HOWTO: Use Mendeley to create citations using LaTeX and BibTeX.

Multiplatform, free, and powerful. I could be using these terms to describe Mendeley Desktop, but what I’m going to write in this blog post is about something else, something called LaTeX and BibTeX. For those of you that are unfamiliar with LaTeX, it’s:

a high-quality typesetting system; it includes features designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation.

And now let me introduce you to BibTeX too:

a tool and a file format which are used to describe and process lists of references, mostly in conjunction with LaTeX documents.

Ok, so we’re now acquainted with LaTeX and BibTeX. Let’s see how we can use these tools along with Mendeley Desktop to get you citing and writing your manuscript.

BibTeX preferences

Go to Mendeley Desktop preferences, select the BibTeX tab. Once there, tick the box labeled “Enable BibTeX syncing” and select one of the options you prefer. I chose the middle one, “Create one BibTeX file per collection”. This generates one .bib file for each folder you create in Mendeley Desktop.
BibTeX Preferences in Mendeley Desktop (Mac shown)

Autogenerate .bib file(s)

The next step is to create a folder where you will store all the articles or references pertaining to your manuscript. This will generate a .bib folder as per your settings in the preference menu.
Mendeley Desktop screenshot with Bioinformatics folder selected
Any articles or references added to a given folder are automatically synchronized and changes reflected in the .bib file with the same name as the folders you created. In my example, I have a folder I labeled “Bioinformatics”, therefore Mendeley Desktop automatically generates a Bioinformatics.bib file with all the document details for the references within that folder.
Automatically generated BibTeX file for the Bioinformatics folder

Citing in LaTeX

Here’s where the cool (and the only complicated) part is: writing your article using LaTeX syntax. There are great resources online to learn LaTeX, such as this one. However, what I really wanted to show you is how to add citations using LaTeX and your automatically generated BibTeX file (.bib).
In the following image, you can see an example LaTeX file (.tex) where I’ve added some dummy text, and in the middle you will see two citations from my .bib file.
LaTeX (.tex) file with citations added in dummy text

Generate your PDF

These citations are all I need so that LaTeX can generate a formatted PDF document with the appropriate citations and the corresponding reference list at the end of the document. Take a look at what the final product looks like below.
Generated example PDF article using LaTeX and BibTeX with Mendeley Desktop
As a finishing note, I’d just like to mention that I’m quite a novice with LaTeX. This seems like a fantastically useful tool so far and I’m looking forward to improving my LaTeX writing and formatting skills. The Mendeley developers are always looking to improve these features, so we’d like to read about your experience and suggestions for improvements.

6 thoughts on “HOWTO: Use Mendeley to create citations using LaTeX and BibTeX.

  1. Mendeley has a long way to go with their bibtex integration. It would be wonderful if you could select which bibtex fields mendeley exports, keyname conventions, and most importantly, allow for importing bibtex files.

    Nevertheless, it is still very useful and I have enjoyed Mendeley for a 2 years now!

  2. I always use LaTeX and Bibtex to write my documents.
    I also used to use Mendeley to assist me in organising my papers.
    However, as Bibtex is the most important part, much to my disappointment I cannot use Mendeley until the syncing with Bibtex is fixed.
    Mendeley doesn’t have an “Unpublished” document type. This is essential for anyone working in the area of physics where references require the Unpublished type. (Vast majority of physicists, use LaTeX + Bibtex for papers).
    This has been listed as a ticket in the feedback forum but I thought I’d mention it here as well.
    What you’re suggesting in your tutorial is not possible for me (or many others) until this is fixed, please fix it soon.
    PS. As a temporary measure I’m using Jabref to organise my Bibtex files.

  3. Nice Howto. Unless I am wrong, Mendeley does not support journal abbreviations in BibTeX. Wheareas there is a kind of workaround for the OpenOffice and MS Word plugin, there does not seem to be one yet for BibTeX. Is this in the books? Great work Mendeley; this issue on abbreviations is the only remaining major limitation.

  4. Nice post. I have used bibtex for years and since about 1 year ago I use Mendeley exclusively to generate bibtex files. That said, there are still many problems with it; just go to

    and search for ‘bibtex’. One of the biggest annoyances is that bibtex is supposed to be smart about capitalization and to handle special characters, but Mendeley takes the title field and encloses it in braces, which to bibtex means “use what’s here literally” and messes up the capitalization and special characters in bibtex title fields. Here’s to hoping that the Mendeley team will continue improving bibtex support!

  5. For those of you who use Mendeley only via the web interface but still want to keep an always-up-to-date BibTeB file, check out the new Mendeley feature of It allows you to extract your personal or group’s Mendeley publications in BibTeX format via a URL. That URL can then be used for displaying your publications on your website (BibBase’s original purpose), or just for your own use in papers.

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