Reference Management: Mendeley & Zotero

This is a summary of our Spring 2017 Information Skills Programme: Session 1

What is a reference manager?

Reference managers are tools that store references – the data about the documents you would you in a citation or reference list (e.g. title, author, date…).

Many reference managers also:

  • Allow you to organise your references into folders
  • Format your citations and reference list/bibliography in a word processor
  • Allow you to import references from other tools
  • Allow you to import references you are viewing online
  • Create references from PDF files on your computer
  • Allow you to export references in various formats
  • Create bibliographies from your references
  • Store files attached to your references (e.g. PDF of the full text)
  • Tag your references with keywords
  • Allow you to search your reference library
  • Add notes to your references
  • Share your references and notes with other people in groups which can be public or private
  • Connect with other researchers in your field

Which one should I use?

There are lots of different options available when it comes to reference managers. The two which are supported by the A.G. Leventis Library are Zotero and Mendeley.Both can do all of the tasks listed above and are free to use, though Mendeley does offer Premium accounts which provide additional storage space and allow you to create an unlimited number of groups, with more collaborators per group.

Zotero or Mendeley

In terms of functionality, Mendeley and Zotero are pretty similar. There are two main factors which will affect which one you choose:

  1. Which interface do you prefer?
  2. If you want to share references with others or collaborate on a document in which you will be citing references, which one do your collaborators use / want to use?

There are also a few scenarios where one works better than the other:

  • Can’t download a desktop version, but want to cite / create bibliographies in MS Word → Zotero works better
  • Want to save a lot of non-journal article online references (e.g. websites, blogs) → Zotero is generally better at finding the correct information
  • Want to import a lot of references and then organise them → Mendeley has a recently added folder which makes this easy, although you can also do it with a workaround in Zotero
  • Want to annotate the PDFs in your reference manager (rather than just add notes) → You need Mendeley to be able to do this. If the references are shared with a group, you can also share the annotations and Mendeley’s recent update has really improved this feature.
  • Want to create lots of private groups to share references → in Meneley’s free version you are limited to 5 private groups, in Zotero you can create an unlimited number of private groups
  • Want to use the research social network element → Mendeley’s is more geared towards this

Desktop or Online version?

Both Zotero and Mendeley come in desktop and online versions. You don’t have to exclusively use one or the other – once you’ve signed up for an account you will always have access to the online version from any computer with internet access, and this can be synced with the desktop version.

The desktop versions provide a few additional features, and a slightly different interface BUT you need to be able to download and install the software. The desktop version of Zotero is called Zotero Standalone.

Zotero is also available as Zotero for Firefox, a Firefox extension. This is the original way of using Zotero, and it offers the most reliable operation along with all of the available features. In this case, Zotero is embedded within Firefox, taking up a lower portion of your Firefox window.

How do I get started?

Mendeley have produced a great little overview video (just over 5 minutes).

Mendeley Desktop Guide
Mendeley Web Guide


Ken Denlinger at Wake Forest University, North Carolina has produced this 2 minute video showing you what Zotero looks like and what it can do.

If you want help getting Zotero set up there are instructions on Zotero’s website or follow the instructions in this video from the University of Chicago Library.

Where can I get more information?

Mendeley Guides:

Mendeley Support:

Zotero Resources:

One thought on “Reference Management: Mendeley & Zotero

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s