Skip to main content

MIT Libraries

Search Account

Zotero at MIT: Zotero with LaTeX and BibTeX

Using Zotero with LaTeX and BibTeX FAQ

What is LaTeX?

LaTeX is a typesetting program that takes a plain text file with various commands in it and converts it to a formatted document based on the commands that it has been given. The source file for the document has a file extension of .tex. It is widely used at MIT for theses and other technical papers due to its prowess with mathematical and foreign characters. For more information on LaTeX, see LaTeX on Athena Basics, provided by the Athena On-Line Help system.


What is BibTeX?

BibTex is a bibliographic tool that is used with LaTeX to help organize the user's references and create a bibliography. A BibTeX user creates a bibliography file, wth a file extension of .bib, that is separate from the LaTeX source file. Each reference in the bibliography file is formatted with a certain structure and is given a "key" by which the author can refer to it in the source file. For more information on BibTeX, see MIT IS&T's page: How do I Create Bibliographies in LaTeX.


How do I export from Zotero to BibTeX?

If you'd like to export all of the references in a certain library to BibTeX, click on the Actions drop-down menu in Zotero and select "Export Library..." If you'd like to export only certain references, select those references using control-clicks and shift-clicks, then right click one of them and select "Export Selected Items..."

From the dialog box that pops up, select the BibTeX format, and click OK. Navigate to the directory where you are storing your manuscript (your .tex file), and save the file. This will generate a file in the appropriate format for BibTeX to read and create a bibliography from.

To link the bibliography file that you just downloaded to your document, you need to enter two commands:

\bibliographystyle{style} should go just inside your \begin{document} command. style.bst is the name of the style file dictating the format of your bibliography (see How do I change the format of the bibliography? below).

\bibliography{filename} should go wherever you want LaTeX to generate the bibliography. filename.bib is the name of the file that you just downloaded from Zotero containing your exported references.


How do I set up auto-syncing from Zotero to BibTeX?

Auto-updating your .bib file when you make changes or additions to your Zotero Library is not available directly in Zotero. You can, however, install and enable a Zotero extension, Better BibTeX, to grant you these features. Once Better BibTeX is enabled, select the folder/library/items you wish to include in your .bib file as you would do in the basic export process described above. In the export dialog box, you will now see many more options for your export format. Select the “Better BibTeX” option, and, to set up the autosync, make sure you also check the “Keep updated” box. Click Ok, name your .bib file and save in the same location as your LaTeX file.

You can adjust or remove a .bib autosync of Zotero records at any time by going to your Zotero preferences and clicking on the Better BibTeX tab, followed by the Automatic Export tab.

For more detailed instructions on setting up your Zotero export, see the Zotero and BibTeX Quick Guide.


How do I cite references in my document?

Insert the command \cite{citation_key}. To check that you have the correct citation key for a certain reference, you can look at the .bib file using a text editor.


How can I correct warnings I encounter when running LaTeX on my document after compiling the bibliography file?

If you receive a warning from LaTeX that references may have changed, simply run LaTeX again. In fact, the correct order for running LaTeX and BibTeX, where document is your document name, is:

latex document
bibtex document
latex document
latex document

This process should correctly create your bibliography and in-text citations for your document.


How can I fix references that had problems formatting special characters?

If the references in your bibliography file contain certain special characters which are used as part of the syntax of LaTeX, you could see some strange behavior as LaTeX tries to correctly format the citation. The following characters are part of the LaTeX syntax and as such will need to be replaced with a LaTeX command if they are used in a citation:

Character LaTeX Command
# \#
$ \$
% \%
& \&
_ \_
{ \{
} \}
~ \~{ }
^ \^{ }
\ $\backslash$


When Zotero outputs one of these characters (except for brackets) it appends a backslash to the character. This solves the problem in many cases but not in all; tildes (~), carats (^), and backslashes(\) will still not behave correctly and will need more attention. Brackets within the citation will not appear at all unless you manually append the backslash as in the table above.


How can I make an organization name display correctly?

BibTeX reads text in the author field as an author's name or names unless told otherwise. For example, say a reference exported from Zotero contains the line:

author={Institute of Electrical Engineers},

BibTeX will read this field as a person's name, where the first name is "Institute" and the last name is "of Electrical Engineers," and would format accordingly. Use a text editor to add quotes around the field so that the line reads:

author="{Institute of Electrical Engineers}",

Now BibTeX will read this all as one piece rather than as a person's name, and will format correctly.


How can I override BibTeX capitalization conventions?

BibTeX attempts to correct the capitalization in the title field such that only the first letter of the first word is capitalized. While this is generally gramatically correct, it can cause problems if the title contains a proper name or an acronym, so that a line in the bibliography file that looks like this:

title={IEE Proceedings},

will appear in the bibliography as "Iee proceedings." Use a text editor to add quotes around the field so that the line reads:

title="{IEE Proceedings}",

The quotes will prevent BibTeX from applying its capitalization rules to the title of the document and thus will preserve the capitalization for proper nouns.


How do I change the format of the bibliography?

The bibliography format is determined by the style file that you have entered in the \bibliographystyle{} command. Several default styles exist, and they are explained in the section of IST's LaTeX Answers page entitled How to make BIBLIOGRAPHIES in LaTeX. Style files may also be edited to produce a required bibliography style.


Where can I look for additional support?