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Reference Management Tools for Academic Writing

A Comprehensive Guide for EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero

Reference Management Tools

What are Reference Management Tools?

Reference Management Tools are software which can help you to:

  • Organize, annotate and manage your references.
  • Import references from online databases, library catalogs, websites and PDFs.
  • Create in-text citations and formatted bibliographies.
  • Share references with other researchers.
  • Work on your references anytime, anywhere.


Why should I use Reference Management Tools?

When writing academic papers, it is a scholarly expectation for you to refer to someone else's work or idea by adding a citation. Adding in-text citations and references also help you to avoid plagiarism. Many stumble with references when writing their paper because they either do not remember where the reading is taken from, or they are unfamiliar with citation styles. Hence, Reference Management Tools like EndNote is useful because they:

  • Help you stay organized with all the papers, books and websites you have used during your research.
  • Enhances your efficiency in academic paper - you create in-text citations and references effortlessly.
  • Create accurate in-text citation and formatted bibliographies in required citation style easily.

Free up your time from managing references manually and spend more time on your research and writing! 


Which tools are available to me? 

Three commonly used reference management tools at PolyU are:

Which Tool is Right for You?

No single tool is perfect - they all have their distinct strengths and weaknesses.

Major strengths of different citation management tools are listed below:

EndNote : Easily customizable citation output styles.
Mendeley : Strong PDF management.
Zotero : Strong ability in capturing reference from diverse sources including webpages.


Sometimes you may need to use more than one reference management tool for different purposes if one tool cannot meet your specific needs. This is made easy because references can now be easily transferred between different tools. For example, you may use Zotero to help you capture your webpages and you may use EndNote to help you when writing of your paper.

You can use the table below to help you decide which tool is the best for you. Also, there will be greater ease in sharing and collaborating if you select a tool already used by your peers.

Comparison of EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero:

Features EndNote Mendeley Zotero
Strengths Easily customizable
citation output styles
Strong in
PDF management
Strong ability to capture information from diverse sources including webpages
OS Compatibility Window & Mac Window, Mac & Linux Window, Mac & Linux
Web Version

(only works for Firefox,
Chrome and Safari)

Mobile Version

(iOS only)

(Retired on 15 Mar 2021)

(iOS only; Android: 3rd party apps)

Storage Capacity No limit Desktop: no limit
Web: 2GB for free
Desktop: no limit
Web: 300MB for free
Import Citation from OneSearch
Import Citation from Databases
Import Citation from the Web
(extremely robust but only works
for Firefox, Chrome and Safari)
Find Full-text Rely on Mendeley
Rely on Zotero
Create Citation from PDF
(for PDF with DOI only)
Annotate PDF
Work Collaboratively with Others
Duplicate Detection
Create Formatted Bibliographies,
In-text Citations in MS Word
Format Bibliography 7,000+ styles and can create your own style 8,000+ styles 8,000+ styles
Edit Citation Styles By specific computer
language only
By specific computer
language only
Leaving PolyU Can keep the references, but subscription is required for version upgrade in future Can keep the references and free to upgrade to the latest version Can keep the references and free to upgrade to the latest version

Creative Commons License

Except where otherwise noted, the content of this guide is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.