjoy free Mendeley cloud storage of up to 2GB.

Plus plan and MIE users were upgraded from 2GB to 5GB, while Pro plan users now want a storage increase from 5GB to 10 GB.

The adjustments apply to both new and existing Mendeley users, so you don’t have to worry about doing anything as the changes have been applied to every account automatically.

Mendeley’s pricing plans are divided into these three:

  • Plus plan for $55 per year for 5GB
  • Pro plan at $110 for 10GB
  • Max plan at $165 for 100 GB

When you log in, you can only find all these details on their upgrade page. Mendeley accepts a range of payment methods, including major credit cards.

You can choose to pay monthly or yearly, and you can also cancel your payments and plan whenever you wish. When you upload your data on a premium plan, you can be sure of security, as these plans are secured using the same AES-256 standard used by central banks.

You don’t have to get locked in one plan, so feel free to switch to the next plan from your account’s settings page.

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Zotero vs Mendeley – Similarities and Differences


Zotero and Mendeley’s websites offer online guides, training materials, blogs, and discussion forums.

The Zotero forum receives thousands of posts per year. A team of experts and developers dedicate their time to go through each post and respond to them quickly and effectively while maintaining a friendly and helpful atmosphere.

Mendeley’s blog, on the other hand, offers the latest updates and expert advice to users.

You can install both Zotero and Mendeley on your desktop. Zotero and Mendeley tools provide free cloud storage to a certain level, beyond which a user should upgrade to continue enjoying the tools.

Zotero offers free storage of up to 300MB, while Mendeley provides free cloud storage of up to 2GB. The two also allow for syncing between devices and online libraries and citing while you write with the desktop library.

Both Mendeley and Zotero are cloud-based software, which is an essential feature if you work on more than one device. Most of their components come for free, and their Word plugins allow you to automate citations and bibliographies.

Zotero and Mendeley use a Citation Style language that offers more than 7,000 CSL citation styles for free.

Mendeley and Zotero feature some of the most popular citation styles, such as MLA, Chicago, and APA, and the tool also allows you to load more additional styles. You can see more information about editing your citation on Mendeley here.

Both Mendeley and Zotero allow you to create unlimited folders, also known as collections in the case of Zotero. You can also add tags to items and use these tags to search.

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Zotero and Mendeley differ in how you add items to their desktop. To add items on Zotero, you need to install the browser connection placed at the top of the browser.

When you find a book, article, website, or other materials, click on the Zotero icon to automatically add your citation data to your Zotero desktop.

Zotero can also import the PDF automatically from an article unless you change this option from your preferences.

However, Mendeley differs from Zotero in the way it imports items. With Mendeley, PDFs must first exist on your computer, and you have to drag and drop items into your Mendeley desktop.

Zotero saves the citation library to your local computer. It also syncs your computer with multiple computers to allow you to work from home, school, or office. On the other hand, the Mendeley program lives on your local computer but syncs the computer with a web account.

Zotero’s single-click capture feature allows it to work with more databases, websites, and catalogs than Mendeley’s web importer.

Zotero allows you to import items from sites such as Flickr and Amazon and offers the best interface for writing notes and tagging to accompany your citations and bibliographies.

Zotero allows you to snapshot web pages to your account (read more details from their Saving Web Pages section). On the other hand, this feature is no longer available in the current Mendeley versions.

However, you can create a PDF version of a webpage or store a PDF and make annotations to it on Mendeley.

Mendeley vs Zotero – Pros and Cons



  • Zotero is relatively easy to learn.
  • Ii integrates well with browsers.
  • It is easy to migrate data to and from other tools.
  • It gives you unlimited ability to create groups.
  • It can synchronize collections from other computers.
  • It is an open-source tool.


  • It has less free cloud storage (300MB).
  • It lacks support for Internet Explorer.



  • Mendeley has an easy-to-use interface.
  • The drag and drop function on items makes article indexing much more straightforward.
  • It allows you to collaborate with other researchers online.
  • It makes it easy to find relevant papers based on what you are reading.
  • It has multiple ways to import and create references.


  • The most significant limitation to Mendeley is its association with Elsevier, as the publishing giant allegedly has a bad reputation, especially with the amount it charges scholars to access their journals, which are populated with tax-funded research.
  • You are likely to experience syncing errors when using multiple devices, which could lead to loss of work and retrieved articles.
  • Sometimes Mendeley servers are down, which could prevent group work from happening on multiple devices through group folders.

Conclusion – Zotero vs Mendeley, Which is Better?

I know you need a good citation tool. I also understand it can be hard to choose a tool that will meet your needs. Both Mendeley and Zotero have standard features, the majority of which are free, and both include Word plugins that make it easy to automate your citations.

Zotero has its unique advantages, but Mendeley carries the day. The tool is feature-rich with the most robust website and community platform and gives you free access to cloud storage of up to 2GB.

Unlike Zotero, Mendeley also has phone and tablet apps that sync seamlessly to allow you to read and mark articles from anywhere.

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.