Citations are an essential component of any academic paper, no matter how much of a pain they can be to compile. Not only do citations help your readers locate the original sources of your ideas, but they also help you avoid plagiarism. Fortunately, there is a way to easily gather citations and format them in the proper style: with what’s known as a citation generator.
Citation generators (also known as digital citation tools or bibliography sites) are digital tools that compile and format citations for you. Just paste or type in the URL, title, author or other identifying information (e.g., ISBN) for the source you want to cite, and the citation generator formats it for you in your preferred style.
Digital citation tools come in mainly two forms: web-based tools or browser extensions. They come in a range of price points, from free bibliography sites that put all your citations on a clipboard to premium versions offering advanced features like plagiarism detection. The best citation generators offer support for APA, MLA, Chicago, and other common styles, while some offer support for thousands (yes, there are literally thousands!) other citation styles.
To help you with your search, we compiled this list of the 10 best citation generators in 2021:
Zotero’s free software for Windows, Mac, and Linux helps you collect, organize, cite and share research. Although Zotero requires a download, it’s technically an online bibliography tool because it automatically senses and cites research you find on the web. Let’s say you want to cite an article from JSTOR, a news story from an online newspaper, or a book from a digital library. Just click your Zotero browser extension to export the citation to your Zotero software. Best of all, Zotero can synchronize your data across devices–keeping your notes, files, and bibliographic records up to date.
ZoteroBib, a separate service belonging to Zotero, is the best web-based bibliography maker, mainly because of its simplicity. This web-based citation generator helps you build your bibliography instantly from a computer or device, without having to create an account or download software. Simply go to the ZoteroBib homepage, type or paste the book’s URL, title, or ID (ISBN, DOI, PMID, or arXiv ID) and the book will automatically be added to a clipboard on the page. Once you’re done, you can copy all the citations from the page, export them in a range of formats (RTF, HTML, RIS, BibTeX), or save them to the Zotero Connector (requires a download). It really couldn’t be simpler.
BibMe, part of ed-tech giant Chegg, is a freemium web-based citation generator. If all you need is to compile bibliographies, then the free version will serve you just fine. Like all good free bibliography sites, BibMe doesn’t require any registration or downloads. It’s not quite as user-friendly as ZoteroBib. However, the premium version does offer features not found in other citation websites, such as recommended improvements to writing style and sentence structure as well as checks for missing citations and unintentional plagiarism.
EasyBib is the second Chegg website to feature on our list. The free version is pretty much the same as BibMe, but the premium versions are different–hence the separate entry. EasyBib Plus ($9.95/month), gives you unlimited grammar checks, unlimited plagiarism detection, and expert help on up to 15 papers a per month. Easy Big Plus & Chegg Study Pack ($19.95/month) provides all the aforementioned features plus millions of textbook solutions, practice problems and video solutions, and Chegg’s instant math solver.
If you’re willing to go to the trouble of registering and learning how to use this web-based platform, then Opendemia is actually the best free bibliography maker. To use Opendemia, create a folder for the paper you need to write. When adding a source, pick the paper it is for and the type of citation or use the auto-generate feature. After adding a citation, you’ll have the ability to add notes to it or pull quotes from it to include in your paper. After using all the sources that you need, hit ‘Create works cited’, select the style (e.g., APA, MLA) and Opendemia will present you with a downloaded list of your citations. Opendemia really does go above and beyond other citation generators.
Paperpile is a digital citation tool that integrates seamlessly with Google Chrome and Google Apps. To use Paperpile, sign-in securely with Google and then collect your references with the Chrome extension. Once you have all your references, you can easily add them to documents in Google Docs. Anyone who uses Gmail, Google Docs, or Google Drive will instantly recognize Paperpile’s intuitive and user-friendly interface. Like Google Apps, Paperpile lets you organize your papers with folders, labels, and stars. It automatically fixes references with incomplete data and cleans up duplicates, keeping your library organized. In short, Paperpile is a great option for anyone who uses Google Docs for their papers.
MyBib is a free Chrome extension that automatically generates a citation from any page on the internet. To use it, just download the extension to your Chrome browser. Then, browse to any webpage (including PDFs) and click the MyBib extension button to generate an automatically formatted citation for that page using any of 9,000+ citation styles (including APA 6, APA 7, MLA, Harvard, AMA, and Chicago). Finally, copy your generated citations directly into your paper, save them to your bibliography or later, or export them into citation managers such as Zotero or Mendeley.
The Citefast website looks like it hasn’t had an update in 20 years, but it’s surprisingly simple and effective. The service is free to use and it doesn’t require any registration or downloads. Just go to the Citefast homepage, select the type of source you wish to cite (e.g., webpage, book, journal, social media post), enter the URL, title or other identifying information, and Citefast will save the citation to a clipboard in your preferred style. When you’re done, just copy and paste the citations into your paper.
OttoBib is another incredibly simple and effective works cited generator. It only offers five styles: MLA, APA, Chicago, BibTeX, and Wikipedia. However, it’s so fast and easy that we had to include it in our list of the best citation generators in 2021. The webpage consists of a single field where you can enter the ISBN of each book you want to cite. Next, select your preferred citation style and click ‘Get Citations’. It really is that simple. OttoBib also has a Google Chrome extension for even faster bibliography generation.
Cite This For Me is pretty similar to the previous two citation tools, in that it’s free, simple, and effective. We deducted points only because the website has so many ads on it that it’s hard to actually find the spot on the page where you get to create citations. Cite This For Me also has a useful Chrome extension that auto-generates citations from web pages.
Citations can be a real pain, but automating the entire process is surprisingly easy–and free. Citation websites and extensions take all the manual labor out of referencing, gathering information on your source and presenting it to you in the style you need. Thanks to citation generators, it’s now possible to create long, accurate lists of citations without ever having to break a sweat.