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Undergraduate Research Guide

Reference Management

Reference management refers to the practice of organizing and tracking references used in the research and writing process.

As you are conducting library research, you will find articles, books, and other types of information that you may want to use in a paper or other project.

In order to keep track of your sources and cite them properly, you'll need to do some kind of reference management. This may include saving or printing PDFs, keeping detailed notes, generating citations online, using reference management software, and more.

What is a citation, and why should I keep track of them?

A citation is a piece of information giving bibliographic data on a resource (document, book, article, etc.) you've used in your work. A citation tells you things like the title of the work, the publication it appears in, the authors, the date, and (possibly) how it may be accessed.

For example, here is a citation for a book titled "Fundamentals of Additive Manufacturing for the Practitioner":

Kamara, S., & Faggiani, K. S. (2021). Fundamentals of additive manufacturing for the practitioner. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

This citation tells us the authors' names (Kamara and Faggiani), the title, and the publisher. This citation will help readers identify and locate the work if they'd like to reference it later on.

As you gather resources, we recommend, at the very least, keeping a formatted list of citations for the resources you've gathered. This may mean simply copying and pasting the citation into a Word document for later use. Saving formatted citations can make it much easier later on for you to generate your own list of references for your work, as you'll spend less time tracking down bibliographic details.

(Hint: The library's Summon discovery service, as well as many individual databases, allow you to download formatted citations by clicking the quotation mark icon.)

If you are just doing a little research or only getting started, you may want to simply copy and paste your citations into a Word document for later use. However, if you are doing in-depth research and expect to be gathering more than a few sources, you may want to consider using reference management software to track these details along with your PDFs and notations.

What format should I use to save my citations?

Whoever will be reviewing your writing, whether it is a professor or a review panel for a professional publication, will likely have a requirement regarding which format to use. If you know what format is required, save your citations using that format from the very beginning. However, even if you don't know which format to use, save your citations using whichever format you're most comfortable with. It will be easier to reformat them later on using an existing citation than to generate the citation later from scratch.

Reference Management Software

Using reference management software is highly recommended any time you are conducting deep or ongoing library research. You should consider using reference management software if you are beginning a capstone project or working on a graduate thesis. You may also wish to keep track of resources you find throughout your career for later use -- many research professionals maintain detailed documentation of the works they've previously read or referenced for later use.

For a quick comparison of the two options listed below, take a look at this guide from York University Libraries.


Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network that can help you organize your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest research.


Zotero is a free, open-source research tool that helps you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources.

Here are some useful links for information on using Zotero:

Mendeley and Zotero provide similar services, allowing you to track and format citations for all your research.

Another option, TurnItIn Draft Coach, could help you double-check the formatting of your citations (in APA, MLA, or Chicago Turabian style) as well as ensuring that all of your citations and references match.

To use Draft Coach, access Microsoft Word online through . Open a Word document with citations. You should see TurnItIn as a menu item on top of the page. Click TurnItIn, then Draft Coach, and Draft Coach will appear on the right side of the screen.

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