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Personal Information Management: Citation Management Basics

How do you keep your stuff organized? When you file the perfect article, can you find it later? This guide will discuss personal information management, or PIM.

EndNote and EndNote Web Contact Librarians



Nastasha Johnson Math
Megan Sapp Nelson Engineering, Technology
David Zwicky  Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Materials Engineering

  Zotero Contact Librarians

 All Purdue
Jane Yatcilla

 All Purdue

David Zwicky  All Purdue


Mendeley Contact Librarians


Jason Reed

 All Purdue

Introduction to Citation Managers

Citation management software, also known as bibliographic management software or citation managers, can help you manage and organize your citations and format bibliographies and footnotes in your papers.

Most citation management tools can help you to:

  • import citation information from databases and library catalogs
  • collect, organize, and annotate citations
  • store PDFs of articles
  • generate bibliographies and format footnotes or endnotes in a variety of styles 
Purdue University Libraries currently supports EndNoteEndNote Basic, and Zotero.  The latter two are web-based and available free to Purdue users.  See this comparison chart to learn more about these free programs so you can decide which one can better meet your research needs.

Many different citation management tools are available - some are available for free while others are not.  EndNote is a leading product in a group of desktop, fee-based, citation managers.  Competing with the desktop products are web-based programs.  Popular names in this second group are Refworks, EndNote Basic, Zotero, and many more.  All citation managers carry out the same basic functions but specific features may vary from program to program.

Citation Managers Basic Functions

1.   Providing a search interface.  For databases (such as PubMed), search by one of two modes:  

  • through "connection" or "config" files.  Searching databases directly from within the citation manager

  • through a combination of export-import "filters" usually provided by the database.  Searching databases is performed as usual using vendor interfaces.  Citations are selected and downloaded (exported) directly to your citation management software.  In some cases the citations are downloaded to your hard drive and then  imported into the citation manager using a special filter

2.   Creating a database of references.  Once citations are captured, they can be stored, organized and manipulated in personal mini-databases called "libraries" or groups. Many different “groups” can be created and they can be constantly re-organized to meet changing needs.

3.   Inserting citations into word processing documents.  Using a "cite-while-you-write" feature, citations and footnotes or endnotes can be inserted into their proper place as you write a paper or manuscript.  As they are inserted, a bibliography is automatically generated and updated as you change the citations.  The newest software versions can permit tables and figures to be inserted as "citations".

4.   Linking between citations to image or PDF files.  Recent versions of citation managers permit links to image or PDF files stored on the hard drive of your computer.  Legends to images, figures and tables can be created.  Linked images and PDF files can also be inserted into word processing documents as if they were citations.

5.   Creating a stand-alone bibliography (reference list).   Using criteria you determine, you can create stand-alone bibliographies that can be saved in common word processing program formats.