Citation tools

Citations, referencing and bibliographies are a major component of academic writing. The good news is that they’re quite easy to get right. In fact, with the right software correct referencing is so easy that we refuse to charge for it or offer it as a service. It’s one of very few things in academic writing that can be almost fully automated by software.

Most academics agree that this is the best way to write references and bibliographies—using automatic reference management software. With these tools a library of journal articles and associated PDF files can be saved to your account and synchronized across multiple devices. Simple plugins for Microsoft Word or your writing software of choice can then insert fully formatted references from entries in your journal library, and generate bibliographies with the click of a button.

We strongly recommend choosing and using a reference manager as soon as possible. The earlier you start, the easier it is.

Our favourite software is Zotero. Without going into extensive detail, we prefer it to many suitable alternatives (such as Mendeley) primarily because it supports library synchronization with any file host that allows access via WebDAV, allowing you to choose where your library is hosted. Zotero is also open source, made by a nonprofit organization, is entirely free, highly customizable, and contains no advertisements.

Here we’re going to focus on Zotero, but many viable alternatives exist and can be configured and used just as easily.

Other great citation tools include MendeleyQiqqa and EndNote. 

Zotero Citation and Reference Manager

The main screen of Zotero.

Installing and configuring Zotero

Refer to Zotero’s website for guides on:

  1. Installation and set-up
  2. Getting started and basic instructions
  3. Automated referencing with plugins
  4. Setting up synchronization

These four points should be sufficient to get you started using Zotero. We recommend using WebDAV and a host of your choosing for synchronization of your library, as Zotero only provide 300 MB on their platform and many free hosts (e.g. Google Drive) provide significantly more.

One last note regarding Zotero—try the browser plugin! The last thing anyone wants is a web browser cluttered with useless plugins, but Zotero’s extension is extremely useful for adding citations and their associated PDF files to your library with the click of a button.