How to Automatically Generate Bibliographies and Citations in Microsoft Word

Creating a bibliography and providing in-text references can be incredibly tedious. Back in the old days you had to slog through this by hand. Later generations relied on tools like “Son of Citation Machine” to automatically generate their citations, but they still had to painstakingly insert them into their documents.

Fortunately, modern versions of Microsoft Word (2007 and later) have made all of these methods obsolete. Word can handle all the major referencing formats including some obscure ones.

Add a Source

To get started, fire up Microsoft Word. At any point (although you may want to wait until you need to insert your first citation) bring your mouse up to the menu bar and click on the “References” tab. Here you should see a button labeled “Insert Citation.” Go ahead and click on that. A dropdown menu will appear listing a few options. Select the “Add New Source” option. Doing so will open a window labeled “Create Source.” Here you can enter all the information that will be used to create an in-text citation of your source.


By default, Microsoft Word uses APA format. If you’ll be using a different format (MLA, et al), check the box labeled “Show all bibliography fields” located in the bottom-left of the window. Doing so will allow you to enter additional information needed by other citation styles.

Furthermore, pay particular attention to the dropdown box at the top of the window labeled “Type of Source.” You’ll notice that the default is “Book,” so you’ll need to change it if you’re using another type of source, such as an academic journal, website, etc. Once you fill out all the information, click “OK” and the source is added. You can repeat these steps to add as many sources as you need.


Insert Citation

Word will then automatically insert that citation into your document. Additionally, any time you need to cite that source again, all you need to do is click the “Insert Citation” button again. Doing so will bring a dropdown list allowing you to select the appropriate source (provided you have added more than one source).


Finally, make sure that the appropriate format is selected in the References tab. As we mentioned before, Word uses APA by default. If you need to use a different format, you’ll have to change it manually. To do so, locate the “Style” dropdown menu. This is located to the right of the “Insert Citation” button. Clicking on this dropdown will list all of the formatting styles you can use in your document. Simply select the one you want to use, and your in-text citations will automatically be formatted in that style.


Create a Bibliography

Once you’ve finished your document, you’ll want to tack on a bibliography that lists all your sources in one place. Create a new page at the end of your document and head back to the “References” tab. Find the “Bibliography” button (next to the “Insert Citation” button), and click on it.


At this point you’ll be given the option to select different bibliography styles if you wish. However, if you just want something standard that will do the job, click “Insert Bibliography.” Word will then create a bibliography for all the works you cited in your document in the correct format.


Use Old Sources for a New Document

Do you write papers on similar subjects and find yourself utilizing the same sources over and over again? If so, you’ll be happy to know that Word maintains a “master source list.” This is a list that contains all of the sources you have created in the past. This allows you to grab sources you have created for old documents and insert them into new ones. This saves you the hassle of having to create a redundant source every time you create a new Word document.


To pull up and retrieve your old sources, navigate to the “References” tab in Word. Next you’ll want to click on the “Manage Sources” button next to the “Insert Citation” button. A window will then pop up that lists all of the sources you’ve created in past documents in the column on the left labeled “Master List.” To use one of the old sources in your current document, simply highlight and click the “Copy” button. The source should now appear in the column on the right labeled “Current.” Rinse and repeat for all the sources you need. That’s it! In-text referencing and bibliographies done easy, thanks to Microsoft Word.

How do you handle citations and bibliographies? Do you use tools that help automate the process, or do you still do things the old-fashioned way? Let us know in the comments!

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