I have a ~5 page references section with citations added by various authors in varying formats. What's the easiest way to get them all into the same format?

The two options I see are to do it manually or use citation management software like Zotero. Doing it manually is feasible but tedious, prone to mistakes and will probably take an hour or more. I'm not sure if it's possible to import these varying format citations into Zotero and export it in a common format, but that's what I'm about to try.

I wanted to check with experts here first. If I find Zotero works or not I'll add that info to this Q&A.

  • 3
    If they are all just pasted in word processor style, you should expect that no matter what you do it will be a chore and it'll take a few hours of tweaking to get it into acceptable shape - with or without a tool to help. Even with a reference manager, you'll need to double-check each entry to ensure it pulled in the right data for each and every publication, as sometimes they get scrambled. And with 5 pages of references there are almost certainly some weird obscure references that you'll have to enter into a reference manager manually, slowing things down more.
    – BrianH
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 0:43

3 Answers 3


Doing this in a reference management software (I use Zotero, which you mention, but there are others) is absolutely the way to go. Of course, setting up the reference database for one paper may take the same amount of time as manually reformatting, and learning how to use it in the process may take longer. The advantage is in reusability. For any single paper the up front cost may not be worth it, but the time savings on paper number 2 and beyond is incredible.

Unfortunately you won't just be able to paste in the formatted citations and have Zotero recognize them (so far as I know). Zotero does have a way to add items by an identifier, so if your coauthors included DOIs, adding the references should move quickly. Additionally, if your coauthors used any reference management software themselves, you can ask them to export it to a common format (BibTeX is pretty commonly supported) and import those files.

If worse comes to worse, searching for each reference title in Google Scholar and using Zotero's automatic ingestion should also be pretty quick.

Zotero's documentation on these various ways to create items:



What I do is I search the source on google scholar and copy the bibtex from there for citation (watch out that you get the published one, google scholar also lists arxiv papers). Unfortunately you need to use a VPN service, as the page kicks you out after around 10 sources, but apart from that it helped me quite a bit to get everything in the same form.


There is an amazing tool developed by CrossRef -- Simple Text Query. So you paste a list of references, the format doesn't matter, one per line. The service tries hard to match you input to a paper listed in CrossRef DOI database. Then it's easy to feed the DOIs to Zotero.

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