I am trying to help my friend convert their thesis from Word to Latex.

They have all their references in the reference management software Papers, which I haven't used before.

I normally create my own .bib file manually, but I assumed it would be simple to get such a reference management software to automatically create a .bib file?

I have googled this, but don't see any obvious answers so perhaps I am thinking about this the wrong way.

Will she just have to create a .bib file manually?

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    I am 100% ignorant about Papers, but JabRef can import references from several formats and save the database as .bib file and maybe Papers can export to .bib or another format that JabRef can understand. Maybe also Zotero or Mendeley can import some otf the Papers formats. – Fran Jul 19 '18 at 12:35

Export the references from Papers as a BibTeX file. Use a BibTeX GUI app to confirm the integrity of the file and set/adjust/validate the citation keys (Papers keys have a random letter sequence after the main key). The rest of the processing is the standard approach when compiling with a LaTeX document + bibliography.

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