Zotero, a free open source citation manager

Citation reference management software such as Endnote are requisite tools for all scientists given the need to organize the plethora of references and PDF documents that we gather in our daily work. Most important for the creation of manuscripts with citations, the “cite while you write” feature of most reference managers is a must have tool for expediting the creation of a reference list at the end of the manuscript as well as inserting in-text reference citations.


While Endnote packs many useful features that significantly improve the productivity of scientists from reference list creation to in-text citation, as well as quick and easy alteration of citation and bibliography output styles, the programme is hugely expensive without the volume licensing agreements of libraries. Thus, for cash starved citizen scientists and students requiring a good all-round reference citation software capable of “cite while you write” and alteration of output styles, I find Zotero to be a good alternative to Endnote.


Packing features such as “cite while you write”, easy creation of reference list, as well as the ability to import alternative output styles (apart from those stored in the software), Zotero is a user-friendly reference manager that is light weight in terms of processing power requirement; thereby, providing fast and intuitive response to user commands. More importantly, different from the many browser based reference management tools, Zotero offers a standalone desktop version as well as free storage on a web account. In addition, it also offers user-friendly browser plugins for allowing users to import references (e.g., webpage, journal articles etc.) during their web browsing sessions.


But, one significant difference noticeable to users familiar with Endnote’s user interface is the way Zotero organizes references in its database. Instead of individual topics such as in Endnote, Zotero harnesses the power of the onboard search feature to allow users’ the ease of not classifying individual reference items into specific topics or folders.


In summary, Zotero is comparable to the best-in-class reference management software, Endnote, in features, functionality, and ease of use. With “cite while you write”, capability of importing journal output styles, swift one click citation insertion and update of reference list, PDF organization capability, and an optional browser plugin for collecting references from the web, Zotero is a good choice for researchers and students.


A full feature copy of Zotero is available for free download at the following website: https://www.zotero.org/


Interested readers may want to visit one of my related preprints on reference management entitled “Lack of citation capabilities in mobile word processing apps highlights dichotomy between ease of use and security in Android”, Link to preprint.


Specifically, the preprint hypothesized one reason explaining the lack of “cite while you write” feature in almost all mobile word processing apps on the Google Play store. In particular, the need to sandbox different apps, for example, the reference management and word processing apps, necessitates limited communication between the two apps; thereby, hampering the creation of the “cite while you write” feature.


Category: scientific communications,

Tags: Endnote, Zotero, reference management, cite while you write, output styles, citation organization,


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