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Bibliography formatting software: an evaluation template

by Francesco Dell'Orso


  • Legend
  • Web resources
  • 1 Identity card
  • 2 Installation
  • 3 General
  • 4 Structure
  • 5 Input/Edit
  • 6 Import
  • 7 Search
  • 8 Thesaurus
  • 9 Output
  • 10 Formatting language
  • 11 Sort
  • 12 Export
  • 13 Manuscript formatting
  • 14 Term/Entry list
  • 15 Documentation

  • .

    Bibliography Formatting Software: An Evaluation Template

    Head-to-head comparison between : ProCite ®    (Windows v. 5), EndNote ®    (Windows v. 4), Reference Manager ®    (Windows v. 9), Papyrus ®    (Macintosh v. 8), via an evaluation grid

    5th ed., August 18 2000



    1st ed., May 6, 1999 
    2nd ed., August 18 1999 
    3rd ed., November 23 1999 
    4th ed., December 28 1999
    Key Resource 
    Bibliographic Software
    Copyright Francesco Dell'Orso, University of Perugia (Italy) dellorso@unipg.it  


    Bibliography formatting software (BFS1) is a group of programs designed to help users in compiling bibliographies and managing textual records in one or more databases.

    Originally, these packages were specifically conceived to facilitate the task of writing papers with all their bibliographic citations. To switch from one style format (e.g. from Chicago to Turabian or to APA) should just be a matter of selection: hundreds of citation styles are there and more can be added by the user himself to fit the requirements for publishers and scientific journals.

    Bibliography formatting software packages have evolved significantly since their first appearance in the early 80's, and now can be seen as a tool for completely managing textual databases.

    Not only do they take care of the output process: they also provide functions to import data derived from electronic sources and to intercept possible duplicates, to sort records, to search by means of Boolean operators and to edit data. Their object is not exclusively bound to bibliographic citations, but more generally to textual data. However, "bibliography" still remains their singularity.

    Which are the main features that distinguish them from other textual database manager programs and why should one resort to this type of product rather than using a generic DBMS database management system?

    1. From the point of view of database structure, they can be defined flat-file managers with a vertical structure like: Database -> Record -> Field (-> Subfields) -> Multiple values: they are ready-to-use products with database definition already designed including reference types for different kind of documents: books, chapters, journal articles, patents, e-mail, dissertations.

    2. Fields are of variable length and can have multiple values and specific attributes, e.g.: searching, sorting, printing take care of the features of fields like authors, titles, pages, date, keywords ... It is common that fields attributes cannot be changed at will or moved to another field. It is common that all the fields automatically have their content indexed and thus searchable.

    3. They offer filters to convert and import bibliographic data from external electronic sources such as: CD-ROM, Internet catalogues, local OPAC.

    4. They have a very distinctive function: the so-called "manuscript formatting" procedure. This process consists in inserting references to database records into a document prepared by means of a word processor, in order to eventually have all the in-text citations and the final reference list automatically generated and formatted within the document.

    5. They offer hundreds of output formats for citation styles fitting the requirements of publishers, scientific associations, scholar journals: Nature, APA, MLA, Vancouver, Index Medicus ...they can all be used to display and print data. Printing includes sorting records according to nested keys.

    6. Increasingly they embed or work in co-operation with Z39.50 search clients ready to import the retrieved and downloaded data.

    7. In general, their makers supply users with ready-made and ready-to-use objects, rather than with the tool to develop their own products. Thus, the language to design output styles and import filters tends to be limited -and efficient at the same time- by offering numerous sophisticated options already prepared and ready to be selected with the mouse. As a result of that, they are very easy-to-use packages, efficient within the boundaries that developers have pre-set and that the user cannot overcome by developing his own application, script, routine.

    These are all features that one cannot usually find in generic and relational DBMS like dbase, Access, FileMaker, Paradox. Thereby users can develop new applications and build new objects by resorting to the design tools and the programming language provided with the DBMS. As users decide not to rely on specifically designed packages, but rather to adopt a generic, flexible and powerful tool, they must be expert and willing to struggle on their own -or relying on valuable help- to achieve similar functionalities. Not only will users have to define and build the database structure, along with input forms, output styles, searching sorting, printing, import/export routines, but they will also have to ensure maintenance of their product for the future.

    BFS have been conceived, developed, maintained and marketed especially for the individual -mostly the academic researcher- working with his own personal computer database and goals, and not for the library or information service, though they have been successfully used in those environments too.

    Unlike relational DBMS, BFS does not have a relational-type structure, does not offer separate tables to join and therefore they are not suitable at all to implement a non-bibliographic management of bibliographic data, e.g.: circulation or periodicals control in a library.
    They also have very limited multimedia functionality (graphics, sound, animation are usually available by means of the OLE -object link and embedding technique or a similar one) nor are they made to handle and calculate numeric data.
    Although their size limits -thanks also to current hardware and operating systems- only tend to increase (number and size of database, records, fields...), they do not have the capacity to host generic library catalogues.
    These factors all contribute to sustain the "personal" nature of this kind of software.

    Librarians and information professionals would benefit from a closer glance at this kind of product as it is the most specific bibliographical computerized tool that their users might employ. Thanks to downloading and importing routines, these software packages play a role in facilitating information and data communication between local or remote catalogues and the end-user.

    The document that I am presenting here is a detailed analysis of this kind of product achieved by means of an evaluation template with a checklist in table form. It should facilitate analysis, description and evaluation of a software program belonging to this category. There are other similar tables in the Internet, namely the works done by M. Shapland, P. Evans and reviewers in Chorus just to mention a few. In general they are more synthetic and cover a larger number of packages than the one I am presenting here. I have added a list of references to web resources on bibliography formatting software.
    Just for the record, in order to manage and publish the webgraphy I have used one of the packages that I have analyzed. This means that: every single citation corresponds to a record in a database; a style has been applied to give HTML formatting to each record (including the active link and the hidden URL); the list has been sorted with headings - no one single keystroke or command has been added to the final output which has been swallowed up by the main HTML page.

    The sample application of the template is given here by applying it to four outstanding products: ProCite, EndNote, Reference Manager, Papyrus2.
    Since the first edition of this work, I have received messages from readers suggesting that I should add to the template a clear and concise assessment of the analyzed products. But I have chosen not to depart from the different žanalytic evaluationÓ approach with which I started and have stuck to my guns. Interested readers might read through the sections and the cells of the template and then have many elements to make their own judgment. This would be much better than supplying a žconcise assessmentÓ. One goal of the template is to show that if you stay on the surface, asking only general questions, you end by finding that all the products look almost identical.
    I would be pleased to see other people and colleagues exploiting and enhancing the template for other products and features. Besides, it is looking more and more that I am not going to be able to keep this review work updated for all the four products or to extend it to cover new ones.

    I have published several articles on this kind of software, mostly in the professional journal Biblioteche Oggi (ISSN 0392-8586), but all in Italian; quite evidently, English is not my first language and while I apologize, I frankly encourage any reader to send me comments and corrections.

    Francesco Dell'Orso, University of Perugia (Italy) dellorso@unipg.it

    1. They are called in many different ways: personal bibliographic managers; reference manager databases; database reference management software; personal citation managers, research information managers, research information assistants... etc. Sometimes they are also called personal information managers -PIM, which is another category of products on its own. PIM are free-form database managers designed to handle unformatted pieces of recorded information, i.e. data not belonging to the traditional document type records. Packages like AskSam, Cardbox belong to this category, while they can certainly manage textual and bibliographic data too. "Personal bibliographic managers" would probably be a better definition than bibliography formatting software. I am mainly using the latter as it is already familiar to users, and it emphasizes one important feature that of formatting the output. Formatting citations for the output was the most preminent characteristic at the beginning, it is still an outstanding one and it represents the core of the manuscript formatting procedure.

    2. The content of this review table has been double-checked with the producers of the packages: special thanks to Becky Larson (ISIResearchSoft) and to Dave Goldman (Research Software Design) for their courtesy and informative, continuous support.

    Table of contents

    References to web resources
    1 Identity card
    2 Installation and start
    3 General
    4 Database and record structure
    5 Input/Edit
    6 Import
    7 Search
    8 Thesaurus
    9 Output and Print
    10 FL-Formatting language to define output styles
    11 Sort
    12 Export
    13 Manuscript formatting
    14 Term /Entry list - authority file
    15 Documentation

    to Legend to Webgraphy on BFS to Section 1

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    F. Dell'Orso, Bibliography Formatting Software: An Evaluation Template
    Last Update: August, 18, 2000

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