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Student Learning Center (SLC)

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Citation Managers: Overview

Whether you’re conducting research for an art history paper or polishing up a bibliography, citation managers are a game-changer when working with outside sources. While their specific features differ, most programs allow users to:

  • Upload and store articles, books, and other documents
  • Generate quick, easy citations or entire bibliographies
  • Take notes on texts you’re reading
  • Organize and categorize texts with folders and tags

In this guide, we’ll review two popular citation management programs--Mendeley and Zotero--and discuss the features that define and differentiate them. If you’re just getting started with citation managers and would like some hands-on assistance, though, be sure to schedule an appointment with the SLC.



  • The interface is clean and intuitive overall.
  • The library is robust and simple to use, allowing you to view, organize, highlight, and take notes on your readings all in one place. This is also where you view and edit information pulled from a text’s metadata, including its citation information, abstract, and, in some cases, topic outline.
  • Insert citations from your library directly into a paper with Mendeley Cite, an add-in for Microsoft Word.
  • Need more information on your research topic? Mendeley’s “related” feature suggests scholarly articles similar to the ones you’re reading.
  • Sort the highlights and notes you’ve taken on an article by color--perfect for the color-coders among us.
  • Cloud syncing means your library and notes will be available anywhere, even on the desktop version.


  • Mendeley Cite is currently incompatible with Google Docs. Additionally, the tool is in beta and prone to bugs.
  • While citation generation and your first 300MB of storage are free, additional storage comes at a cost: 2GB runs $20 annually, 6GB is $60, and unlimited storage is $120.

Bottom Line: 

  • Mendeley is a straight-forward and powerful tool for storing and engaging with scholarship. Those looking for quick citations should look elsewhere, however--at least until Mendeley Cite receives some necessary TLC.



  • You can upload a variety of file types to your library, from videos to sound bytes, in addition to text-based formats like PDF and Docx. Multiple files can be attached to a single source.
  • Zotero Connector, a plugin for Chrome, allows users to save websites to their libraries right from the browser.
  • The citation generator works seamlessly on both Google Docs and Microsoft Word, provided the source’s information is stored in your library.*
  • An assortment of user-developed plug-ins is available to increase the program’s functionality.


  • Though Zotero’s online user guide is packed with information and screenshots, navigating the program itself takes practice.
  • Users can attach notes to library sources, but they can’t highlight and annotate sources within the program.
  • *Because the library’s metadata reader doesn’t always work, users may need to manually enter source citation information prior to inserting citations with the Word plug-in.

Bottom Line:

  • Though Zotero’s overall user-friendliness falls short, it supports a larger array of file types than Mendeley. Use this program if your research involves the heavy use of digital sources or websites.



  • Insert citations from your library directly into a Google Doc with the Paperpile extension
  • You can group references and color code the groups
  • Paperpile can handle journal articles, books and conference papers, but also news articles, websites, preprints, presentations, patents, computer programs and everything else you ever need to cite.
  • Paperpile makes consistency easy and quickly identifies incomplete citations


  • No way to filter by personal tags
  • The interface is not intuitive
  • Adding citations to papers can add extra formatting work

Bottom Line:

  • Paperpile can be worth the money if you use Google docs a lot when writing papers. 


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