How We Test Citation Generators

published November 23, 2023 - updated November 23, 2023

Academic writing has always been a hallmark of education, symbolizing a demanding yet highly valued task. In the past, the research process was a formidable challenge, often marred by stress and boredom. Hours were spent manually digging through library archives, painstakingly gathering information and references. However, the technological revolution has significantly changed many aspects of life, including education. Among the countless tools that have emerged to aid students, citation generators have become particularly noteworthy.

The purpose of these generators is to simplify the complex process of creating bibliographies and citing sources. They ensure accuracy and adherence to various formatting styles, such as APA, MLA, and Chicago, which is crucial in maintaining the integrity and quality of academic work. Yet, the advent of these tools has also introduced a new question: with so many options available, how does one choose the right citation generator?

Understanding this problem, AcademicHelp and its team of experts set out to simplify the lives of our readers. We have rigorously tested some of the most popular and frequently inquired-about citation generators. Our goal is to assist students in making quick, informed decisions about which tool best suits their needs. In this article, we outline our testing methodology and the criteria that matter to us during this experiment, ensuring our readers get a comprehensive understanding of each tool’s capabilities and limitations.

The A*Help Rating System

In searching for an ideal citation generator, it’s insufficient only to understand what the tool does. Those looking for such services, especially if they are paid, tend to dig deeper, seeking a full understanding of the product’s value. Recognizing this need, AcademicHelp adopts a holistic approach to evaluating citation generators, giving rise to the A*Help rating system.

A*Help Score for citation generators

The A*Help score for citation generators is specifically designed, consisting of three key components: value for money (25%), overall user experience (25%), and citation convenience (50%). This balanced scoring system ensures a thorough assessment, addressing the broad nature of citation generators.

Our testing scenario was designed to evaluate these aspects rigorously. We selected four different sources and tasked each citation generator with creating four citations in popular formats: MLA, APA, Chicago, and Harvard. This approach allowed us to compare each tool’s performance under identical conditions directly.

📚Book: “Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition” by Stephen D. KrashenAPA 7th editionKrashen, S. (1999). Principles and practice in Second language acquisition. Phoenix ELT.
📑 Article: “The Louisiana Purchase and South Carolina’s Reopening of the Slave Trade in 1803” by Jed Handelsman ShugermanChicagoShugerman, Jed Handelsman. “The Louisiana Purchase and South Carolina’s Reopening of the Slave Trade in 1803.” Journal of the Early Republic 22, no. 2 (2002): 263.
📽️ Video: 9th editionATAR Notes HSC. “HSC Business Studies | Operations.” YouTube, 12 June 2018,
🌐 Webpage:, Y., 2018. What is psychology and what does it involve? [WWW Document]. URL

Let’s break down the A*Help score to understand what makes a citation generator functional and useful in its utility and user experience.

Value for money – 25% of the A*Help score

Value for money criteria for citation generators

At first look, it may appear that expecting something unique from tools like quote generators is difficult, given that the outcome should be the same for everyone. In part, this is correct, and the user understands what they should expect when he begins working with the service. However, the strategies, procedures, and resources used to achieve this goal vary.

  • Range of styles   – 5
  • Citation sources – 7
  • Additional tools – 10
  • Pricing – 3

Range of Styles

A fundamental aspect of a citation generator’s value is its range of citation styles. Academic writing contains a variety of styles, including the most used, APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard, and many others. While most online tools adequately support these common formats, the real measure of excellence lies in the breadth of styles available. A superior citation generator differentiates itself by accommodating a wider array of styles, catering to the diverse needs of users across different academic disciplines. This versatility in style coverage is a crucial factor in determining the overall value for money.

Citation Sources

The diversity of citation sources a generator can handle is just as important, if not more so, than the range of styles. The current academic world has changed, and students’ interests extend beyond traditional books and periodicals. Students and researchers now extract information from numerous sources, including websites, videos, podcasts, and even images. A citation generator that adeptly handles these varied sources showcases its adaptability and relevance in the current information age, marking it as a valuable tool for contemporary scholars.

Additional Tools

Including additional tools like plagiarism checkers, grammar checkers, text summarizers, AI content detection, and proofreading services significantly enhances the functionality of a citation generator. In the dynamic process of academic writing, needs can extend beyond citation generation. These extra tools within the same platform offer convenience and efficiency, saving time and ensuring the quality of the final document. This integration of multiple functionalities within a single platform greatly contributes to the tool’s value for money.


Finally, pricing has never been a secondary consideration when choosing anything so we couldn’t ignore this factor in our assessment. While many services offer free basic functionalities, the extent and limitations of these free versions vary. Some platforms are entirely free, while others offer more advanced features at a cost. The true worth emerges when considering the balance between its offerings and the cost, especially for users who require regular access to advanced features or need to preserve their work over time. A pricing model that aligns well with the service’s capabilities and user needs is essential for a citation generator to be considered a good choice.

Overall Experience – 25% of the A*Help score

Overall experience criteria for citation generators

The overall user experience with a citation generator often becomes the deciding factor in favoring one tool over another. For many users, the appeal lies in finding a solution that is more attractive, convenient, faster, or functional. When all other features are comparable, a tool that delivers a superior level of customer satisfaction gains a clear advantage. Let’s explore the elements that contribute to such a satisfying user experience.

  • Registration – 10
  • Website experience – 10
  • Support – 5


The frequency of generating citations varies among users; some require it only occasionally, while others need it regularly. Registering with a citation generator unlocks enhanced features for frequent use. It enables users to save their previously created citations, compile separate bibliographies, and manage or download them from their personal accounts. While most automatic citation services offer functionality without mandatory registration, sometimes with certain limitations, the option to register is always available, catering to those who seek a more personalized and sustained usage experience.

When evaluating a tool that operates on a paid model, we regard the availability of a free trial period as essential for creating a positive impression. This trial period enables users to thoroughly test the tool’s capabilities, aligning them with their expectations and needs. It allows assessing the tool’s value and determine whether it is worth subscribing to its services. Offering a free trial period is a significant factor in facilitating an informed decision-making process for potential customers.

Website experience

User experience extends beyond the essential function of creating individual citations from specific sources. A tool that enhances customer satisfaction broadens the range of possibilities for working with prepared quotations. This includes, for instance, the capability to integrate single citations or complete bibliographies into text editors like Google Docs or MS Word. Collaborative features are also highly valued; tools that enable the sharing of created citations are particularly appreciated by those working on group projects.

Ease of access and streamlined workflows are key factors in user preference. Services that offer browser extensions or mobile versions of their tools cater to this need by simplifying access and enhancing usability on various devices. Therefore, in our evaluation, the availability of mobile apps and browser plugins stand as important criteria, reflecting our commitment to assessing the full spectrum of user experience.

Since many citation generators are free, advertising is often the primary source of revenue for such companies. However, the extent and intrusiveness of these ads can vary significantly across different platforms. In some cases, the sheer volume of advertisements can impede direct interaction with the service, distracting from the user experience. On the other hand, there are websites where the quantity and placement of ads on the screen are less intrusive, not significantly disrupting the user’s workflow. Furthermore, some providers manage to maintain an ad-free environment, ensuring that users are not distracted by extraneous commercial content. This range in advertising presence and its impact on usability is noteworthy when considering the overall user experience with citation generators.


Even when the operation of a citation generator is clear and intuitive, a high-quality provider ensures the availability of supportive materials and resources for their users’ convenience. It can take various forms, such as a live chat with customer support specialists or a dedicated section on the website for guides and frequently asked questions. The key is to provide multiple avenues for assistance, ensuring that when users encounter questions or challenges, they have several options for finding solutions. Thus, the availability and effectiveness of support mechanisms are critical components in our evaluation criteria, reflecting the commitment of the service provider to user assistance and overall satisfaction.

Citation Convenience – 50% of the A*Help score

Citation convenience criteria for citation generators

Allocating half of the A*Help score to the quality, functionality, and convenience of the actual citation process reflects our emphasis on the technical proficiency of the tool. This aspect is essential as it directly impacts the user’s core experience with the service. In evaluating this, we examine various aspects of the citation process, analyzing how effectively and efficiently the tool performs its primary function. This includes assessing the accuracy of citations, the ease of inputting and formatting information, and the tool’s ability to handle a wide range of source types. These technical elements are pivotal in determining the overall effectiveness and user-friendliness of the citation generator and thus form a significant part of our comprehensive evaluation.

  • Data retrieving – 5 
  • Search options – 15 
  • Cite’s editing options – 20 
  • Citing scale – 10

A top-tier citation generator distinguishes itself by offering users a diverse range of options at every step of the citation process, ensuring flexibility and adaptability. This principle of variety applies to crucial aspects like inputting required information and sourcing the necessary literature.

A robust generator should be capable of searching across a multitude of source types, utilizing relevant attributes for precise retrieval. For books, this means the ability to search by ISBN, and for journal publications, using the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) is essential. Additionally, the tool should facilitate searches by author names or book titles. Such versatility not only enhances the user experience but also demonstrates the tool’s comprehensiveness in accommodating various research needs. This capability to efficiently navigate and extract information from a wide range of sources is a vital characteristic of a high-quality citation generator.

The functionality for manipulating and managing ready-made citations is critical to a citation generator’s performance. This includes features such as swiftly switching styles, creating in-text citations, or generating separate bibliography entries.

A particularly valuable attribute of a citation website is its ability to alert users when specific information about a source cannot be automatically retrieved. In such instances, the tool should allow users to input the missing data into the required fields manually. This functionality is crucial for maintaining accuracy and preventing errors that could arise from oversight.

Furthermore, the scope of material that can be cited is also a significant consideration. Users often value the flexibility to cite not just entire works but specific sections, such as an introduction or a particular segment relevant to their research needs. This level of granularity in citation capabilities caters to a more personalized and precise referencing process, thereby enhancing the overall utility and effectiveness of the citation generator.


From the initial conception of this project, our objective was clear: to provide our readers with a comprehensive understanding of the various citation generators available, helping them make informed decisions that best suit their academic needs.

Through our rating system, known as the A*Help score we dissected the layers of functionality, user experience, and convenience that form the backbone of a competent citation generator. We understood that while the end goal of all citation generators is uniformity in the final citation, the journey to this end product is marked by diversity in approach and execution.

In our testing, we discovered that the value for money isn’t just about pricing. It’s also about the range of styles, the diversity of sources it can cite, the additional tools offered, and how these elements come together to form a tool that’s both comprehensive and efficient. The overall user experience extended beyond mere functionality. Most importantly, we allocated a significant portion of our evaluation to citation convenience, recognizing that the core function of these tools needs to be executed with precision and ease. We studied the depth of sources the generators could handle, the flexibility in citation styles, and the ability to adapt citations to various research needs. As the learning environment continues to change, so will the tools we use, and we at AcademicHelp are committed to keeping our readers informed and ahead in this ever-changing world.

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