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Making a .bib file with BibDesk

BibDesk is an open-source bibliography management program (application) for the Mac that only creates .bib files. You can get it from the BibDesk site. Because it is open-source, the application is free and there is an active mailing list for users (bibdesk-users).

Making a new .bib file:

  1. Under the File menu, select New Bibliography.
    A (filled in) bibliography in BibDesk. Click on the image to see a larger version.
  2. To add a new entry (book, article, etc), press the New icon (the giant green plus sign). Under the BibTeX tab, you can enter the information for each field. Look at Making a .bib File Manually for more information about each reference type. Repeat as necessary.
    A completed source window in BibDesk. Click on the image to see a larger version.
    • The cite key field should fill in automatically once you have put an author and year. To turn off (or on) autogenerated cite keys, go to BibDesk--> Preferences--> Cite Key.
    • If you fill in keywords about the citation, you can sort and search by these. You will accumulate too many sources in the course of your thesis to keep all in your head, so I highly recommend using this feature. It certainly came in handy during my thesis.
    • If you have electronic copies of the sources, you can link the BibDesk citation to the source itself by clicking on the button View File and going to Choose File. Note that when you move the file, the connection will be broken.
  3. Once you are finished, go to the File menu and select Save As. Save it in the same folder as your .tex file.
You can use the Preview feature even if you have a .bst that is not part of BibDesk's default assortment. Go into BibDesk's preferences, choose Preview and in the drop-down menu labeled "BibTeX Style" type the name of the .bst. This works best if the .bst is in the same folder as your .bib file or is someplace that BibDesk can find, such as ~/Library/texmf/bibtex/bst/ (you may need to create the folders bibtex and bst). Thanks to Eliah Hecht ('06) for this tip!

Using Citations:

  • While you are writing, you can add a citation to your text by selecting the correct entry in BibDesk and dragging it into your .tex file. The correct citation will automatically appear.
  • If you are using a non-standard citation type (ie, something other than \cite{ citekey), click on the Cite Drawer and drag the correct non-standard citation. If yours does not appear in the list, press the plus sign in the bottom of the drawer and type in your citation style. Now, just select your citation and drag onto your .tex file.
  • In TeXShop, you can have BibDesk complete cite keys for you. Start typing the citation command ( \cite{) and then part of the source's author or title (enough to be unique). Then select the bit of the cite key you have just entered and go up to the TeXShop menu, Services->BibDesk->Complete Cite Key (also apple-option-k). If you have typed enough unique characters for BibDesk to recognize only one entry in your .bib file, then it will complete the cite key for you. Close the curly braces and continue typing.