• 3-minute read
  • 8th July 2018

A Quick Guide to Reference Management Software

Nobody enjoys referencing sources. It is, quite possibly, the most boring part of academic writing. But referencing is also important, as it shows off your research and strengthens your arguments.

How, then, can you enjoy the benefits of good referencing without the pain? You could try using reference management software, as we will explain in the rest of this post.

What Is Reference Management Software?

Reference management software is exactly what the name suggests: software used to manage the references in a document. This involves adding the full publication information for each source to a database, which you can then use to generate citations and a reference list.

Mendeley is a popular referencing program.
(Image: Team Mendeley)

Typically, this software is linked to a word processor, allowing you to import source information from the database. This is a great time saver in long documents, which may feature many sources.

Advantages of Referencing Software

Referencing software offers several advantages if you are using a large number of sources, including:

  • Letting you import source information at the click of a button
  • Offering a quick way to cite different source types in different systems
  • Ensuring consistency between citations
  • Ensuring your reference list/bibliography is correctly formatted
  • Allowing you to change referencing systems quickly and efficiently
  • Letting you share reference databases with other users

The only downside is that some referencing software packages can take a while to master. But learning how they work will save you a lot of time and effort in the long term!

Examples of Reference Management Software

Finally, we’ll take a quick look at four big names in the world of reference management:

Software Package



EndNote is one of the most widely used referencing packages. It works with all major referencing systems, source types and word processors. The full version is paid for, but a limited version called EndNote Basic is available online for free.


Mendeley is a free tool designed for managing and citing PDF documents. It is therefore most useful when the majority of your sources are in this format (e.g. journal articles).


Another free tool, Zotero is a versatile package that allows you to cite various source types with ease.


A referencing package designed specifically for use with the LaTeX document preparation system.

The best software package to use will depend on your requirements, so it is worth researching the options. If you’re not sure which to use, ask a lecturer or supervisor at your university. Some universities even offer free or reduced access to software!

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