Nearly all courses expect you to submit written work that has been referenced, without it you may be accused of plagiarising (passing someone else’s work off as your own).

Referencing is a time-consuming and complicated process as each University/College have specific requirements for the style of referencing that they want. If your references are incorrect or inconsistent, it is likely that you will loose marks.

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For students with dyslexia referencing can be even harder. Many dyslexics struggle with the organisation and spelling that referencing requires. What most people don’t realise is there are tools out there that can help you. But it is hard to know which of the many tools actually deliver on combatting the time constraints and headache of referencing. Here is my top 5 list of the most popular paid for and free referencing tools out there.

We’d recommend you trial each one to find which is most effective and suits you best.

1. Zotero


In my opinion Zotero is one of the best referencing tools out there, incredibly it’s also available free of charge. It will capture the details you need from book listings on Amazon and University library listings. As well as data from websites, online journal articles and much more. It lets you add books by their ISBN as well as manually inputting a wide variety of sources like reports, videos, podcasts etc. It will then put the reference into your assignment for you, using any of the 8000+ styles available. From these citations (references) Zotero will make you a bibliography at the click of a button. It is simple to use and very versatile when it comes to adding the sources.


  • Completely free, unless you run out of storage (Which is hard)
  • Captures details of books from Amazon/online libraries/websites/google scholar as well as manual input (Chrome/Internet Explorer/Firefox extension)
  • Puts the reference in the text as well as creating a bibliography
  • Simple to use
  • Over 8000+ styles to choose from


  • Difficult to create your own style, (for this you need to know code)
  • Only stores the reference, not the entire document (PDF)

Download for free HERE.  To know more about the software, you can read our other post HERE.

2. Citavi


Citavi gives Zotero a run for its money. However I found it a bit more complicated and less versatile than Zotero. Citavi is great for people that are confident with computers and those that rely mainly on online articles (PDF’s) for their sources. Citavi is free for the first 100 references so if you reach that amount you will need to delete some or buy it. It works with most webpages but you may have to fill in some details more often than not. It’s Word Add-in is superior to Zotero in that as well as inputting references it will input any quotations you’ve highlighted, quoted or paraphrased. It does take some getting used to but once you have grasped it, it is a fantastic resource.


  • Internet Explorer and Chrome Extension
  • Allows you to record the quotation you intend to use and will put it into the essay along with the reference details
  • It allows you to search its 3 standard databases including The British Library and WorldCat and you can add the databases your university uses if you know them.
  • Import existing PDFs and annotate them that is then transferred to the Word Plug-in.
  • See the reference and the file side by side
  • Can choose from many referencing styles and you can edit what you have chosen.


  • Only lets you have 100 references for free.
  • Costs £94.80 if you want unlimited access.
  • Quite a complicated interface
  • Designed more around PDF’s
  • Doesn’t get book details from Amazon and Library websites.

Download a FREE version (for up to 100 references), click HERE.

3. Cite This For Me


Cite This For Me is a very basic referencing tool as it doesn’t need to be installed on your computer. Although it becomes a fantastic tool if you are prepared to pay for it. The free version will generate the bibliography for you and is very good at websites. If you install the plugin for Chrome it can generate instant references, but only in four styles. Another drawback is you have to copy and paste references into your essay. Cite This For Me has a simple and easy to use layout, and if you’re prepared to pay for the full version you can make use of the fantastic plagiarism checker, you don’t get this tool with any other referencing software.


  • Instantly reference at the click of a button.
  • Simple to use
  • No installation necessary
  • Quickly and easily add sources
  • Lots of referencing styles (especially Universities)
  • Creates bibliography and in-text references
  • Plagiarism Checker/Mobile App (in paid version)


  • To really benefit from this software, you need to pay the annual subscription fee of around £45
  • It doesn’t store your bibliography indefinitely
  • Need an internet connection to use
  • Distracting Banners/Pop-ups and Ads unless you upgrade
  • No free Microsoft Word Add-in

Download for free HERE.

4. Endnote


Endnote is a very advanced referencing tool and as a result, you have to pay for it. Some Universities, like Southampton, offer an online version to their students. It has an extensive amount of academic databases for you to search in, so as well as storing your references it also helps you find articles to use in your work. If you don’t tend to use many PDF’s or you aren’t very comfortable using online resources in your work, Endnote is definitely not for you. Endnote takes a lot of getting used to and patience when searching the databases. There is no doubt this comprehensive tool is great, but only for those that are extremely used to referencing or use PDF’s and articles as the basis of their coursework. One of the best features of this software is that it allows you to create your own style of referencing.


  • Searchable reference database (within the programme) – if you’ve lost the reference but know the keywords you can search using keywords. This can also give ideas on books and articles to try.
  • Import and annotate PDFs
  • Microsoft Word Add-in
  • Sync references between online, desktop and iPad
  • Has detailed styles templates and easily allows you to create your own styles.


  • It’s not cheap. Currently £69.00 ex. VAT for registered students.
  • Needs to be manually updated each year.
  • Not good with websites or books, you have to create a manual entry for these.
  • Quite complicated to use and navigate the databases.
  • No online plugin

Download a FREE 30-day trial HERE.

5. Mendeley


At face value, Mendeley appears to be a very good referencing manager. But the one massive drawback is that its entire focus is on PDF’s. You have to manually add books and web pages. It is considered a free version of Endnote. There are students out there who only use online resources and the occasional book. As you can manually add books and other resources to the software, Mendeley still makes the list. The other reason that it makes the list is that it actively allows you to search its database for articles that might be useful for you using its literature search. It also saves the entire PDF in the software so it stops you having an overcrowded downloads folder! Use Mendeley if you don’t want to pay for Endnote. It also makes a great companion app for those using Zotero.


  • Free to use
  • Allows you to collaborate with others using the programme, this actively helps you find other resources by looking at what other people have used.
  • Literature search – find articles that interest you
  • Stores the document and the reference. Allows you to view both, side by side so you can check the referencing details are all there.
  • Can access references online not just on the desktop programme
  • Microsoft Word Add-in
  • Can highlight and annotate (notes) on the PDF.
  • Can search keywords and title of the citations and the PDF text.


  • It can’t reference web pages.
  • Need to have papers (pdf) for it to be useful.
  • Privately owned so you might have to pay in the future
  • Not simple

Create an account and Download it for FREE, click HERE.

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