Microsft Word 2007 Bibliographic Feature – A Half Baked Idea

Update: Checkout my word 2007 Add-in plugin “Reference Manager” to import/export bibliographies using BibTex, RIS, and other formats and also to automatically import articles from many different journal websites such as ACM Portal, Nature, Amazon, etc.
Within the scholar community (or alteast for me), there is much excitement with the introduction of new bibliographic manager feature in Microsoft Word 2007. But, yesterday as I struggled to keep up with a paper deadline, I was thinking that the bibliographic manager feature is more of a nuisance than a feature. Not that the idea of bibliographic manager is bad; it’s a great idea. But, its the lack of support and it’s limited capability that are bad. It seems that the idea of Bibliographic Manager in Word 2007 is currently half baked. Below are some of the issues that even a novice can easily identify with Microsoft’s bibliographic manager:
1. Add/Import Functionality –  There are two ways to add an article in microsoft’s bibliography manager. First, manually enter all the article metadata information by pressing thousands of keyboard keys. I feel laughing thinking how naive microsoft is. For eons, the scholar community has successfully used bibtex, RIS, and other standard metadata structure to share articles. However, microsoft word doesn’t offer any feature to directly import articles using these any of these standard formats. Luckily, I developed this Microsoft Word Plugin that allows directly import article from Memento, saving my finger from typing all the article details.
Second, import Microsoft bibliographic XML that someone else created. Agreed there are tools that can convert bibtex and other formats into Microsoft’s Bibliographic XML, but it means that to add an article you have to juggle data between tons of different softwares. In a time critical situation, which is common when trying to keep with a paper deadline, this seems a foolish idea.
2. References and Citations – The second most important feature that a bibliographic manager should provide is an ability to quickly cite article and build bibliography. Microsoft Word allows this. Great !!!. It also offer, by default, seven different ways to cite paper and list references. Great!!!. But wait – what happens if you are required to use some other format not available by default in word. hmm…Microsoft did think about it. They are using XSLT (XML Stylesheet) to format citations and references. Awesome! finally Microsoft learned to think ahead. But wait, don’t get too excited. The problem is even before you can create your custom XSLT, you will need to spend thousands of hours first trying to understand all the weird tags to format citation and references. I consider myself sufficient good in programming and also has an understanding of XSLT. However, even after spending hours, I wasn’t able to create a XSLT that I could have used to publish my bibliography in ACM Reference Format.
Then, think of digital immigrants (our old professors and people who avoid technology). Couldn’t microsoft have provided a simple GUI to quickly a custom XSLT. I can easily envision a simple user interface where a user can drag and drop different parameters and insert any extra text (such as [, ], “, etc). But, if Microsoft had thought about it before, then It would not have been Microsoft but Apple 🙂
3. Export Feature: How dare you even think about it :). Its microsoft and known for making thing worse (well not always 🙂 )
The Verdit: Adding Bibliographic Manager in Word 2007 is a step in a right direction and using XSLT to format citation and references is a good idea, but there is a long way before it can be used effectively and efficiently. My final words will be, TRY IT BUT DON”T RELY ON IT.

13 thoughts on “Microsft Word 2007 Bibliographic Feature – A Half Baked Idea

  1. I was just trying to figure out how to import my Bibtex library into Word when I came across your article. Searching Word Help for “bibtex” gives zero results.

    You really do have to wonder what MS was thinking…

  2. There is a project at http://www.codeplex.com/bibliography which has some extra styles. ACM seems to be among them. The guy claims them to be easily adaptable, but I haven’t checked that out.

    To Frank: Microsoft might not provide a tool to convert from BibTeX, but there are many free tools out there. Google is your friend:

  3. @John,

    Thanks for those useful links. However, the point of my post was that it would have been much simple to have an inbuilt form where you can enter metadata information in bibtex or other standard format. Definitely, using some of the tools you mentioned, you can convert Bibtex into Word2007 format. But, it means going through extra steps, which is often uncomfortable when you are in the process of writing. I am actually thinking of developing such a tool.

  4. Yesterday I released a beta version of Reference manager that allows to import and export articles from standard formats such as BibTex, RIS, etc and also directly import references from websites such nature.com, acm.portal.com, etc. Checkout more about Reference manager over here

  5. I agree with John’s suggestion regarding your “2. References and Citations” concerns above.

    BibWord, at the link John provides (http://www.codeplex.com/bibliography), provides a MUCH simpler scripting syntax than raw Word 2007 XSLT for formatting citations and bibliographic entries, and is much easier to use.

    It uses simple parameter-based syntax, allows flexible optional components, and comes with a solid User Guide.

    Check it out!

  6. There is another problem: It doesn’t support traditional reference types that go in the footnotes and are common in the social sciences and humanities. Sure, you can put your reference in a footnote, but if you do that, you can’t change the referencing style at the touch of a button, which is the whole point of it. Even if you were a guru at XSLT you could not write one that does this. Trust me- Experts at Microsoft have said it’s impossible and have not announced any plans to rectify the problem in the next release of Office.

  7. I am looking for a way to Import a RIS Data into Word 2010. I don’t use Memento but Citavi and have a .RIS Data…how can I import it to the word bibilograpic manager?

      1. Hi Ritesh, cool =) I found another possibility by using a XML File to import – so it allready works 😉

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