Creating a BibTeX bibliography file

A BibTeX bibliography file may reasonably be compared to a small database, the entries in which are references to literature that may be called up by citations in a document.

Each entry in the bibliography has a type and a unique key. The bibliography is read, by BibTeX, using the details specified in a bibliography style. From the style, BibTeX finds what entry types are permissible, what fields each entry type has, and how to format the whole entry.

The type specifies the type of document you're making reference to; it may run all the way from things like Book and Proceedings (which may even contain other citations of type InBook or InProceedings) through dissertation styles like PhdThesis to otherwise-uncategorisable things such as Misc. The unique key is something you choose yourself: it's what you use when you want to cite an entry in the file. People commonly create a key that combines the (primary) author's name and the year of publication, possibly with a marker to distinguish publications in the same year. So, for example, the Dyson, Eddington, Davidson paper about deflection of starlight appears in my experimental bib file as Dyson20.1.

So, noting the rules of the style, you have “simply” to write a bibliography database. Fortunately, there are several tools to help in this endeavour:

  • Most of the better (La)TeX-oriented editors have “BibTeX modes”.
  • If you have an existing thebibliography environment, the Perl script tex2bib will probably help.
  • There are a number of BibTeX bibliography management systems available, some of which permit a graphical user interface to the task. Sadly, none seems to be available with the ordinary TeX distributions.

Tools such as Xbibfile (a graphical user interface), ebib (a database application written to run “inside” Emacs) and btOOL (a set of perl tools for building BibTeX database handlers) are available from CTAN.

Other systems, such as RefDB, BibORB, BibDesk, pybliographer and the Java-based Bibkeeper and JabRef (which claims to supersede Bibkeeper) are only available from their development sites. - Some commercial citation-management systems will export in BibTeX format; an example is EndNote. - Data from on-line citation databases may often be translated to BibTeX format by utilities to be found on CTAN. For example, the Perl script isi2bibtex will translate citations from ISI “Web of knowledge” (a subscription service, available to UK academics via BIDS). UK academics may translate BIDS downloads using - Google Scholar provides an “Import into BibTeX” tab for each reference it finds for you: that tab gives you a page containing a BibTeX entry for the reference.

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