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Citation Management Software: Overview

What is citation management software?

Citation management software, also called reference management software or bibliographic software, allows you to store and organize your resources and citation information. You can create reference lists or bibliographies from your stored items.

You can choose from a variety of software, some free and some for purchase. Different software offers different features, and what works well for one student may not work well for another. In choosing, you need to decide which tool works best for you and your needs. After all, citation management software should be a tool to make your academic life easier!

While citation management software can make your life easier, it is not guaranteed to be perfect.The accuracy of your APA citations remains your responsibility, so you will want to double-check the citations to make sure they are in proper APA style.

Contact the Writing Center for more information about APA formatting, or take a look at common examples on their APA Reference List page.

Writing Center's APA Reference List

Choose a software program

When choosing a citation management program, you'll want to think about how you plan to use the software. Do you need a place to store and organize all your resources for your dissertation? Do you want to be able to collaborate and network with other researchers? Do you need to create bibliographies for class papers? Knowing what you need the software to do will help in choosing software that offers those features.


Some software is free. Other software must be purchased. Free software may only offer a limited amount of storage, with a cost for additional storage. Some software companies may offer a student discount, while others will not. You'll want to check on pricing to select the best option for you.

Technical support

Free software is often open source. This means that technical support may consist of forums or technical information available online. Think about your comfort level for figuring technical issues out for yourself. If you are not comfortable with reading information online and fixing problems yourself, you may want to purchase software that includes live tech support.

Learning curve

As with any software, you will need to spend some time learning how different features work. Some software may be more intuitive, make more sense to you, or may have more tutorials or training available.

Computer requirements

You'll need to make sure that the software you choose is compatible with your computer system. Some software may not be compatible with Macs or Linux-based systems, or may have higher memory demands.

Online storage & syncing

If you plan to use the software to store many PDFs, you'll want to consider how much and what type of storage is available with the software. Free programs may allow you to purchase additional storage. You may or may not be able to sync your information to an online storage system (cloud). If you plan to use multiple computers or devices and want your information to be available on all of them, or just want to have a backup in case of computer issues, an online syncing feature may be important for you to have.

Word processor plug-in

Most citation management software offers some kind of word processor plug-in so that you can convert your information to reference lists or in-text citations as you type. If this is a feature you need, you'll want to make sure the software includes it. Check to see which word processor programs are compatible with the software, and how this feature may work with your computer.

Open URL resolver

An open URL resolver will allow you to find full text for resources available in the Walden Library. Not all citation management software allows you to use an open URL resolver to set up a full text search feature. This means for some programs, you may have an additional step of manually searching for articles or resources in the Walden Library.


Collaboration & networking

Some software has strong collaboration and networking features. These allow you to share and edit documents with a group, and to find current research and researchers working in your area of interest. If you are especially interested in networking with other researchers, you may want to ask your professors or others in that field to see which product these researchers typically use. It won't help to have a product that allows networking if you are working in psychology and all the psychology researchers are happily using another product.


If your needs change, and you want to switch from one software product to another, how easy is it to move all your information? Can you easily upload information from one product to another? Can you only move one document at a time, or can you move batches of information?

Citation management software comparisons

Software comparison chart

This chart from Wikipedia compares some of the  different citation management software available:


You can use this chart to compare and contrast different features to see which options you may want to explore further.

Download & experiment

You can download and experiment with a variety of citation management software in order to try them out. Some software for purchase will offer a trial for a limited period of time. If not, the software will often have demonstrations and other information on the product available.

Use more than one program

There is nothing that says you must have only one citation management program. You may decide to choose several programs to take advantage of different features. You may need to investigate potential compatibility issues in using more than one program. You may not be able to have two or more citation management programs open at the same time or this may not be an issue; this will depend on the software, its settings, and your computer.

Things to keep in mind

  • The Walden University Library does not specifically endorse or recommend any particular citation management software.
  • The Library is unable to offer technical support for citation management software. Please contact the software company directly for help with technical issues.

Citation management webinar

The citation management webinar covers what citation management software is, what it can do for you, and demonstrates how to use it. The webinar looks at how to choose citation management software that will meet your needs. 

Video: Citation Management Software: What it can do for you!(YouTube)

Recorded November 2019 (59 min 33 sec)