Best Reference Management Software in 2023

Best Reference Management Software in 2023
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Reference management software are powerful tools used to create, organize, store, and share references for manuscripts. These provide a complete set of tools that enables the researcher to focus on delivering a cohesive and fully-referenced research paper. As such, it is important to find the best reference management software to ensure that no source is overlooked.

In 2020, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported an average of 75% rejection rate for all its journals (APA, 2021). One of the reasons for rejection is poor referencing, including discrepancies in author entries and institutes. Using reference management software lets you automatically generate accurate citations and bibliographies. Aside from allowing the researcher to acknowledge the contribution of other scholars, proper referencing provides evidence to support assertions.

This document provides a list of the best reference management software as used by academic researchers and higher education institutions today. While reference management software tends to have standard features in terms of collecting and exporting references, organizing libraries, and importing PDF files, some offer more tools for organizing sources and facilitating collaboration. The features and capabilities of each software are included, as well as the pricing models offered.

Best Reference Management Software Table of Contents

  1. Key Reference Management Statistics
  2. Why Reference Management Software Is Important
  3. List of Best Reference Management Software

Reference management is a critical element of both scientific and academic writing. As conducting and writing a research manuscript entails the use of hundreds of references and data sources, it is very easy to lose track of important sources.

The best reference manager software maintains a database of references and automatically generates custom bibliographies. Usually used by technologists, scientists, researchers, and authors, reference management software provides important support in ensuring that all references are stored in one database and can be accessed at any point of the research writing process.

Today, reference management software not only offers the essential tools but also functionalities that increase efficiency such as the mind mapping tool that allows researchers to attach PDF files and images to mind map nodes. Some also facilitate collaboration among researchers, while others can even integrate with social media platforms.

Source: Rangaswamy and Rajendra (2021), Journal of Library Philosophy and Practice

Key Reference Management Statistics

While most universities provide reference management systems to students, one study found that 60% of postgraduates are not aware of the availability of this tool in the university, just as they are not aware of the business name generator software (Nitsos, Mallari, and Chamouroudi, 2021). Another quantitative study identified the user effort required to use four widely used reference management tools and found that different platforms require different levels of effort.

For 28% of researchers, accurate export of bibliography is an important feature while 31% of researchers consider the ability to sync with other cloud apps as a significant deciding factor.  The way the tools are organized, also known as the user interface, plays a major role in the usability of reference management software as identified by 26% of respondents, while for 24% of researchers, accurate auto-completion of citations and bibliography is a more important capability (Cai et al., 2021).

features of reference management software

For reference management software users, the best reference manager software should have an automatic indexing feature and should be able to extract accurate information from PDFs. Research on how much workload reference management software takes away from researchers found that current apps take an average of one to two minutes to add a new citation as observed by 58% of users. While export speed is prioritized by some researchers, 8% of users value accuracy more than efficiency (Cai et al., 2021).

Source: Rangaswamy and Rajendra (2021), Journal of Library Philosophy and Practice

Why Reference Management Software Is Important

In scientific information circles, the reference is considered crucial information by the reader as it identifies the quality of sources used and gives credibility to the research. In higher education and research institutions, proper reference management and the best citation manager tools are part of scholarly practice. Using a reference management software delivers the following benefits:

  • It saves you time. It is an efficient way to track all your sources, plus, the automatic capture into your library avoids manually typing each reference.
  • It keeps your referencing consistent. Reference management software packages offer various referencing styles that ensure that your output will be accurate and consistent with the original work.
  • It helps you keep track of what you have read. Instead of spending time looking for particular sources, you can pull out any reference anytime from your reference database.
  • It helps you organize your research. For any research to be effective, having an organized system is crucial. With reference management software, you can store and easily access your sources from one place.
  • It makes you comfortable with technology. Using software in research enhances your digital literacy skills. At the same time, you are able to benefit from the advantages of using reference management software in organizing hundreds of sources.

benefits of reference management software

However, much like other EdTech like school administration software, classroom management tools, and conferencing platforms, not all reference management software is cut from the same cloth. When choosing one, the essential features to consider are how it imports files, the ability to connect with various types of databases, auto-complete capability, the ability to extract accurate bibliography, and operating system support.

Source: Rangaswamy and Rajendra (2021), Journal of Library Philosophy and Practice

List of Best Reference Management Software

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1. Mendeley Reference Manager: End-to-End Reference Manager


Mendeley Reference Manager lets you manage your references quickly and effectively while collaborating with other researchers online. Aside from automatically generating bibliographies, this is one of the best referencing software that lets you organize, store, share, and cite references and other research data. From other research software, you can easily import papers and also find relevant papers based on the topic you are working on. Mendeley Reference Manager can be used as a desktop client, and you can also access your papers on the fly.


  • Personal library
  • Mendeley Notebook to keep all your notes and highlights
  • Mendeley Cite add-in for Microsoft
  • Available for Windows 7 or later, macOS, and Linux (64-bit)

Price Range:


2. EndNote: The Essential Research Assistant


EndNote is a reference software that lets you focus on your research instead of spending too much time formatting manuscripts. Stay organized with EndNote as it lets you manage, review, annotate, and search for references and PDFs. It also lets you spend more time conducting your research and collaborating across geographic boundaries.


  • Insert in-text citations while creating a bibliography
  • Tools that will help you find PDFs
  • Share your library through sharing permissions
  • Manuscript Matcher matches your paper with relevant journals
  • Output Styles add-in lets you generate perfectly formatted references with over 6,000 reference styles
  • Import Filters add-in lets you import while at the same time filtering references
  • Connection Files add-in lets you connect to databases

Price Range:

The cost of an upgrade license is $99.95 while a full license is priced at $249.95. For eligible students, the license is priced at $115.95.

3. Paperpile: Easy-to-Use Reference Manager


Paperpile is a citation management software for Google Docs that lets you manage your reference library from the web. It has a smart and intuitive interface that lets you work efficiently. Paperpile lets you add citations and bibliographies to Google Docs, and allows you to access your PDFs from any device with a web browser. Paperpile seamlessly works with iOS, Android, and MS Word.


  • Integrates with Google apps
  • Automatically fix references
  • Import data directly from Google Scholar, PubMed, ArXiv, and other supported publisher cites
  • Add files to your library with just one click
  • Automatically syncs all PDF downloads across all devices
  • Highlight and comment PDFs
  • Use private sharing to collaborate with colleagues

Price Range:

For academic institutions, non-profits, and personal use, the price is $2.99 per month. For business and industry, the price is $9.99 per month, billed annually. Paperpile offers a 30-day free trial.

4. JabRef: The Free Reference Manager


JabRef is a reference management software created by researchers that lets you stay on top of your literature while conducting research. It lets you collect references, retrieve, and link full-text articles, and import references directly from the web browser using the JabRef browser extension. You can also format your references using the built-in citation styles. For inserting and formatting citations, JabRef provides support for Word, LibreOffice, or OpenOffice.


  • Over 15 reference formats
  • Fetch complete bibliographic information based on ISBN, DOI, PubMed-ID, and arXiv-ID
  • Compare curated online catalogs such as Google Scholar, Springer, or MathSciNet
  • Rename and move associated files automatically based on custom rules
  • Customize and add new metadata fields or reference types
  • Advanced search and filter features
  • Cite-as-you-write functionality for external applications such as Emacs, Kile, LyX, Texmaker, TeXstudio, Vim, and WinEdt.
  • Native BibTeX and BibLaTeX support for text-based typesetting systems such as LaTeX and Markdown.

Price Range:


5. Biblioscape: Research Information Manager

Biblioscape dashboard

Biblioscape is a software for reference management that helps you organize your references and lets you integrate references and notes inside Word. Using this drag-and-drop tool, you can instantly see your citations on your Word file. It has an auto-complete feature where you just need to type the first author name, year published, and a few words in the title. It also integrates with bibliographic database sites, including Google Scholar, ACS Publications, JSTOR, and ScienceDirect, among others.


  • Download bibliographic records from the web with one click
  • Search against the university and public library catalog
  • Easily add PDFs to your Biblioscape database
  • Import bibliographic data using 250 pre-made import filters
  • Take notes while reading the full text of a reference
  • Include rich text and pictures in your notes
  • Organize by projects or categorize by tags
  • Include all the unique values of a data field on the lookup list
  • Link a record to any reference, note, task, or an object in a chart
  • Subject bibliography
  • Notes module lets you divide your writing projects and compile them later into a manuscript

Price Range:

The Lite plan for reference management is priced at $79 per license. The Standard plan, which includes tools for managing references, notes, and categories is priced at $139 per license. Biblioscape also offers pricing for professional groups and libraries and provides separate pricing for upgrades, and for the education sector.

6. Citationsy: Reference Manager for Those Who Value Privacy and Speed


Citationsy lets you cite books, websites, papers, and other reference materials, and even lets you archive a snapshot of a webpage when you reference it. Offering more than 10,000 referencing styles, Citationsy lets you create a shareable public short-link to your bibliography while keeping your data private. The Magic Import tool works by pasting your existing references onto the tool and it will take care of converting them to any format you require.


  • Can be accessed anywhere via the native mobile app
  • Easy export options for Apple pages, RefWorks, and Endnote
  • Ideal for teams due to its collaborative referencing
  • Import and reformat BibTex bibliographies
  • Export bibliographies in standard formats
  • In-text citations
  • Add notes and comments to references
  • Automatically backup reference database

Price Range:

The single-user price is $9.99 per month while eligible students are given a discounted price of $4.99 per month. Citationsy offers a three-day free trial.

7. Bookends: Reference Manager and Bibliography Software for MacOS


Bookends is a full-featured paper management software, bibliography, reference, and information management system for students and professionals. It has a highly configurable, editable, and interactive interface. Bookends lets you collect, find, organize, annotate, sync, share, and publish your sources. It searches the Internet to retrieve references. It works with Microsoft Word 2011/2016 and later, Mellel (including Live Bibliography), Apple Pages, Nisus Writer Pro, Manuscripts, and LibreOffice.


  • Formatted reference, reference summary, single column reference list
  • PDF display and outline view to easily see summaries
  • Groups, browser, and note stream
  • Tag cloud function to pinpoint important key phrases
  • Term list (authors)
  • View PDF on the edit pane
  • Search and import references
  • Attach files and web pages to references
  • PDF notes directly tied to a note stream
  • Shareable annotations

Price Range:

The single-user license costs $59.99 with two years of free updates. The cost of upgrade is $39.99.

8. refbase: Web Reference Database


refbase is a free, web-based, platform-independent, multi-user citation software for managing scientific literature and citations. It is an open-source reference management software that allows you to try the product by providing a demo database. refbase includes powerful search features with auto-completion and flexible display options such as list view, citations view, details view, and print view.


  • Direct download links and easy uploading of files
  • Output formatted citation lists
  • Automatic email announcement
  • Import and export records
  • RSS support
  • User-specific fields
  • OpenSearch, SRU/W, unAPI, OpenURL and COinS
  • User-specific groups and saved queries
  • Record linking tools
  • Batch SQL modifications

Price Range:


9. RefDB: Bibliographies Beyond Word Processors


RefDB is a research management software and bibliography and reference database tool for SGML, XML, and LaTeX/BibTeX documents. It is accessible through a web interface, command-line tools, and text editors like Emacs and Vim. It has an integrated SRU server. RefDB allows users to share databases over a network. Using Perl and PHP libraries, programmers can integrate RefDB functionality into their own projects. RefDB runs on Linux, the BSDs, OS X, Solaris, and Windows/Cygwin and is released under the GNU General Public License.


  • For SGML, XML, and LaTeX documents
  • Modular and accessible
  • Comes with RefDB handbook
  • Uses an SQL database engine to store references, notes, and bibliography styles
  • The main input format for bibliographic data is RIS
  • Checkref command provides a way to check your incoming data for duplicates
  • Formatted bibliographies can be created automatically
  • Import filters

Price Range:


10. RedCube Papers: Reference Management for Researchers, By Researchers

ReadCube Papers dashboard

One of the best citation software solutions, RedCube Papers is a reference management software that helps you improve the way you collect and curate research material. It assists you in searching across your favorite scholarly search engines and doing single-click downloads. Easily add PDFs and full-text references to your library and be assisted by the personal recommendation engine to ensure that you are able to source all related papers. Across all of your devices, Papers lets you enjoy a powerful set of features that will streamline your research workflow.


  • Bulk import via a web browser
  • Auto metadata matching
  • Enhanced PDF viewing
  • Hyperlinked inline references and high-res figure browsers
  • Auto-fetched supplements
  • Citation includes advanced article metrics
  • 10,000+ citation styles supported
  • Copy to clipboard formatted citations
  • Sync your library across all of your devices
  • Supports Desktop (Mac/PC), mobile (iOS/Android), and Web

Price Range:

For students, the subscription cost is $3 per month, billed annually. For academic use, the price is $5 per month and corporate pricing is $10 per month. Offers a 30-day trial period.

11. FlowCite: All-in-one Reference and Citation Manager


FlowCite is an all-in-one reference management software in research that helps you seamlessly search for, save, and organize your references and deliver your best work. It lets you import and export your work to other applications. FlowCite has an intuitive and user-friendly interface that allows you to drag-and-drop content between projects. It helps you discover scholarly articles across top academic databases.


  • LaTeX text editor
  • Integrated book store and rental service with over 9 million books,
  • On-demand pay per view database provides access to 20 million premium articles
  • Over 250 million Open Access free journal articles from reputable scientific data repositories such as CORE, PLoS, and doaj
  • AI-based search tool
  • Word plugin or LaTeX text editor for adding references and quotations
  • Proxy Access Integrations integrates source search with the university library
  • Browser extension to enhance your research on the web
  • PDF and bulk library import allows you to integrate any previous work
  • Integrated summary generator using Scholarcy

Price Range:

Free for personal projects with up to three collaborators. To upgrade, contact the vendor for pricing.

12. RefWorks: Web-Based Reference Manager for those Who Prefer Simplicity


RefWorks by Proquest is a research management platform that lets you collect and import reference materials and save them in a single click. Using the comprehensive ProQuest databases, you can automatically complete citation data. It allows you to quickly save references from the full text from any web page. It has a robust system for organizing, retrieving, reading, and annotating. RefWorks also lets you share folders and collaborate with other researchers.


For individual users

  • Sync your data to Dropbox and have a local copy of your full-text
  • Collaborate on projects with shared full access to resources
  • Granular access for collaborators
  • Integration tools for inserting citations in Word and Google Docs
  • Pre-built citation styles
  • Customize citations using the citation style editor

For Institutions

  • Control full-text sharing and external Dropbox syncing
  • Manage access through the Summon Integration tool
  • Set your default citation style
  • Multiple language options
  • Web-based, access from any online device
  • Produce accurate citations with Summon validation tool

Price Range:

You may contact the vendor for pricing information.

13. Zotero: The Personal Research Assistant


Zotero is an open-source literature management software that helps you organize your research based on your preferences. It allows you to organize items into collections and tag them with keywords. Zotero also lets you create saved searches that automatically link to relevant materials as you perform your research. This platform is available for Mac, Windows, Linux, and iOS.


  • Works with any text editor, inside Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs
  • Over 100,000 citation styles
  • Access your research from any web browser
  • Collaborate with colleagues and build a collaborative bibliography
  • Distribute course materials to students
  • Word processor integration for Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs
  • Automatically adds publication data by DOI or ISBN
  • Initiates search for open-access PDFs
  • Issues notifications for retracted papers
  • Plugin system allows outside developers to add advanced functionality

Price Range:


14. Sorc’d: Collaborative Cloud-Based Citation Manager


Sorc’d is  another one of the best reference managers with a suite of tools that seamlessly integrates into your workflow. The web clipper lets you quickly collect relevant pieces of information directly from your web browser. Users can also collaborate by using private or team accounts and discover new information and references together. You can even add snippets from your online repository to your writing. Lastly, Sorc’d integrates with Google Docs, Slides and Sheets, Microsoft Office and Outlook, and innovative cloud services for federal agencies.


  • Easy-to-use content snipper
  • Access snippets from any device
  • Unlimited cloud storage
  • Save snippets to a private account
  • Web clipper tool easily collects pieces of information
  • Categorize, tag, or favorite snippets
  • One-click social sharing
  • Use within Microsoft Office and Outlook, Google Docs, and Sheets

Price Range:

The basic plan is free, the Premium plan costs $14.99 per month, and the Business plan costs $20 per month. New accounts get the first 30 days for free.

15. Qiqqa: The Essential Free Research and Reference Manager


Qiqqa is among the free reference managers used by academics, researchers, and businesses. It has a BibTeX sniffer that allows users to unlock and perfect metadata. Using powerful OCR, Qiqqa provides an indexing tool that makes image documents searchable. It also lets you import all your PDFs directly from other programs or from your drive, making it a good accompaniment to some of the best learning management systems.


  • Bulk PDFs import even while on one go
  • Import all your existing papers and references from any program that can export to BibTeX format
  • Built-in OCR for full-text searches, automatic abstracts, and keyword extraction
  • Auto populates by looking for text that resembles title/author/year for documents without metadata
  • BibTeX sniffer searches Google Scholar for the correct metadata and imports it directly
  • Add vanilla non-PDF reference to your library
  • Tag Explorer lets you add tags to any document, or just let it create tags for you even on annotations
  • Easily access PDFs by tag, author, and title
  • Qiqqa Expedition automatically breaks your library into themes
  • Brainstorming tool to organize research and add references to each node

Price Range:


16. Sciwheel: Unified Reference Manager and Citation Generator


Sciwheel reference management software helps you instantly save references from the web, including weblink, full citation data, and PDFs PubMed and Google Scholar. Without leaving your document, you can see your notes and co-author comments on PDFs and web pages. The powerful algorithm of Sciwheel ensures that you will not miss any relevant article. It also lets you search multiple devices while working on Microsoft Word and Google Docs.


  • Unlimited references
  • Instantly save and annotate articles online
  • Find and cite references in Microsoft Word and Google Docs
  • Access your references and PDFs from any device
  • Easy collaboration with co-authors
  • Unlimited projects (three projects for free version)
  • Article suggestions
  • Unlimited storage
  • Smart citation suggestions in Microsoft Word and Google Docs
  • Access to article recommendations in Faculty Opinions

Price Range:

The Basic plan is free while the Premium plan costs $9.95 per month. Student, institutional, and group subscription is available. Offers a 30-day free trial.

17. Citavi: All-In-One Referencing and Note-Taking Solution


Citavi is a reference management tool designed to power up individual researchers and teams towards achieving efficient research management processes. It helps you keep track of all the essential information and sift all your sources. Citavi is the only reference management platform that gives you the option to store your information on your own server for data security.


  • Offers over 10,000 citation styles
  • Created for web, Windows, or DB Server
  • Drag PDFs to your project or import one or multiple folders at once
  • Imports references in RIS, BibTeX, and ENW formats, Excel tables, Word bibliographies
  • Retrieves information using ISBN number or other identifiers
  • Picker extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge quickly sends reference information and any available full text
  • Save a copy of a webpage as a PDF
  • The Picker identifies ISBNs and DOIs on webpages
  • Save search queries you use often and avoid importing duplicates
  • Add references from Google Scholar, PubMed, and other online databases

Price Range:

Citavi provides pricing upon request.

18. BibSonomy: The Easy Way to Manage Scientific Publications and Bookmarks


Bibsonomy software for reference management helps you organize your scientific work by collecting publications and bookmarks and discovering interesting new research for your daily work. It allows you to collaborate with your colleagues and fellow researchers and even create groups for collaboration. Bibsonomy helps you create bibliographies for scientific and other types of research papers. Aside from the full-text search, search field filters also assist in finding relevant papers.


  • Browser add-ons and bookmarklets
  • Use ISBN, ISSN, DOI, or barcodes to have the insert publication form filled up automatically for you
  • Add tags to a bookmark/publication
  • Use tags to find papers in the bibliography
  • Export publication list in a custom format
  • See which posts are being shared in Friends Overview
  • Use the search field to filter your post lists by tags, authors, and users
  • Integrates with other websites or even your own software using API clients or code snippets
  • Use plugins to create advanced bibliographies

Price Range:


19. Zenreader: Comprehensive Knowledge Management Platform


Zenreader reference management software provides a powerful note-taking engine and a state-of-the-art document reader that makes it easy to view documents and synthesize content. By selecting text and images, you can take notes from your sources and references. Automatically organize and have ready-to-use knowledge by adding tags and comments. Zenreader provides powerful search tools that scan all types of documents with the multi-document search with advanced filters.


  • Keyword extraction
  • Textual analysis
  • Document Kanban
  • Option to encrypt all data with Zenreader
  • Multi-document search with advanced filters
  • Import web pages
  • OCRs for document reading
  • Advanced search algorithms
  • Backtrack allows you to see the document history
  • Drag and drop anything

Price Range:

Essentials plan is free with limited features for one workspace. Billed annually, the Premium subscription costs $7.49 per month while Lifetime Premium is currently offered at a discounted price of $39.99 until the release of Zenreader Cloud.

20. Article Galaxy Enterprise: Built for Organizations to Scale

Article Galaxy dashboard

Article Galaxy Enterprise provides the speed and reliability of all the reference management tools you need in one platform. A complete knowledge management solution for global businesses, Article Galaxy Enterprise lets you search, acquire, read, organize, cite, and share your research and references. This platform takes care of checking article-level usage permissions, which ensures that you have the proper re-use rights details in every document. Secure copyright-compliant PDFs easily with the help of Article Galaxy Enterprise.


  • Microsoft Word add-in for Mac and PC
  • Over 10,000 citation styles
  • Integrates with Article Galaxy proprietary article ordering, ensuring the lowest acquisition cost
  • Sync your entire library with book chapters, patents, conference reports, and more
  • Discover articles directly within the platform via integrated search
  • Discover related articles with ‘cited by’ and ‘cited from’ lists
  • Researcher-designed and tested for optimal viewing
  • Article details appear directly in your search results
  • Cloud-based platform allows you to access your papers anytime, anywhere, from any device
  • Multiple access settings let you ensure only the right people have access

Price Range:

Article Galaxy Enterprise is available by quote.

Take Charge of Your Research by Using the Best Reference Management Software

The quality of references reflects the quality of research. A well-organized set of references leads to a well-planned research endeavor. The best reference management software today not only helps the scientific and academic community in generating accurate bibliographies and citations but also elevates the practice of scholarly research. Using reference management software significantly reduces the workload of researchers writing research papers for publications.

Compared to using manual systems, reference management software makes the entire research process efficient and allows your ideas to flow freely as you consult one reference after another. The manual task of recording citations and references is completely eliminated. Instead, you are provided with a database of references from which you can easily generate a bibliography, or cite a source, with one click.

As technological advances continue to be integrated into current research tools, research institutions will definitely benefit as they can focus more on research work, minus the formatting concerns.

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