Skip to main content
John B. Coleman Library Ask A Librarian

Citation Resources & Tools: Web-based Citation Tools: Pros/Cons

This guide covers authoritative resources and popular tools to help students, staff, and faculty manage their citations and citation style formatting questions.

Citation Tool Advice

While many of the citation tools shared here are valuable time-savers, they are still imperfectly automated technological processes and they can, and frequently do, produce errors.  I see these errors often during my library instruction sessions.  I won't discourage student, staff, or faculty researchers from using these tools, but I will advise you to do the following:

Exercise caution. Don't assume the generated citation is accurate and reliable.  These low stakes technologies don't deserve (y)our blind faith.

Double-check your work.  I know it's tedious and the idea is to save time, but you'll be saving yourself a lot of time by checking the generated citations against the authoritative style guide or Purdue University's Online Writing Lab guides first, rather than submitting your work rife with error, then correcting all of your work later.  Trust me on this one.

Ask questions/seek support.  If you're struggling with making sense of how to use these services & tools, don't hesitate to ask one of the John B. Coleman librarians.  If your challenges extend beyond the citations and you need advice on the overall composition of your research paper, or advice on editing and revising, head over to PVAMU's The Writing Center in Hilliard Hall Room 125.  PVAMU's Department of Languages & Communication oversees The Writing Center and students can contact them with any issues or concerns.  Students can also get help at The Learning Curve tutoring center, temporarily located in the John B. Coleman Library's building Room 209 next to the ITS Computer Lab.


OttoBib is a web-based citation generator exclusively for books or ebooks with ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) and produces end-text citations.

Pros: It's very fast, it's very easy, and all you have to do is copy/paste an ISBN into the textbox and it can generate an MLA, APA, or Chicago/Turabian citation.  It can also generate a BibTeX entry and a Wikipedia citation.  This tool is powered by WorldCat, which means it has a significant number of materials to access.  It offers a Google Chrome Extension "for even faster bibliographies."  User registration is not required.

Cons: Sometimes it struggles with formatting.  I've seen occasional errors with capitalization, italicization, and recognizing inputs.  It also doesn't tell users which edition it's using for the citation styles.

Use it, but double check the work.

Database Citation Tip

Many of our major databases (e.g. EBSCO, ProQuest, NexisUni, CREDO, JSTOR, Infobase Facts on File, GALE & more) offer built-in citation tools.  Usually (though not always) the databases's built-in tools occupy the right-hand side of the search interface.  If you can't find it, just ask a John B. Coleman Librarian to help you via webchat, phone, email, or stop by the Reference Desk.

Ctfm is a freemium (free, with a paid premium version) web-based citation generator that will allow users to create in-text and end-text citations (including entire bibliographies) in a dizzying array of major and niche citation styles, now owned by Chegg.

Pros: Their style options are powered by CSL, which produces an impressive number of citation styles to choose from.  The site guides users through the citation generation process, beginning with allowing you to choose your source type (selection variety is strong), and allowing you to search for your resource to see if the citation can be generated automatically.  If it's not listed, they will still guide you through the manual citation process by having you complete the appropriate fields before producing a mock .doc webpage with your citation(s) listed.  You have the option to copy/paste individual citations or the entire list, which is automatically alphabetized.  You can also change your citation style even after creating your citation list.  It has built-in spelling, grammar, and plagiarism checks for paid Premium users.  User registration is encouraged, but not required.

Cons: If you opt out of paying for premium features and stick with the free version, you are bombarded with redundant advertisements every step of the way, which is a huge turn-off, especially for users with slow internet connections or PCs.  The distracting ads can cause webpage loading delays.

Citation Tool Comparison Chart


RefWorks is a web-based citation management tool (now owned by ProQuest) available to PVAMU students thanks to our institutional access.  For legacy users (registered accounts prior to 2017) there is a separate portal here to access old content.  However, if you are a new user, or don't require any old content from the legacy portal, I strongly recommend you utilize the new portal here Legacy users will need to manually transfer all previous citations into the new system manually if they want to switch interfaces.  User registration is required and is tied to PVAMU.

Pros:  Users can usually directly export citations from their database or discovery search service straight into their RefWorks accounts as they research (e.g. EBSCO, ProQuest, GALE etc.).  Once the citations are stored in RefWorks, users can organize their content with folders, favorites, tags, sharing, and choose from many major citation styles.  RefWorks can generate both in-text and end-text citations, including entire bibliographies.  Note that RefWorks is primarly for bibliographic storage, full-text attachments must be performed manually.

Cons:  Sometimes the website experiences loading timeouts when trying to generate the bibliographies.  Also, because RefWorks is now a ProQuest product, every time ProQuest performs technical maintenance or their databases go down, RefWorks is also affected.  I've also caught RefWorks making mistakes, specifically with Chicago Manual of Style in-text citations.


Mendeley is a web-based and desktop-based reference management tool, now owned by Elsevier that doubles as a specialized social media tool.  It has apps available for Android and iOS with Mendeley Web, which is an online social network for researchers that allows for research connections, dataset creation, and even job-finding.  It's another freemium product that allows for increased storage for a price.

Pros: Users can install the desktop version of the software for free, drag & drop articles into it, and Mendeley will auto-extract the citation data from it.  The web-version is also free to access.  Ideally users do both.  Users can organize their research with folders, favorites, and group sharing.  Citations can be generated in the desktop version by using the menu tool or by simply dragging and dropping selections from the Mendeley Window onto their open .doc file or Google .doc and the copy/paste will auto-format it to a citation.  Users can also access their personal library and folder organizations in the online version of Mendeley, which will generate a custom homepage feed of research relevant to your topic that might interest you.  Full-text research files can be uploaded into your account manually.  Mendeley also offers a Microsoft Word plug-in to help users generate in-text citations as they write!  There's a lot of WOW functionality here.

Cons: However, the biggest drawback is that you can't create bibliographies and citations from the web-accessible iteration of Mendeley.  You can see the content you've added to your personal library and folders from online or the desktop, but you must use the desktop version to generate citations.  There's also an accessibility concern...  As of June 2018, Mendeley began encrypting data stored through its service, which doesn't allow users to export that data.  This change appears to be a direct response to their major competitor Zotero allowing users to import their records from Mendeley if they wanted to make a service switch.  The long-term concern associated with this move is that a vendor lock-in could be created in the near future.

Personal Favorite: Zotero

Similar to Mendeley, Zotero is both a web-based and desktop-based reference management service.  It's free to use, but offers paid premium features (mainly increased storage space), so it's what we call "freemium."

Pros: Users can install the desktop version of the software for free, drag & drop articles into it, and Zotero will auto-extract the citation data.  The web-version is also free and requires registration, just like RefWorks and Mendeley.  Users can organize their research with folders, favorites, and group sharing.  Users can subscribe to publicly viewable user/group accounts via RSS if their permissions allow it.  Citations can be generated in the desktop version by using the menu tool for single citations or entire bibliographies AND the web-based iteration (unlike Mendeley).  That's awesome!  Zotero also has a long list of supported plug-ins available to expand its functionality with other services, including a Google Chrome plug-in that allows you to save desired content to Zotero from the web with a single click.

Cons:  Full-text content is available in the web-based iteration of Zotero, but it's easiest if you have uploaded it to the account from your desktop version already.  The other option is to manually attach a document to an existing (or manually created) citation in the account if you want to access the full-text later.  The Zotero interface is just a little more clunky than Mendeley and it lacks some of their bells & whistles, however, they remain my preferred tool because they've avoided the proprietary roadblocks that Mendeley has implemented.

John B. Coleman Library
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 519, MS 1040, Prairie View, Texas 77446
Physical Address: L.W. Minor St. / University Drive, Prairie View, Texas 77446
Reference: (936) 261-1535, Circulation: (936) 261-1542

Library Hours