List of Free Reference Management Tools for Research

List of Free Reference Management Tools for Research-feature image
July 17, 2023 Reviewed By : Megha Sharma .8 Min read

Summary: Reference management tools, also known as citation managers, are an asset for people associated with research work as they help organize references and create bibliographies.

Reference Management tools aka citation managers are designed to store, organize references and produce properly formatted bibliographies to save time and effort of the researchers.

Reference materials are vital parts of research work, but writers give them last-minute attention and end up creating a mess. Tools for managing references help organize such materials in chronological order and generate bibliographies that are extremely useful while going through lengthy research.

List of 7 Free Reference Management Tools

There are several Reference Management Tools available for authors, writers, and people associated with research work. You can choose wisely as per your requirements and budget. Check the list below along with their description, features, and pricing.

  1. Mendeley

Tools for managing reference

It is a free reference management tool best known for organizing and distributing research papers and generating bibliographies for various academic publications.

Mendeley gives you the liberty to access it through its cloud-based version and also it can be downloaded on your computer, both windows and mac, as standalone software.

Features of Mendeley

  • Research papers can be directly uploaded on the browser in a library that can be accessed from anywhere.
  • Create references, citations and bibliographies in a whole fresh range of journal styles.

Free Trial: Mendeley is free to download and access. Free trials are also available for premium plans.

Pricing: Available on request on Mendeley’s official website.

Pros and Cons of Mendeley:

  • Quite easy to use
  • It’s a free reference management tool
  • Helpful for both students and organizations
  • It is used across the globe and can be accessed from anywhere.
  • It does not support Google Docs
  • Needs manual inputs to extract necessary information such as authors, date, etc.
  • Flagged citations cannot be sorted
  • The storage given is too little if you don’t have the subscription. PDF files and textbooks fill this space too fast
  1. EndNote

Endnote is reference management software that is useful to manage your bibliographies and references for essays, articles and reports. With Endnote, you can get features such as importing references from online databases, annotating PDFs, finding full text articles, creating systematic reviews, etc.

Features of EndNote Reference Manager :

  • Better search process
  • Organize your references with the use of tags
  • Cloud based, easy to access your research anytime, anywhere
  • Automatically organize references as you work by creating a set of rules.

Free Trial: Endnote offers a free trial for 30 days.

Pricing: Endnote comes with a price tag of $274.95 for one time purchase. If you are a student, you can get it for $149.95 but only if you can verify yourself as a student. Meanwhile, if you are using an older version of endnote, you can upgrade to Endnote 21 at $124.95.

Pros and Cons of EndNote Reference Manager:

  • Helpful for people drafting thesis or writing research papers
  • Creating citations in a large document is super easy
  • Versions change too frequently, and citations are lost while updating the library
  • Reference numbers sometimes have tricky numbering, and it becomes hard to understand.
  1. Zotero


Zotero is a free desktop and web-based reference management software that is helpful for organizing, generating and sharing your citations. You can add Zotero to your browser extensions and it is available for different browsers such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Edge.

Features of Zotero Reference Manager:

  • Automatically senses the research works as you browse the web.
  • Easy to organize your research. Allows to sort items into collections and tag them with keywords.
  • Creates instant references and bibliographies directly inside Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs.
  • Supports over 10,000 citation styles.
  • Sync your work and access your research from any web browser.

Free Trial: It is free to use.

Pricing: Zotero can be downloaded and used for free. It offers 300MB of cloud data. You need to buy extra storage.

Pros and Cons of Zotero:

  • Easy to learn and use
  • Completely free of cost and software upgrades are also free
  • Helps import citations to Word, Google Docs, and Libre Office through plugins
  • Offers PDFs edits in Desktop and iOS App
  • Zotero does not offer professional customer support services
  • Android users cannot access Zotero on their phone as there is no first-party mobile app available
  • Only 300 MB of free cloud storage
  1. JabRef

JabRef is a cross-platform, open-source reference management and citation manager software that helps in collecting and organizing information. It is available for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms and can be downloaded from JabRef’s official website.

Features of JabRef:

  • Over 15 reference formats are available for import
  • New references can be imported directly from the web using extensions
  • Full text articles can be linked
  • Bibliographic information based on ISBN, DOI, PubMed-ID and arXiv-ID can be fetched
  • It supports Word and LibreOffice/OpenOffice for inserting and formatting citations

Free Trials: It is free to use.

Pricing: JabRef is an open-source free program.

Pros and Cons of JabRef:

  • Very efficient and free to use
  • It is easy to install and is compatible with version sharing systems like GitHub.
  • Its user-friendly dashboard makes it easy to create bibliographies.
  • Does not work on Mac
  • When launched, JabRef opens too slow
  • Users face issues when using JabRef with LateX
  1. Citavi

Citavi Reference Manager

Citavi is a reference management solution that aids researchers to organize, collaborate, generate/manage citations and even take notes. Both individual researchers and teams can use Citavi easily. It allows you to break big projects into small tasks and track them efficiently.

Features of Citavi Reference Manager:

  • Allows users to store information on their own server instead of in the cloud.
  • Creates backups so that you never lose your information.
  • Offers 10000 citation styles such as APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.

Free Trial: Citavi offers free trial.

Pricing: Citavi can be accessed with a starting price of $379. For academics, Citavi is offering a price of $249.

Pros and Cons of Citavi:

  • Literature list is created automatically
  • It has a powerful research tool
  • The customer support team gives an ultra-fast response
  • The software is a little complex. It becomes difficult for users to understand it quickly
  • Citavi does not work on Mac
  • A few users report technical issues with Citavi. They face difficulty while using it with Word plugin
  1. ReadCube Papers

ReadCube Papers is a cross-platform suite of reference management tools that helps users in accessing, organizing, sharing, and generating citations for research literature. It boasts of features like related article feeds, web importing through the browser, 1 click PDF download and built-in search engines.

Features of ReadCube Papers:

  • Unlimited cloud storage
  • Personalized recommendations
  • Keyword tagging and article ratings
  • Supports Microsoft Word and Google Docs
  • Web importing through browser

Free Trial: Yes, Readcube Papers offers a free trial for 30 days.

Pricing: Readcube Papers comes with price tag starting from $3 per Month for students. For academic and corporate, prices start from $5/month and $10/month respectively.

Pros and Cons of ReadCube Papers:

  • Literature can be shared with clients and teammates easily
  • Cross-reference on Word
  • References can be easily included in projects
  • It does not recognize Acrobat PDF editions
  • Search options are not accurate
  1. Sciwheel

Sciwheel offers several things beyond reference manager. It is an easy way to discover, read, write and annotate and even share your research work.

It gives the option to instantly save and annotate articles online and easy collaboration with co-authors. You can also access your references and PDFs from any device with Sciwheel.

Features of Sciwheel:

  • One-click reference saving
  • Easy reference importing
  • Manuscript tracker to know who has added what to finish the project
  • Over 7,500 bibliography styles

Free Trials: Yes, Sciwheel offers 30-day free trial for its basic plan.

Pricing: It starts from $6.99 per month for its premium plan.

Sciwheel Pros and Cons:

  • User-friendly interface
  • Seamless citation integration
  • Efficient reference management
  • Extremely limited offline support.
  • Its smart citation feature is not always effective

How Reference Management Tools Work?

Reference Management tools aid students and research professionals to cite the research works accurately and efficiently. Alongside the academic uses, reference management software is also useful for business presentations and multiple reports that can be accurately cited.

An efficient reference management tool should offer multiple options for citation format. It should have the capability of generating citations for multiple materials such as websites, journals, books, research works, etc.

What Features to Look for in Free Reference Management Tools?

Reference Management Software is an extremely useful tool for anyone dealing in academics, research works and writing books or journals. There are multiple features any reference management software include:

  • Creating references and Citations: The most common feature of any reference management software is its ability to generate citations and bibliographies for various materials including books, journals, research works, etc.
  • Various citation styles: It should have multiple options for citation formats.
  • Organizing research works: Reference management tool helps in organizing research and other academic information by providing accurate citations and bibliographies.
  • Search functionality: It must have an advanced search functionality that helps during lengthy research work.


Reference Management tools are meant to ease the efforts of authors, research professionals and students. There are various reference management software tools available such as Mendeley, EndNote, Zotero, and a few more.

All come up with different pricings and features. The most common feature offered by any reference management tool is creating citations and bibliographies for lengthy reports and research work.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Which is the best free reference manager software?

    There are various reference management tools available in the market but the most popular ones among them are Mendeley and Endnote.

  2. Is Mendeley Reference Manager free?

    No, Mendeley reference management tool can be downloaded for free with basic features. Premium plans incur pricing that can be requested from Mendeley’s official website.

  3. Is Zotero completely free?

    Yes, Zotero is completely free to download and access. It, however, provides 300MB of cloud data and you need to buy extra storage for additional space.

  4. Which is better, Mendeley or Zotero?

    Both Mendeley and Zotero offer free access with a few limitations. Zotero, however, makes it easy to gather citation records for non-PDF content. The single-click capture feature in Zotero works with mre databases, websites and catalogs as compared to Mandeley’s browser extension.

  5. Is EndNote referencing free?

    No, Endnote reference management tool is not free to use. Pricing starts from $274.95 for one time purchase. If you are using an older version, upgrade to endnote21 will cost you $124.95. It also offers free trial.

  6. Should I use Mendeley or EndNote?

    Mendeley can be downloaded and accessed for free. You, however, need to buy premium plans if you want complete access. Endnote, on the other hand, can’t be used for free.

  7. What APA citation app is free?

    The style of documentation from the sources used by the American Psychological Association is referred as APA. There are several free APA citation apps such as Scribbr and Citation Generator.

  8. Is RefWorks free?

    No, RefWorks is a paid subscription service, and it cannot be used for free.

Written by Shobhit Kalra

Shobhit Kalra boasts an impressive 12 years of diverse experience across industries, including Digital Media, Digital Marketing and Healthtech. He has a proven track record of creating engaging and impactful content that resonates with readers. In his journey with Techjockey, he has been given the responsibility of crafting... Read more

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