How can I identify the citation/reference style used when I have the citation/reference itself?

Is there a tool that can help with identifying/matching the style to my plain-text input?

For example, which style is used for the following?

JAMES, I. F., CHAVKIN, C. & GOLDSTEIN, A. 1982. Preparation of brain membranes containing a single type of opioid receptor highly selective for dynorphin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 79, 7570-4.

1 Answer 1


This citation looks like the NLM (National Library of Medicine). It could be a variation of Vancouver or maybe Chicago Author-Date format. They are all pretty similar. But I don't think this matches any exactly. That wouldn't be unusual though, depending on where you got the citation from.

I think this begs the question - why do you need to know this? If you downloaded the reference in a common format (like RIS, NBIB, CSV, etc.) you can output it from a reference manager in whatever format you'd like. Good tools for that would be Endnote (paid) or Mendeley (free). If you are stuck with a plain text citation, enter the info manually into one of those citation managers and play around with the output style till you get something that looks similar - that (or some variation) will be the style.

Alternatively, you could start by looking at where you got the citation. Usually (in addition to the downloadable raw data) many databases will give you a choice of preformatted text citations - just pick the one that matches.

If you got the citation off of a publisher website, you can check their preferred format. This will be in the author instructions. I would bet they are outputting the text citation in whatever format they require for authors (or, again, they give you format choices).

If all else fails, you could search for examples of common styles and manually compare. That would be tiresome but might be the best if you don't have any other info.

Depending on what you are trying to do and how much information you have, any of these options would work. Just know that many journals and databases use variations of the common formats, so your citation might not match anything exactly (unless you can find out where it came from). Usually reference managers will come loaded with most common styles and have the option to download variations used by journals, so you can a general template for pretty much any style once you identify it.

  • Thanks for your detailed response. I have no other information other than that the person who gave it to me said that it is "Harvard" style. Upon manual inspection, I thought that it is similar to Elsevier-Harvard, but without the comma after the period of the last first-name initial. The reason why I ask is because I want to be able to confirm is a given reference conforms to a requested style or if I have to re-export through the reference manager. You mentioned Mendeley. What do you think about Zotero? Jul 10, 2023 at 14:29
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    I would send everything through a reference manager. Why take the chance that one or two references out of the bunch are mis-formated? Enter the info, or better yet download the citation data, and just choose your style. Zotero is a good choice too! Any reference manager will do.
    – sErISaNo
    Jul 10, 2023 at 15:15
  • Just for future reference, it seems like Zotero can't accept plain-text inputs (correct me if I am wrong). anystyle.io seems to be a good parser. Jul 10, 2023 at 17:30
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    As far as I know, neither EndNote nor Mendeley will parse plain text citations either. I was suggesting manually adding the info. That tool is interesting although I can't say I've ever felt the need to parse a large number of citations.
    – sErISaNo
    Jul 10, 2023 at 18:12
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    Journals or organizations often use variations of the standard style. So if you were to compare the journal specific version with the "standard" there might be subtle changes.
    – sErISaNo
    Jul 11, 2023 at 0:39

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