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Sorry if this may sounds a bit silly, but I am tring to teach myself using biblatex and it is more complicated than I thought though when it comes to generating .bib file.

My main complaint is it seems that I have to write a .bib file myself, typing down all the names, year etc. information. Since there are a lot of citation in my article, this seems to be an incredibly cumbersome process.

I have downloaded jabref as recommended by someone, but I still haven't figured out how jabref is of any help over simply using vim to generate a .bib file directly.

I was hoping if there is a system or software that allows me to, for example, type the DOI, or a link or the name of the article and it automatically converts to the style required to run biblatex.

This seems to be something not complicated to do, we just need to simply extract relevant information from google scholar or some central database, so has it been done before?

Do people simply type all the reference into a .bib file themselves?

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  • it depends, you can write it yourself, or some fields have existing very extensive bib files covering the area and some publisher websites have bib entries for any paper available eg picking a recent article on arxiv arxiv.org/abs/2112.06932 the right sidebar has an "export bibtex citation" link Dec 15, 2021 at 12:17
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    Unfortunately, more often than not the .bib entries generated by automatic tools need manual intervention. See tex.stackexchange.com/q/386053/35864 for a long list of issues with .bib entries generated by those tools. (Also keep in mind that not all styles support the same set of fields and entry types, so for edge cases there may not always be one 'best answer'. [This is more relevant for BibTeX, where things are less homogeneous than in the biblatex world.])
    – moewe
    Dec 15, 2021 at 17:00
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    I would not suggest to create the file yourself, at least not initially. You can, of course, always make changes to it, but creating the file by hand, as it were, has no advantage over using tools for that purpose. There are many reference managers out there, my personal free favorite is Zotero, which is under active development and plays nicely with LaTeX (using a plugin or two).
    – Ingmar
    Dec 16, 2021 at 7:31
  • I would like to point out, as you mention BibLaTeX in your question, that the .bib files for BibTeX and BibLaTeX+biber are formatted differently, see for example tex.stackexchange.com/questions/25701 so make sure you know what you are using
    – Enzo
    Dec 16, 2021 at 17:07
  • I second Ingmar's preference for Zotero. If you provide it with a DOI, it can usually go to a website and infer the relevant data. And then you can export to .bib (in bibtex and biblatex formats), to .ris, or to many other format. I've been using zotero for several years, and have never had a problem with it. It was recommended by librarians and others who I respect greatly. It's open source, funded by academic societies, and available on many platforms.
    – dank
    Dec 21, 2021 at 18:22

6 Answers 6

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The 'classical' method is indeed to write this out yourself: people have very large databases constructed that way. However, there are various approaches to making it easier:

  • JabRef can search by DOI, along with a number of other sources (arXiv, ISBN, Library of Congress, etc.): this is offered in the 'New entry' dialog from the Library menu for example. This can also be done for existing entries if you add a DOI
  • JabRef can attempt to parse plain text citations pasted in (New entry from plain text)
  • Many publishers offer export as .bib entries, which can then be imported either by copy-pasting or using automated tools

Other GUIs, e.g. BibDesk, offer similar abilities.

As noted in a comment, the results of these automated processes can vary: publisher database entries are often not 100% accurate! Some manual editing is almost certainly needed. For example, I am a chemist and if I want titles to be correctly-formatted (formulas marked up, etc.), I have to correct them manually.

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While many reference managers and other tools can help with this (as mentioned in the existing answer), you can directly obtain BibTeX from a DOI, as you requested, via doi2bib.

If you need to then perform larger curation on your BibTeX database, BibTool is very useful.

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    You'll almost certainly have to curate them, doi2bib saves a lot of time but it's certainly not 100% accurate. Dec 16, 2021 at 3:57
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I use Google Scholar to generate the BibTex citations, one at a time, and then paste into Jabref.

Procedure

  1. Find the reference using Google Scholar, not vanilla Google.
  2. Click on the "Cite" button that appears.
  3. A list of citation formats should appear. If necessary, scroll down until the option "Bibtex" appears.
  4. Click on Bibtex.
  5. Copy the Bibtex citation to the clipboard.
  6. In JabRef, click the New Article icon (even if the Citation is for something other than an article).
  7. Click the "Latex Citations" tab, and past the clipboard text in.
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    Dec 16, 2021 at 4:10
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but I still haven't figured out how jabref is of any help over simply using vim

JabRef have many advantages over use a plain text editor, just take your time to discover it. Indeed one is download several references at once from some site like PubMed searching some words (e.g. Ivermectin 2021) or individual codes (e.g. a PMID or a DOI) with the Web Search form. Other, already answered, is the New BibTeX entry with a ID-based entry generator to import single references by DOI, ISBN,PMID, etc., or the more artistic New Entry from plain text, mostly for references without any available code, or copy-pasting bibtex code for webs that allow retrieve citation in this format, without the risk of accidental damage the code of another references (e.g., copy-pasting with vim in the wrong line).

But there are much more that just import facilities. Some that that I find very useful are the automatic bibkey generation with consistent patterns, management of duplicate references, sorting, mix local data with those obtained by DOI (e.g., a local reference with issue number without volume and pages, while the DOI retrieve volume and pages but not the issue number), sorting by author, date, key. etc., like in a spreadsheet, switch full and abbreviated journal names of knowed journals,select a bitex/biblatex database offer give according types of references and fields (e.g., date for biblatex but only year for bibtex), see a preview of the edited reference, check if any latex document is actually citing that reference

Others worth to mention could be set score and priority for each reference, groups, export to several formats, send cites to external programs (including vim), fields contextual menu to sanitize entries (normalize names, change case, convert between HTML, Unicode and LaTeX, protect terms), wtc.

But above all, specially for novices, Jabref prevent you from syntax mistakes. It is easy forget some brace or a comma between fields editing in plain text and this will by a pain to debug. Jabref not only write always correct code, but also well formatted (fields left aligned) so is more readable in a text editor and you also test the integrity of the file (Crtl-F8) to detect some problems could pass unnoticed editing in a text editor.

Said all that, the good news is that you can switch from JabRef to vim or any text editor and go back to JabreF without problems. I edit frequently the .bib files in as plain text in the editor text, simply because some tasks like search and replace in many references is more comfortable in the editor (less use of mouse, emerging windows, etc.) or just because the editor is already open and I do not like open one program more.

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  • "But above all, specially for novices, Jabref prevent ou from syntax mistakes." It also nags you gently about small mistakes, such as failing to put braces round capital letters in titles, authors, etc. I know that is minor, compared to protection against gross errors, but still nice to have. Dec 24, 2021 at 1:36
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There is a plain text to BibTeX converter on the net that converts textual citations back into BibTeX entries. It can be found at http://glottotopia.org/doc2tex/doc2bib

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As other answers and comments point out, the bibtex entries obtained with automatic tools must be sometimes (or frequently) edited, but I think that most of the time it is faster to edit them than to write them from scratch.

I'll add my two cents by pointing out a couple of tools I've used, since they are not mentioned in other answers.

  • As already mentioned in some comments, Zotero is a reference manager that can export to bibtex, among other formats. I believe that other reference managers offer this feature, but I've not used them.

  • The biblio.el package of the emacs editor. From its descrition, it "... makes it easy to browse and gather bibliographic references and publications from various sources, by keywords or by DOI. References are automatically fetched from well-curated sources, and formatted as BibTeX". Among others, it provides a command, doi-insert-bibtex that takes a DOI and fetches the corresponding bibtex entry. This package is one of the main building blocks of my current way of maintaining a bibliographic database: a text file in org format where I can mix notes about the papers, the bibliographic entries in bibtex source blocks and other features of org mode, all in a text file from which a bib database can be easily generated ("tangled" in org mode jargon).

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