Citation tools for LaTeX users

Sometimes Word or Libre Office just won’t do. Economists (and others) at the Graduate Institute need a tool such as LaTeX to insert mathematical expressions in their thesis. How can they cite their sources? Our citation managers specialist Catherine Brendow has some clues.

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a markup-based tool to create documents. The main difference between LaTeX and a text-processing program like Word, LibreOffice or Pages, is that the LaTeX users enter plain text, without formatting, and the formatting is done by a LaTeX compiler. It separates the document from the style, so it is easier to change the appearance of the document. LaTeX files are .tex files, and include commands.

LaTeX is particularly convenient for mathematical expressions. This is why researchers using maths (mathematicians, economists, physicists and more) usually adopt it. You can learn more here.

Referencing without pain

Several additional tools have been created to make the use of LaTeX (slightly) easier. One of them, called BibTeX, was built to help users to cite their sources.

The references are put in a separate file with a .bib extension, which will be included in the same folder as the main .tex file. References will then be called in the .tex file, using a citation key which identifies them.

A BibTeX bibliographic entry can look like this:
    title = {The {Oligopoly} of {Academic} {Publishers} in the {Digital} {Era}},
    volume = {10},
    doi = {10.1371/journal.pone.0127502},
    language = {en},
    number = {6},
    journal = {PLOS ONE},
    author = {Larivière, Vincent and Haustein, Stefanie and Mongeon, Philippe},
    month = jun,
    year = {2015},
    pages = {e0127502},
The citation key is lariviere_oligopoly_2015.

For obvious reasons, most users prefer to avoid entering the metadata manually. They can either export the references directly in a BibTeX format from many databases (including Google Scholar, NBER, or the Graduate Institute Repository), and paste them in their .bib file. They can alternatively use a citation manager such as Zotero, JabRef or BibDesk. All three are open source and can create BibTeX files.

JabRef and BibDesk are using BibTeX as their native formats, which makes them of course particularly interesting for LaTeX users. BibDesk works only on Mac, while JabRef works on MacOS, Windows and Linux.

But even if Zotero uses another format, it can easily export files in a BibTeX format. An extension called Better BibTeX for Zotero makes it even more compatible with BibTeX, by automatically creating citation keys for the documents, or synchronizing the BibTeX files with the Zotero library.

Choose your style!

Of course, there are many different bibliographic styles available, for various fields, journals or languages: numeric styles (with just a number inside square brackets in the text, and a list of references at the end of the document or chapter) generally used in STEM fields, or author-date styles, more commonly used in economics or the social sciences. Classic Anglo-Saxon styles, such as the Chicago or the Harvard styles, are also available.

The Zotero and LaTeX page of our Zotero web guide summarises the main things to know to use Zotero with LaTeX. Let us know what you think!

Illustration (cropped) : LaTeX bibliography plain.svg, CC By-SA 3.0 Dirk Hünniger.

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