How to use Reference Management Software to Create Bibliographies Automatically

Just pick a citation style and let your computer take care of the rest!

It’s 12 a.m. You’ve got a paper deadline, and, luckily, all you have to finish is the bibliography. You crack open your style guidelines and see the following:

Author last name, author first name, open parenthesis, year, closing parenthesis, colon, title in italics, comma, place of publication, colon, publisher, period.

Ugh. And that’s only for a book! For a journal article, it’s different still. And a contribution in an edited book has yet another format.

Suddenly, you realize you still have a lot to do.

It sometimes feels as if nearly every journal and publishing company has its own special formatting requirements for citations and bibliographies. 

In addition, many universities, departments, and individual professors have their own ideas about the “correct” formatting of footnotes, in-text citations, and bibliographies. Opinions can vary widely and change over time.

Ideally, a college or university will pick a widely used style for the entire campus community to use, such as APA or MLA. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. 

What does that mean for you? Well, you can either sit down with your guidelines and make changes manually until your eyes go blurry with all the punctuation marks. Or you can use a reference management program to insert your citations into your document as you write. The program will then take care of the formatting for you.

Citation Methods 

When you use reference management software, you just need to pick the type of citation style you need and then use the program to insert citations as you write. It's important to do this before you start writing, since you'll want to insert all of your citations with the reference management program.

Different academic departments have different citation methods, but there are two fundamental places citations primarily appear: either in the body of the text or in the footnotes:

In Citavi you can choose from nearly 9000 different citation styles. Other programs, such as EndNote or Zotero, also offer thousands of styles.

One major advantage is that if you decide to change your citation style mid-way through your paper, you can do so with just a click - potentially saving hours of work compared to making changes by hand.

But why are there so many citation styles anyway?

Citations and bibliographies help your readers locate the original sources used to support claims in your paper. They also ensure that ideas are properly attributed to their creators and that you don't take credit for someone else's findings.

Each academic discipline has different citation needs. Historians usually use footnote styles so that they can add additional notes to their source information. Such information is unnecessary in medical journals, where reference number styles tend to be used.

In addition, tradition plays an important role - if a discipline has tended to use one type of citation system for hundreds of years, these citation norms are not likely to change overnight. Using a system common to your discipline also ensures that your colleagues or professors will quickly be able to orient themselves and locate a source you cited if desired.

What if I need a style for a specific journal? 

In most reference management programs, you can search for the name of the citation style. Here's how this works in Citavi. 

Can't find your style?  You can request it from the Citavi team for free. You’ll make it easier for us to create the style by sending us your author guidelines and an example journal article.

What if I have specific requirements from my university or organization? 

Some universities offer a style file for download either in Citavi or on the library website. It's worth doing a search in Citavi first to see if it's there.

If you don't find it, use Citavi's citation style finder to search for a similar style. 

Most of the time, your professor won't care if the requirements don't match up to the letter. Usually he or she simply wants you to submit a paper with consistent formatting. Just make sure to get approval first. You can quickly generate a sample of your bibliography and show it to your professor.

If he or she agrees, just select the style in Citavi's Word Add-In.

If you've got a real stickler, you can make small changes to the style yourself. Most reference management tools will offer a way to do this. In Citavi, you don't have to know any complicated programming code to customize a style. Just take a look at these chapters in our manual before you start, and if you get stuck, contact our support team

Happy citing!

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Created by: Jana Votteler – Published on: 4/4/2018
Tags: Citation Beginning students


About Jana Votteler

Jana Behrendt, a librarian by training, is deeply interested in everything related to personal information management. However, she does not read as much as you would expect from a librarian. She loves hiking in the Swiss Alps – as long as she doesn’t have to look down.

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