Integrate reference / citation manager

There’s been a past request for reference managers (referencing Mendeley or Zotero) but I wanted to tag a potentially easier one - JabRef is a free, FOSS reference manager that uses a standard BibTex database.

People who really love Endnote/Mendeley/Zotero for their other features can easily export to BibTex for interoperability (JabRef plays nice when others edit its database so they can coexist) and it might be more accessible for building in support to Scrivener. Lack of citation management is basically the only thing keeping me from switching over for my writing, so this would be a big win! (for me anyway :slight_smile:

You will likely see many of the bib managers you listed and more in those older discussions. As was told to me and others, the bib manager can be chosen here: (Windows) the Mac is located in a similar preferences file.

Picking your bib manager is like picking which cat or dog or… You want as a pet. They all have benefits and do things pretty much the same - choose one. Learn it and make it work with Scrivener. That is the best integration you are going to get.

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I also think JabRef is the “best” free reference manager.

JabRef however already works well with Scrivener; indeed all citation managers that support temporary in-text citations work well with Scrivener. The developers have asked many time what exactly “better” integration would entail, and why existing tools are not sufficient. The main points are:

  • While writing you need to insert a reference. At present you press ⌘Y to switch to your manager and then copy it back. For tools like Bookends, we have additional interfaces like floating citations or my bookends tools. For a BibTeX tool like JabRef, citation picker allows you to search and insert citations from a BibTeX file into any app. This is a really nice workflow already!
  • At compilation, citations must be converted into a formatted bibliography. In Scrivener this requires either output to RTF/ODT and a manual scan+convert, or use of Pandoc and/or a LaTeX engine to automate this. Pandoc allows this automation for any output.

One thing I think would really benefit Scrivener would be integration of a citeproc processor during compilation. This would allow Scrivener to do step 2 natively, to convert the temporary citations to a fully formatted bibliography, supporting thousands of CSL styles. It would allow Scrivener to output bibliographies into any of its built-in compiler outputs, utilising existing tools…

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Thanks to both commenters - I did try searching for how to integrate a citation manager and the closest I found was a multistep guide for Zotero that involved installing a couple support apps and editing config files that was just too much to really call “supported”. (Really, I don’t care what software it is, I just hadn’t seen any suggestions for JabRef, it works well and is more accessible code-wise)

I think nontroppo expressed what I was thinking of better though - not just a workflow to get the tags in, but actually scanning and building the bibliography natively during compile.

“In app” functions for adding the placeholders are nice, but essential would be using them in the compile. If I have to export to another program to generate the bibliography (and re-save, maybe re-format) anyway, for many situations its just not worth switching back and forth.

I am describing aspects of my workflow experience specifically for considering the point you make about switching back and forth. Interestingly I found that there were three (excluding graphics) applications to getting my thesis out (a nine year project since completed)-Endnote, Word and Scrivener. Taking on board that Scrivener is not there to produce the final published version, I did not find the distinctions to be troublesome and where I was doing the work largely depended on what stage I was at (for example on a chapter, front matter or the completed thesis).
I am very happy that in addition to the thesis I have a well maintained reference library in Endnote for use elsewhere and a workflow that I can use again (although I am always keen to exploer other paths). I certainly did not have to do the complete compile at every stage-although I am very thankful that I did do that regularly to ensure no last minute hiccups and I don’t think there were any significant overheads.
I found I needed Word to help me with various tables of contents in addition to the References, so it was only a matter of where I did that work-it needed to be done.
I look forward to hearing what solution you settle on.

Of course we each have different priorities. Personally I do not care about exactly what my formatted citations look like until I need to submit. But I DO need Scrivener’s unique organisational toolset and workflow while writing, and so for me this choice is easy[1].

Nevertheless I don’t like to fuss around after a compile, so I set up Scrivener to use Pandoc to generate the final formatting in every output I use. I get the many benefits of Scrivener, and the high-quality formatting of Pandoc for academic content. The downside is some additional setup, though if all you are after is a formatted bibliography the setup is easy…

I do think for users like yourself, if Scrivener’s developer did integrate a citeproc engine, then your needs would be fully met. L&L know how many users have asked or would benefit from some sort of bibliography support, and they have to balance this against the work and maintenance required for integration of such an external tool.

[1] If you do want to see citations formatted, then Marked2 allows you to preview them while writing…

One of the problems from our point of view is that many people do care. They have many years and hundreds of references invested in their preferred bibliography manager, and would be extremely distressed if we chose tight integration with a different one. Our current “loose” integration allows users to stick with whichever application they prefer.

This more or less summarizes our official position as well. If citation formatting (or any other kind of formatting) is a make or break choice for you, then you will probably prefer tools other than Scrivener.

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I totally understand not wanting to “lock in” to one ecosystem for citation/reference management - as we can see even just in this short conversation People Have Opinions on how it should work for them!

For situations like michaclhendersn described - I went straight to LaTeX to do my thesis, so it was only a 2-app issue: in my field solid formatting was a higher priority (though Scrivener wasn’t out then anyway, I’m old). Given this, for some situations I do find it troublesome to switch programs; my exported formatting can get changed when Word gets its teeth in, so one-shot to a PDF is what I’m after. For others (eg when I’m submitting something that will get edited externally) the multi-app path is fine.

Maybe what would help most (with least effort/conflict) is just more documentation (especially in the help forums/support pages) on ways to set this up - so the paths and limitations are clear. Currently, searching the official support Base for “citation” gives one hit about keyboard shortcuts on a Mac. Searching “reference manager” gives more, but none seem to be about actual reference managers (one is about project organization, so maybe?). The wider web has more ideas, but their advice ranges from “Scrivener doesn’t support this at all, use something else” to detailed ways to get into config files and force something in. It’s possible the process is out there already! But at least I didn’t turn anything up that seemed official (and nothing on the “export to Word” method actually came up at all to my memory).

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There isn’t much official information out there because Scrivener itself doesn’t do much beyond providing a hook to invoke the reference manager. That hook is explained in Section 20.4 of the (Mac) Scrivener manual, which also says:

The steps you take next will depend upon your citation manager, so you will need to consult their documentation on how to use their software with third- party word processors.

I certainly think a knowledge base “advice” article with general instructions for possible workflows based on which reference manager you use could be helpful. We have users who use a wide range and perhaps this could be co-authored? Ideally some sort of wiki-like post; I think this forum software doesn’t support multiple authors, but maybe a multi-post thread managed by admins to keep it in the forum?

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That’s a good idea. The forum software does support fairly complex formatting, hidden details, and so on. We have wiki-style posts in the internal discussion area, but I don’t think they’re enabled for the public areas. I’m sure if users like yourself were interested in creating something like that, though, @AmberV and I could work out a way to handle it.

I’m happy to write up some possible workflow routes for Bookends / Endnote / Jabref (I use Bookends, but have students who are working with those I don’t personally use). Zotero I know less about, but can sketch some options that I know of and perhaps others can fill in my ignorance. I would probably include a warning to avoid Mendeley (which cannot work with Scrivener at present until it can support temporary refs). I will be a bit slow as I have lots of work and family commitments, and if anyone else can chip in please do.

Does anyone have other reference software they would be able to contribute information on?


You should be able to create a wiki post. It has to be the root post to a thread, it can’t be in the middle of a discussion, and it is a setting you make after posting it, via the ∙∙∙ button below the post.

Edit: I may be mistaken about that point, I think you may be able to convert any of your posts to a wiki post, even if they are in response to an existing thread. I’m not sure if that’s a mod level exemption or not though.


Thanks, @AmberV!

@nontroppo I created a stub in the Newcomer Central forum, which seems more appropriate than here. Feel free to tag anyone you think might be able/willing to help, and ping me if you need moderator assistance.


@kewms — thanks! Is it just the first post that is editable or can replies also serve as wiki-like pages? I am wondering whether it is better to have one long post or split it into a reply per app?

I think replies can also be wiki-ized. That may be a moderator power, so let one of us know if you need it done.

For long posts/articles (and this one definitely does need to be the first post), you can click the gear button in the composition window toolbar to insert a ToC code, or just paste in <div data-theme-toc="true"> </div>.

That’ll turn the chronology slider on the right into an interactive table of contents for easy navigation within the post.