I like to use bibliographic software (e.g., Endnote, BibTex, etc.) to manage my references. However, sometimes I am working on an existing article that has been written with APA citations and references written manually. For example, I might be working with a collaborator who has written the first draft or I'm adapting a student thesis for journal publication. As a result, citations get added and deleted, and there are reference errors: (1) citations present with no reference; reference needs to be added (2) references present with not citation; reference needs to be deleted.

So, a common task when such documents are being finalised is to go through the document and pull out all the citations and check them against the reference list and fix any errors. This is generally a frustrating task, because (1) unless you are careful errors can be made, and (2) if the document is edited further, the document may need to be rechecked.


  • What is an efficient strategy for identifying citations without references and references without citations in a document with author (year) style citations (e.g., APA, Harvard)?
  • Are there any automated tools that perform this checking?
  • I would rewrite the document in LaTeX, using BiBTeX and apacite.
    – JRN
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 10:02

3 Answers 3


In the "old days" this was what had to be done manually. I simply printed the reference list (one-sided print) and went through the text and checked the references I passed in the text and checked the corresponding one in the reference list. This would take maybe 20-30 minutes(?). It is clear that this is easier to do on paper than on screen but it is a very safe way to do the checking. In the end you will (hopefully not) end up with references missing ticks in either the text or the list.

So considering, the time it takes, doing the manual check on paper copies, is perhaps boring but not a terrible loss. Sometimes you pick up on other errors as well. Although one should not rely on external help to solve ones own problems, many journals use copy-editors that check for inconsistencies so there may be a back-up for the stray miss.

As for software, I cannot point at one directly. It would have to be able to match first author name and the year between text and the reference list. I does not sound like an impossible task but I would probably just do the job the manual way in the few cases where this is necessary. You can also ask your collaborator to do a separate initial check (as "punishment" for not using bibliographic software). In addition, if you author in LaTeX then writing the bibliography directly with \bibitem and using \cite (or natbib cite commands) commands will at least do half the job.


Take a look at


KeyPreps contains tools for matching citation to references and vice versa for any Word doument. It gives you a report such "The citation Smith 2009 has no corresponding entry in the refernence list" "The reference Bloggs and Layabout (2009) is not cited" etc

30 day free trial available of the complete KeyPreps package


The following online solution is (currently) free: https://reciteworks.com/check

From the website:

Recite checks that your in text citations match the reference list at the end of your work. Recite is optimised for those who use APA or Harvard referencing styles. Recite may be of most use to those who don't use reference management software like Endnote or RefWorks.

  • Whilst this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference. Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 17:01

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