I have the following list of publications in a text plain file:

[1] Heikki Ailisto, Petteri Alahuhta, Ville Haataja, Vesa Kyllönen, and Mikko Lindholm. Structuring context aware applications: Five-layer model and example case. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Concepts and Models for Ubiquitous Computing, pages 1–5, Goteborg, Sweden, 2002.

[2] Chris Allan, Pavel Avgustinov, Aske Simon Christensen, Laurie Hendren, Sascha Kuzins, Ondrej Lhoták, Oege de Moor, Damien Sereni, Ganesh Sittampalam, and Julian Tibble. Adding trace matching with free variables to AspectJ. In Proceedings of the 20th ACM SIGPLAN Conference on Object-Oriented Programming Systems, Languages and Applications (OOPSLA 2005), pages 345–364, San Diego, California, USA, October 2005. ACM Press. ACM SIGPLAN Notices, 40(11).

[3] Malte Appeltauer, Robert Hirschfeld, Michael Haupt, and Hidehiko Masuhara. ContextJ: Context-oriented programming with Java. Information and Media Technologies, 6(2):399–419, 2011.

and I need to generate a bib file (or any other kind of reference database). To sum up, I need to generate a reference database from a text plain file. Is it possible?


  • 6
    A good first pass can be done using text2bib. It will need some hand editing, but it does a passable job.
    – Alan Munn
    Mar 16, 2015 at 16:16

4 Answers 4


The only tool that I am aware of is the text2bib web based converter hosted at the University of Toronto.

It will do a good first pass although the file will need some hand editing after conversion.

  • 1
    U of T is the best! Aug 7, 2019 at 13:36
  • 1
    @JinhuaWang That's because you didn't go to McGill. :) jk
    – Alan Munn
    Aug 7, 2019 at 13:40

JabRef has the functionaly New entry from plain text:

Using FreeCite


O. Kopp, A. Armbruster, und O. Zimmermann, "Markdown Architectural Decision Records: Format and Tool Support", in 10th ZEUS Workshop, 2018.
  1. Click BibTeX and select "New entry from plain text..." Alternatively, you can press Ctrl+Shift+N.

  2. Select an entry type. Select "InProceedings", this works in the most cases

  3. The "Plain text import" window opens

  4. Paste the entry using the middle button "paste"

  5. Click on "Parse with FreeCite"

  6. The entry editor opens with the parsed result:

    Do your corrections there.

Manual way

After step 4 from above, you can manually assign the types to each text.

  • Select the text
  • Double click on the type at the right side at "Available BibTeX fields"

After you finished, you can press "Accept".


Other alternatives are anystyle.io and ParsCit (see https://github.com/JabRef/jabref/issues/561).


I've been using Chat-GPT for this now. It works quite well with the following prompt:

Convert the following to bibtex format:

And then paste your plain text citations.

  • I have 800 references to process, ChatGPT can only do 18 at a time…
    – yannis
    Dec 26, 2023 at 17:59

Here is an alternative means if plain text files are not a must and if the reference list comes from another publication.

You can do a scopus search (https://www.scopus.com) for the paper with the needed references. From the page with the paper's information, scroll to the reference section and select those you need. Finally export in the desired format.

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