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Citation Management Software: Overview

What is citation management software?

Citation management software is also called reference management software or bibliographic management software. Management is what the software does! It lets you

  • store citation information
  • store PDFs
  • organize information using folders, tags, and notes
  • create in-text citations from your stored items
  • create reference lists from your stored items

You can choose from a variety of software, some free and some for purchase. Different software offers different features. The best software is the one that works best for you and your needs.

Citation management software can make your life easier, but it is not magic when it comes to one hundred percent citation accuracy. You are still responsible for double-checking that APA citations are correct.

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

How do you decide which software program is best for you? Think about what you need the software to do. Citation management software should be a tool to make your academic life easier!

  • Do you need a place to store and organize all your resources for your dissertation?
  • Do you want to be able to collaborate and share resources with other researchers?
  • Do you need to create reference lists for class papers?

Knowing what you need the software to do helps you choose 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. .

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 or make more sense to you. 
  • Check to see what kinds of tutorials or training are available.

Computer requirements

  • Make sure that the software you choose is compatible with your computer system or device.
  • Some software may not be compatible with Macs or Linux-based systems, or may have higher memory demands.
  • Some software will have mobile device options. Others will not.

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.


  • Some software has strong collaboration features. These allow you to share and edit documents with a group.
  • Group collaboration features can be very helpful for group projects or research, and systematic reviews.


  • 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?

Compare citation management software

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. YouTube can be a great source for demonstration and training videos.

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. Using more than one program 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)