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Create Bibliographies

Citation Management Tool Workshops

User Poll

Which bibliographic tool is your favorite?
RefWorks: 33 votes (39.29%)
Zotero: 10 votes (11.9%)
Mendeley: 8 votes (9.52%)
EndNote (Desktop): 8 votes (9.52%)
EndNote Basic: 3 votes (3.57%)
Microsoft Word's reference features: 3 votes (3.57%)
A quick citation generator (e.g. EasyBib, BibMe, etc.): 14 votes (16.67%)
Other: 5 votes (5.95%)
Total Votes: 84

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What Is a Bibliographic Manager?

Bibliographic managers are tools you can use to do the following:

  • Save your references to books, articles, movies, and other sources information
  • Organize those references
  • Format bibliographies/works cited lists in multiple citation styles
  • Insert in-text citations into the body of a document
  • Share references with others

If you're looking for help with citing and citations styles, you might find the Citing Your Sources guide helpful.

Choosing a Bibliographic Manager

There are a number of options available to the BU community for free or via our subscriptions to databases.  Here are some key points to consider when choosing what will work best for you:

You should choose RefWorks if...

  • You may need to save hundreds of references
  • You want to export many references from scholarly databases
  • You would like to insert in-text citations and bibliographies into MS Word or Google Docs
  • You prefer a web-based manager (i.e. the data lives on a server)

You should choose Zotero if...

  • You want to easily "grab" information from a document, web page, or search results list
  • You like a simple citation-editing interface
  • You work with the Mozilla Firefox web browser, or you don't mind using a stand-alone app along with Chrome or Safari
  • You prefer a plug-in or app-based manager (i.e. the data lives on your hard drive, but you can sync it to a Zotero server)

You should choose Mendeley if...

  • You want to organize and upload documents already on your hard drive
  • You value an information-sharing experience that connects you to colleagues worldwide
  • You want to showcase your publications and scholarly impact
  • You prefer a web-based manager (i.e. the data lives on a server, but you can sync it to the Mendeley Desktop app)

You should choose EndNote Basic* if...

  • You are already comfortable working with EndNote's desktop app
  • You work mainly with Web of Science or other Thomson Reuters databases
  • You want to share references with other EndNote users
  • You prefer a web-based manager (i.e. the data lives on a server, but you can sync it to the EndNote library on your hard drive)

If you want more information, the University of Toronto has created an extensive comparison table with even more options.

*The BU Libraries do not provide licenses for the full version of EndNote.  If you are interested in purchasing it, please see this page from BU Information Services and Technology.

Best Practices

While bibliographic managers make citing, storing, and organizing references easy, they are not foolproof.  Keep the following things in mind when using them:

  • Choose Wisely: Choose a bibliographic manager that works well for the kind of research you do.  If you need a manager that works offline, you should pick a plug-in or software-based tool like Zotero rather than a web-based tool like RefWorks.  If you often do group research, it's wise for all group members to use the same bibliographic manager.  While you can always export your references to another bibliographic manager, it's best to choose the right one before serious work starts.
  • Check Your References: Information platforms like BU Libraries Search, WorldCat, ProQuest databases, JSTOR, etc., all index information differently.  The bibliographic data you export to a bibliographic manager may be exactly what you need to cite your sources correctly, but it's sometimes not.  Necessary information might be missing, punctuation may be misplaced, and references might be designated incorrectly (e.g. book chapters categorized as journal articles).  Check the information in each reference in your bibliographic manager before you start citing them in your work.
  • Research First, Then Write: Many bibliographic managers include a component that works with word processing software.  Though you can usually alter your bibliography by inserting or removing a citation, it's easier to collect all your references before you start writing.
  • Use One Document Per Project: If you're working on a long work, like a book or dissertation, it might be tempting to save your chapters as several files.  Unless you're using end notes that are numbered anew with each chapter, resist this temptation.  Combining citations from different files can be tricky when you're using a citation feature from your bibliographic manager.
  • Know the Rules: It helps to know the basic citation format of the style you're using, whether that's APA style, MLA style, or something else altogether.  This will help you to spot irregularities in your citations.  Use the Cite Your Sources guide to find information about citation styles.


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JD Kotula
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Boston, MA 02215