WEX Alert!


Formatting Issues Inflicted by Citation Managers

Citation managers can be useful tools for helping researchers keep track of citations for academic publications and grey literature in their field.  They are developed to help writers organize their research; however, writers should use them cautiously while writing longer manuscripts, such as, theses, dissertations, and manuscripts.  Citation managers, especially the free services, can cause multiple types of formatting mishaps on Microsoft Word documents that might result in hours of manual editing to rectify.


Here are a few examples of what WEX editors have found recently:

  • Most citation managers are not programmed to use the correct type of dash for page number ranges. (An en dash instead of a hyphen.)
  • Many citation managers also return inconsistent formatting for DOI numbers in bibliographies.
  • Several scientific citation styles, such as Con Bio, are especially problematic for citation managers, which will, for example, sometimes generate a bibliography that has each source author’s first initials on the wrong side of the surname. This then requires the writer to manually shift the initials of every single source author to the correct side of the surname.
  • Citation managers sometimes return incomplete bibliography entries for some sources and may fail to distinguish among specific editions of printed sources.
  • Online resources can be especially problematic—citation managers rely on metadata to collect information, and many non-standard sources do not have accurate or complete metadata. If you try to cite an online news article, for example, you may find the citation lacking most or all of the key information.


First, WEX encourages students to see citation managers as an organizing vehicle for keeping information about their research.  Citation managers “manage” information, and they can help writers/researchers organize their references and research.  They are not necessarily designed to obviate the writer’s responsibility to ensure that all documentation is done accordingly.   Citation managers create quick references lists, and many are just fine for the research involved in undergraduate work.

For theses and dissertations, however, relying on a citation manager might prove to be a faulty enterprise and it might become necessary to manually create in-text citations and a bibliography without the use of a citation manager, and writers can lose time while rectifying incorrectly formatted bibliographies.

The citation manager itself is a “means to the end” that provides a rough draft of a bibliography. Seeing the resulting bibliography as a draft can help writers realize that they still have the responsibility to review the manuscript’s citations and references. In fact, students should expect to double-check formatting of all citations and any bibliography generated by a citation manager.


We hope this helps!

You are always welcome to use WEX for support with the correct formatting of a finished bibliography.


Written by: Loretta Rafay, MS; John Dunham, MS; Anne Maxham, PhD;