Citation Generation Aids

You can find multiple guides on the Web, and all will make your life easier

Whether you are engaged in writing documentation, writing scientific papers, or simply have a son or daughter in high school, the question will eventually come up as to how to write a citation. Unfortunately, this is one of those questions that sounds simple, but quickly becomes very complex. In part, this is due to multiple standards as to how citations should appear; standards that frequently are not in agreement.

This isn't a new problem. You will encounter its cousin whenever you sit down to write just a few sentences. After all, should it be 'Jim, Fred, and Alice' or 'Jim, Fred and Alice'? Think about it. Are you talking about three individual people or two people and a group? Depending on which reference book you consult, you are likely to get very different answers. Of course, when I'm writing, I try to apply logic which, thanks to all of the twists in English, usually means I get in trouble with everyone! At least with citations you have an out. In most cases, for professional and educational writing, you are told which citation guide you should follow. Admittedly, most of us don't have a copy of these documents on our desks. But, thanks to the Internet, we don't have to! These days, you can find multiple citation guides available on the Web, some are subscription services and some are free. Check out the Comparison of Reference Management Software on Wikipedia to get an idea of the diversity available. All of them will make your life easier, particularly when you have to include that odd-ball citation that may not even have existed a few years ago.

Commercial packages
Two of the more prominent commercial packages are Reference Manager and EndNote X2, both from Thomson Reuters. Reference Manager is a multifunction product that operates as an online reference searcher, reference database manager, reference Web publisher and bibliography builder. Its included Cite While You Write product builds bibliographies in MS Word documents by selecting items from your reference database. It directly supports over 1,000 journal reference styles. Single user licenses range from $115.95 to $299.95, and it runs under Windows XP and Vista EndNote X2 allows you to search Internet bibliographic databases, including the Web of Science, Ovid and OCLC. It will even locate and download the full text of a referenced article for you. EndNote’s preview pane allows you to preview a reference in over 2,800 bibliographic styles. Single user licenses are priced from $249.95 to $299.95 and are available for Microsoft Windows XP and Vista, as well as Mac OS X. A free trial version also is available.

RefWorks is an online tool for managing research, writing and collaboration. It aids in organizing your research and allows you to create bibliographies in a variety of different formats, including MS Word, RTF and HTML. RefWorks supports over 1,400 bibliographic styles. An annual license runs $100.

BibDesk is an Open Source bibliographic manager designed to run under Mac OS X. It uses the BibTeX bibliography format and is designed for easy integration with TeX. Features include a citation search completion service and the ability to add citations to TeX files by dragging and dropping. The current version requires Tiger (v.10.4.x).

JabRef Reference Manager is an Open Source bibliographic reference manager that runs under Linux, Mac OS X and MS Windows. It uses the LaTeX bibliographic file format, BibTeX for its native file format. Any bibliographic style is supported via the use of appropriate BibTeX style files. Over 2,200 of these style sheets are currently available in the LaTeX Bibliography Style Database. You must have Java 1.5 or later installed for this application to successfully run. Help files are available in English, French and German.

SIXPACK Bibliography and Reference Manager is another Open Source bibliographic and electronic article database manager. It is written in Perl and runs under all 32-bit versions of MS Windows, POSIX and Linux. It is currently only available with an English interface. It can be used as a front-end for working with BibTeX databases and is designed to allow easy importing of EndNote bibliography files. SIXPACK supports both a command line and GUI interface.

Son of Citation Machine is a product of The Landmark Project, part of the Landmarks for Schools As stated on their Web site, “Citation Machine is an interactive Web tool designed to assist high school, college and university students, their teachers, and independent researchers in their effort to respect other people's intellectual properties.” As such, its list of features is not as extensive as many of the other packages out there. On the other hand, it’s hard to beat its simplicity of use. Instead of attempting to cover thousands of different reference formats, it only covers the standard few typically used by schools: MLA, APA, Turabian and Chicago.

EasyBib is another online service targeting students and teachers. Unlike Son of Citation Machine, the free version is limited to the MLA format. If you need to use the APA format, you’ll need to sign up for MyBib Pro (for the outlandish price of $7.99/year!). Of interest is their new minibib widget, allowing people to generate citations directly from your Web site.

For those without an immediate need, The OpenOffice Bibliographic Project (OOoBib) is working on developing a native bibliographic reference manager for Open Office. Current schedules call for it to be released somewhere in late 2008 to mid-2009. If you are an interested developer, I understand they are still looking for additional team members.

Finally, the reference currently of most interest to me is Zotero, which is actually a free extension to Firefox 2 and 3 from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. Its user interface is currently available in 35 languages, with at least six more under development. These range from English to Galician, Russian and Thai, to name only a few. If your browser is already configured for a particular language, this extension automatically detects it and, if available, uses it. Otherwise, the language defaults to English. While Zotero runs directly from your Web browser, you do not have to be online to use it.

Like the best of the other tools, Zotero allows you to perform both simple and complex searches on your collected citations. You can even save your searches for future reference. In addition to allowing you to manage bibliographic information, Zotero also allows you to archive Web pages, along with annotations and sticky notes. It also supports the capability of creating stand-alone notes, for the tangential ideas that might be generated when reviewing a source. You also can assign tags to your collection entries to help categorize them for review. Unlike most systems, it supports the creation of timelines to aid in visualizing and understanding your captured references. While it can export created references to the clipboard for transfer into another application, plug-ins are available for direct export to both MS Word and OpenOffice/NeoOffice.

Zotero is fully supported by the PortableApps version of Firefox, so you can readily take your citations anywhere you go. Just remember to set the location of your citation library to your portable drive from within Zotero. If you like to get your hands under the hood, there is an extensive developer section on the Zotero site. This includes guidance on creating translator sites, citation styles, localization and custom plug-ins.

If these tools don’t fit your needs, then just run a quick search on the Web, as there are plenty of others. However, it is advantageous to try a few, to see which one works best for you, and then keep it on hand. Having a good citation tool can remove a lot of the stress from preparing a technical document or a class report. I suggest you make the time to do it now, so you are prepared when the need arises.

John Joyce is the LIMS manager for Virginia's State Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services. He may be contacted at

AMA — American Medical Association Manual of Style
APA — Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
Chicago — The Chicago Manual of Style

MLA — Modern Language Association Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
Turabian — A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian

Style Guides

Related Resources
Center for History and New Media
CG Information (BiblioExpress) 
JabRef Reference Manager
Landmarks for Schools
LATEX Bibliography Style Database
SIXPACK Bibliography and Reference Manager
Son of Citation Machine 
The OpenOffice Bibliographic project (OOoBib)
Thomson Reuters (Reference Manager/EndNote) 
Thomson Reuters Sues Over Open-Source Endnote-Alike Zotero 
Wikipedia – Comparison of Reference Management Software