Bibliography maker tools are some of the more helpful solutions for students and researchers alike. It’s no secret that many researchers wish to do away with this part after a laboring through their research methodology and other crucial parts of their papers. But various editing styles and their accompanying citation formats ensure that rendering this part of the paper does not come straightforward as it should.
Today, there is a plethora of solutions in the market that were not available decades ago. These include self-created databases and web-based citation generators (Emanuel, 2013). With an array of options available, one might be asking what’s the best citation generator to use.
In this article, we look at various bibliography generator apps with plug-ins or are accessible via online. By conducting short citation generation tests using sources from a sample article, we built a list and gave primary considerations to ease of use, citation styles supported, and accuracy of the citations. Extra features like the ability to edit, copy and paste citations, change citation styles, and collaboration features were also given consideration.
Plagiarism is a perennial issue that academic institutions struggle with. By comparing their decade-long research with that of others’ on the topic, McCabe, Treviño, & Butterfield (2001) concluded that “some forms of cheating have increased dramatically in the last 30 years.” In fact, 62% of undergraduate students admit to cheating on written assignments (International Center for Academic Integrity, n.d.).
For students who wish to keep their academic integrity intact, learning how to cite sources is a must (Burke & Tumbleson, 2016). However, adhering to the strict and often complicated rules for citing sources can be very challenging for students. In an EasyBib survey, 81% of students surveyed said that they have lost points for formatting citations incorrectly. Other common citation mistakes were using the wrong citation style and incorrect paraphrasing (Kirschenbaum, 2019).
In the same survey, 73% of students surveyed said that they used online citation tools to build their reference list. But with the many versions of online and offline bibliography makers, it can be hard to choose which one to use. Below are some of the best citation generator tools you can consider using on your next research paper.
Citation tools with plug-ins for Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or Google Docs are usually a part of a full-blown reference management system. Under this model, the user gets a personal reference library he can build on his own as well as a browser extension for adding online references. Compared to online tools, citation generators with plug-ins offer a true cite-as-you-write capability. In a few clicks, you can add in-text citations or a bibliography right within your document. Features for automatically updating citations and bibliographies make it easier to manage a large number of references. This makes them ideal for thesis, dissertations, and other lengthy research papers.
Mendeley Cite is a plug-in for Microsoft Word that lets you cite sources without leaving your document. The plug-in appears in the References tab in Word which allows you to automatically add in-text citations and generate bibliographies.
Mendeley Cite works best if you also have the Mendeley desktop app where you keep and organize your research. They also have Mendeley Web Importer for automatically saving webpages into your desktop app. When you are ready to write your paper, you simply have to click Insert Citation and a pop-up box appears. It will allow you to search your Mendeley library by keywords or by author, title, or year of the source material. One just has to select the appropriate reference material and the plug-in will create an in-text citation. Mendeley Cite also allows you to manually edit the citation and still keep the citation as part of your reference list. For example, you can choose to incorporate the author’s name in the paragraph and only have the year set in parentheses.
Similarly, the plug-in allows for one-click generation of a bibliography. Simply click Insert Bibliography and it will build one for you based on the reference data that you have in the Mendeley database.
Mendeley Cite Key Features
Zotero is a free, open-source research tool that lets you collect research material, organize them, and create references and bibliographies. Zotero has a downloadable desktop app for Mac and Windows. They also have Zotero Connector, a browser extension that allows you to save webpages online and sync it to the desktop app.
Zotero lets you add just about any reference material, from an artwork to a webpage. You can input reference material data like its title, the author’s name, date, and more. You can use the reference library in conjunction with the Zotero Google Doc add-in. The tool allows you to search your sources in your personal Zotero library and automatically reference them in your document. The plug-in provides users with one-click citation and generation, as well as the ability to let others insert and edit citations simultaneously (University of California, 2020).
Zotero Key Features:
Endnote is a complete reference management software that promises users to research smarter. Aside from your own library where you can gather, sort, and share your research, it also has a Cite-As-You-Write plug-in for Word and Mac. The plug-in bridges your EndNote library and Microsoft Word or Apple Pages so you can seamlessly cite sources without switching to different interfaces.
With the End-Note Cite-As-You-Write plugin, you can easily create citations and bibliographies with just one click. It allows you to search your EndNote library directly from Word and create a citation. It can also automatically generate bibliographies and unlike other bibliography makers, there are options for controlling its formatting and layout (EndNote, 2017). For example, you can control the bibliography font size and style, first-line indents, hanging indents, and more. In addition, the bibliography list will automatically be updated when there are changes to your citation since the plugin formats it as a set of field codes instead of plain text.
EndNote Key Features:
Paperpile is a subscription-based reference management system that lets you store, organize, and share your research all from one place. The paid version includes beta version of Word plug-ins for Mac and Windows. However, Paperpile also offers a free reference manager for Google Docs.
This reference manager is an add-on that appears on your Google Docs sidebar (Paperpile, n.d.). The tool lets you search for references online or from your document by author, keywords, DOI, or PubMed ID. You can create in-text citations and bibliographies manually or automatically. Once done, you can export your document to Word or Evernote. You can also export references to other reference management systems like BibTeX and RIS.
Paperpile Key Features:
Compared to bibliography makers offering plug-ins, online citation generator tools are more instantly accessible. They do not require software to be downloaded or installed, so you can work on your references right away. Most free versions allow you to save a handful of in-text citations and bibliographies. These make them ideal to use if your reference list is not too lengthy. Otherwise, you might have to create an account or sign up for the premium version of the tool.
Cite This For Me has a decent amount of tools that will make citation easier and faster. Though it can only support a moderate number of source types, it makes up for it in the array of citation styles available. While it has the usual download, export, and copy-and-paste tools that other citation generators have, its collaboration features make it unique.
This tool also has a browser extension called Cite This For Me: Web Citer, which offers one-click citation of sources. However, the browser extension only supports APA, MLA, Chicago, and Harvard referencing styles.
The only downside to using Cite This For Me is that your bibliography expires in about a week. The tool has a countdown timer that tells you how many seconds you have until you lose your work. To avoid this, you can sign up for an account and enjoy more features.
Cite This For Me Key Features:
Citation Machine is a free online bibliography generator that’s also straightforward to use. Like most citation generators, users are asked to identify the source material, look for it via URL or search term, and supply any missing information to complete the citation.
Completed citations are added to your online bibliography, which you can then copy and paste to a document or export to Word. However, if you would like to save your bibliography, you would need to upgrade to Citation Machine Plus. The free version also requires you to watch an ad after every 48 hours for you to continue citing material.
Citation Machine Key Features:
EasyBib is another free, easy-to-use online bibliography maker. Like Citation Machine, EasyBib is part of the online learning platform Chegg Service. This probably explains why it has a similar interface and features to Citation Machine.
EasyBib Key Features:
BibMe is an online bibliography generator that makes the tedious task of citation more convenient.
BibMe offers two ways for you to fill in your citations: auto-fill mode and manual entry mode. With auto-fill mode, you just have to put the keywords or the URL of your source, select the appropriate search result, and have BibMe fill in the citation data. BibMe searches external databases like Amazon, FindArticles, Yahoo News, and CiteULike Academic Papers (BibMe, n.d.) to come up with auto-citations. As a final step, you will be asked to supply any information that Bibme was unable to find. Afterward, you will be able to create a citation. If you want to download your citation to Word or to save your work online, you need to create an account.
BibMe Key Features:
Touting itself as a best-in-class referencing tool, CiteMaker is a bibliography maker that promises fast output in three easy steps (CiteMaker, n.d.).
First, just select a citation style from the dropdown. CiteMaker supports APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA, Oxford, and Turabian citation formats. Next, decide if you want to cite manually or automatically. You can automatically cite a source by having the tool search it using its Bibtex citation, ISBN, website URL, or DOI. On the other hand, you can manually create citations for nine source types with various subtypes for each. CiteMaker provides you with a preview of the citation and automatically arranges them alphabetically for you. Afterward, you can copy and paste or export your citation and bibliography list. However, if you want to save your citation, you have to create an account.
CiteMaker Key Features:
Citefast is an online citation generator that promises not only a free tool but also a fast one. Citefast can automatically generate citations out of web page URLs, ISBNs, and more. You can also type in the information yourself. Fields for reference data have tips that you can hover over so you know how to properly format your sources.
Citefast allows you to save your citations. However, if you don’t have an account, your citations will be deleted after four days of inactivity. You can save citations indefinitely when you create an account (Citefast, n.d.).
Citefast Key Features:
KnightCite is a free online citation generation service run by the Hekman Library at Calvin College. It was created by a student of the school with the aim of building a quick and reliable citation tool for other students (Calvin University, n.d.).
KnightCite provides users with the standard elements included in a citation. It provides you with a short guide for the resource type you are trying to cite in your chosen citation style. The tool provides support for 26 resource types but only for MLA, APA, and Chicago formats. Anyone can use KnightCite, however, one can register for free to enjoy more features like saving and alphabetizing citations and exporting them to Word.
KnightCite key Features:
Citation Builder is a free online bibliography maker hosted by the North Carolina State University library. It has a rather simplistic interface with dropdowns for the resource type and citation style. You just have to choose the options from the dropdown and manually fill out the needed information for the resource type. Once you hit Submit, it will generate a citation for you which you can then copy and paste to a document (NC State University, n.d.).
Citation Builder Key Features:
OttoBib is a straightforward online citation generator that lets you cite books using their International Standard Book Number (ISBNs). You can cite multiple ISBNs as long as they are separated with commas. OttoBib supports MLA, APA, Chicago/Turabian, BibTeX, and Wikipedia (OttoBib, n.d.).
Ironically, the strength of Ottobib is also its weakness. Though it is simple and easy-to-use, it lacks the citation editing and export tools that other generators have.
Citing sources is an essential part of writing a college research paper. Mastering it exists in the same territory as learning how to write research methodology and how to write a research proposal right when you’re asked to do a research paper.
Bibliography maker tools fall into any of these broad categories: paid, free or freemium. Paid ones tend to be complete reference manager suites in which users have their own space for a reference library, browser-based citation tools, and Word plug-ins. Zotero, EndNote, and Paperpile are examples of these services. However, Mendeley software, which also comes with Mendeley Cite upends them in being the best citation generator despite being totally free.
There are also online citation generators that can either be free or freemium services. They usually offer automatic citation by letting the user conduct a keyword-based search, finding resources that match the search, then letting the user fill in additional data that the tool cannot find. Cite This For Me, Citation Machine, EasyBib, and BibMe fall into the freemium category. Out of all of these, Cite This For Me is the standout with support for more citation styles, plus collaboration tools.
On the other hand, free tools are usually provided by independent developers like CiteMaker, Citefast, and Ottobib. Universities also develop free citation generation tools like KnightCite and Citation Builder. Among these, the standout tools are CiteMaker and KnightCite. While the supported citation styles are fewer than those offered by freemium tools, they do support the more common citation formats without distracting ads.