Citation Management 101 Series

Because I’ve found that writing helps me learn more about things than I might otherwise, and because I’m interested in learning more about citation management tools, I’ve decided to write a short series of posts presenting an introduction to some of the most popular tools. I initially thought I’d only write one post, but it became quite long so quickly that I realized I’d need to divide it up.

As I post new entries, I’ll edit this post to add links here.

(Edit – Here is the first entry, stay tuned for more! Citation Management 101 – Zotero)


I’ll write these posts from two perspectives: first, as a student myself; second, as someone in the LIS field. I aim to synthesize these perspectives into something that will be useful for both my fellow students and LIS peers. Readers may want to skip or skim parts that are less relevant to their interests – I promise not to be offended!

This series will attempt to tackle each resource in an introductory, 101 capacity. As such I will primarily discuss features for basic rather than advanced users. I’ve chosen to do this for two reasons.

Firstly, I am new to each of these tools, and this essentially makes me a basic user of each. I do hope to use each of these programs in a more in-depth way with my assignments in the upcoming semester in order to get a better feel for them, at which time I will be able to provide more in-depth discussion, but at this time I don’t think I can offer a fair or objective in-depth assessment.

And second, I expect that realistically most users are likely to only use basic features. My suspicion is that most students will prefer something that is easy to learn in the beginning, and may be willing to learn more advanced aspects of their chosen tools later in the game. If I’m correct, ease of use of basic features may be more important than functionality of the more advanced features.

I also won’t attempt instructions or tutorials due to space limitations; instead I will link to ones already online that I’ve found useful.


I want to start with a simple question – why use citation management tools?

This is a question I asked myself when I first learned of RefWorks during my undergraduate education. A librarian teaching research skills to my class explained that many students found RefWorks very useful and seemed to think highly of it, but she also admitted that some students had difficulty using it. After class, a few of my classmates told me that they had tried it and found that it hadn’t worked for them. By that point in my academic career I’d already learned to write out my own citations, and had developed techniques for organizing them. I didn’t see the point in taking the time to learn to use a tool which might not actually work when I could continue to write out citations accurately myself.

Fast forward to present day – I am now a busy graduate student, and the amount of writing I’ve needed to produce has greatly exceeded that which I needed to at the time. Furthermore, I often need to refer back to the same important works for multiple assignments and classes. Suddenly, citation management is seeming more and more like a good idea. For those working on a thesis or a dissertation, I imagine citation tools would be invaluable.
Additionally, my experience is that most students find citations to be one of the less interesting parts of essay writing, and for some they are particularly challenging; these students could certainly benefit from a good citation management tool regardless of what level of education they are pursuing.


So what’s out there?

Some basic research uncovers mountains of tools. (Just for fun, I challenge you to check out this Wikipedia article and not become overwhelmed.) I plan to discuss those that are most popularly used in my neck of the woods, and welcome comments with suggestions.

Stay tuned for my first post about Zotero.


Do you use a citation management tool? Why or why not? Leave a comment and tell me about it.


2 thoughts on “Citation Management 101 Series

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