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Reference Management: Getting Started

What is Reference Management?

Reference management is collecting, organizing, storing and using your references (journal articles, books, websites, videos, etc.).  References are used to generate citations, which are used in scholarly articles, and other publications, to acknowledge your sources of information.

Reference management tools allow you to:

  • Import references from online databases, library catalogs and PDFs
  • Organize references in a searchable database
  • Share references with colleagues
  • Create formatted bibliographies
  • Insert citations and footnotes into word processing documents

Reference management tools save time and frustration when writing papers, gathering references for grant applications or reports, monitoring the literature and sharing your research.

Choosing a Reference Management Tool

With so many reference management programs available, it can be difficult to decide which one to use.  This chart highlights features of some of the tools. Click on the tabs above for more information about the individual programs. Please note that the Medical Center Library only actively supports EndNote and Zotero. We also do not provide guidance on citation styles. 







Free to Duke faculty, staff and students with NetID through Duke OIT

Free to everyone

Free to Duke faculty, staff and students with NetID

Free to everyone

Operating system

Desktop software for Windows and Mac; option to sync with web account



Embed in Firefox browser or desktop software for Windows and Mac

Ease of use





Import citations from databases

Automatically create citation from PDF

Attach PDFs

Annotate PDFs

Sharing options

  A Library may be shared (EndNote account needed)

Share groups

Create shared folders with multiple sharing settings

Create group

Word processor compatibility

Microsoft Word, Open Office, Pages

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word, Google Docs

Microsoft Word, Open Office, Google Docs

Major citation styles

Free online storage

5,000 MB

2,000 MB

5,000 MB

300 MB (more space inexpensive)

Best for

People who use one to two main computers for research and writing; PDF; management; organizing references for complex projects; inserting citations and bibliographies in almost any style

Ease of use; group work; inserting citations and bibliographies in common styles (e.g. APA, MLA)

People who use many computers for research and writing; group work; inserting citations and bibliographies in almost any style

Capturing different types of references (e.g. Websites); group work