University of Wisconsin–Madison

Using Citation Management Tools in Writing Assignments

Rebecca Payne & Emily Wixson (Citation Management Working Group)

Do your students submit papers with improper or inadequate citations? Do your students need to gather information sources for group projects? Citation management tools can help.

Citation managers such as EndNote, Mendeley, and Zotero, are software applications that will help you:

  • Gather references automatically from article databases while you research
  • Format manuscripts and citations instantly in a variety of styles (MLA, APA, Chicago, Turabian, etc.)
  • Create and organize a personal research database of references, images, and PDFs
  • Share your databases with your study group or your colleagues around the world


While students think of these tools as easy ways to format a bibliography for an assignment, citation management tools provide many other benefits to students when incorporated into course assignments. Such benefits include:

  • Collecting references for later evaluation
  • Organizing references by topic or subtopic into folders or groups, allowing students to spot areas of inadequate or missing information
  • Adding notes or annotations to help critically evaluate the relevance of a given reference to the assignment or project
  • Creating shared folders for a group assignment collaboration
  • Creating student-annotated bibliographies
  • Building personal libraries of references in the chosen discipline for future scholarship
  • Modeling behavior of scholars and researchers


Two examples of the use of citation managers in undergraduate courses include:

Learning Goal: Introduce students to a citation manager for college-level research.

The Eng 118 (ESL: Academic Writing II, Comm-A) covers academic writing, critical reading and argumentation, documentation, style and organization of research papers, and oral communication skills for effective class participation and presentations. The course instructor brings students to the library for a class session for instruction on using a citation manager and databases appropriate for their research. Instructors encourage students to gather and organize their sources in a folder in the citation manager and to use the manager to generate the bibliography for their paper. Citation accuracy is central to this assignment. Consequently students learn to check their work and to not rely solely on the citation tool to generate the bibliography. The library session is taught by Library and Information Studies 826 (Field Project in Library and Information Literacy Instruction) graduate students under the supervision of a librarian with the course instructor present.


Learning Goal: Acquaint students with citation management tools as integral to the research process.

Chemistry 346 (Intermediate Organic Synthesis Laboratory) is designed to assist undergraduates in making the transition from an undergraduate laboratory course to a laboratory researcher environment. In the context of laboratory experiments, students explore chemistry information sources, collect and organize relevant references in a selected citation manager, and create bibliographies using two different journal output styles. The research component of the course includes a final poster presentation which must include a list of annotated references created using the citation manager. Students learn to use the tool while they are exploring chemistry literature databases and maintain their personal libraries throughout the semester in this Comm-B course.

To help you select the appropriate citation manager for your work and for your course, see this Features Comparison chart:


The Citation Management Working Group is available to help you design assignments that incorporate citation management tools. You can find the Citation Management Working Group online at or email for more information.