Help modifying a CSL file

I am submitting an article to a journal, and their required style almost perfectly matches MHRA style (Modern Humanities Research Association 3rd edition (note with bibliography)), with one important exception: MHRA style gives a full reference in the citation; this journal requires a short citation. So, MHRA specifies:


John L. Campbell, ‘The Varieties of Capitalism and Hybrid Success’, Comparative Political Studies, 40.3 (2007), 307–32


Campbell, John L, ‘The Varieties of Capitalism and Hybrid Success’, Comparative Political Studies, 40 (2007), 307–32

This journal wants the same bibliography style, but the citation should be:

Campbell, ‘The Varieties of Capitalism’

i.e., just last name and short form of title (if there is one).

I have opened up the MHRA file in the CSL visual editor, but can’t make head or tail of it. Is there some easy switch between full and short citation in the text? Can anyone give me some pointers?

Join the club. I find the “easy visual editor” to be anything but. I realize this doesn’t answer your question (like you, I am totally lost with the visual editor) but I am replying as a shout-out to the PP folks so they figure out how to address this issue.

As a former EndNote user, one of the features I liked in that program was the ability to easily edit and save a style. I did it all the time because they always seem to need little tweaks, specific to a journal. (Why all these journals have these little quirks is a good question, but I’ll save that for another day.) If PP is going to rely on the CSL Visual Editor, then I think they need to do something to help users learn how to navigate and make changes. I spent several hours reading documentation this weekend and while I understand it more, theoretically, practically, I am still lost.

Sorry I can’t offer help in this specific situation. I hope someone else chimes in so we can all learn!

The “visual editor” comes from the CSL community and is not part of Paperpile. We are aware it’s complicated but writing a new style editor from scratch is currently not realistic.

We have plans though to write some easy to understand guides for the most common scenarios.

In the big picture, I find it a huge waste of time obsessing with details of journal specific citation styles. I does not really advance science and - as we all seem to agree here - causes lots of frustration.

I hope @andreas or @jason can help out here.

I understand about the visual editor and I don’t expect PP to create a new style editor. However, a few guides would be helpful.

The problem, to me, is that the CSL library includes 8000 styles that are maintained by an army of volunteers. Fine in theory; no so great in real life. Last week, I was editing an article destined for the American Journal of Medical Genetics, Part A. This was a style, listed by name, which I found in PP. Hooray! But when I tested a few sample citations, I discovered that it was not congruent with the specifications in the “Info for Authors” for the journal. And, the info for authors was very clear: manuscripts with citations and references not formatted correctly, according to their guidelines, would be returned to be corrected.

So, I had to delve into the Visual Editor to fix the style. It took me 3+ hours to change about 5 fairly small and simple things. It took a lot of trial and error, clicking, saving, uploading, and then trying again. Eventually I did have the citation style correct–but I could never replicate what I did (easily) nor could I explain to someone else what to do. And, my copy is my own local copy while the version at CSL is still the outdated, incorrect style–meaning more work for the next person using PP who encounters this journal.

I agree, having to deal with this sort of minutiae does not advance science and is a giant time waster. As an editor myself, I am trying to raise awareness about this issue, in an effort to achieve some level of standardization–probably an impossible task, but we all have to start somewhere.


I certainly don’t expect the creators of Paperpile to modify citation styles for their users! I know there are much more important things for them to be working on. I posted this here only in the hope that other users might have some tips – but perhaps I should have posted it elsewhere. My apologies.

And yes, I’m in a similar boat to Leslie. The journal I’m submitting to has very specific guidelines, which (as I said) are almost but not quite those of MHRA, and won’t accept submissions that are not in the correct format. My choice is either to figure out how that bewildering editor works, or do all my references manually.

Robert, you just need to find a person who has a knowledge of XML and HTML. That person would probably look at the editor and see something that is completely clear (unlike the Greek that you and I see). Here is the documentation that I was reading:

which again, for someone who knows this stuff, probably makes it easy as pie. Don’t give up and do it by hand, Robert. Persevere!

The modifications were not too complex, so we made an exception in this case. The attached CSL file uses just the short-form of the name and the short-form of the title (where available) for the in-text citations. I hope it suits the journal’s standards.

mhra-mod.csl (16.2 KB)

Thanks, Jason!

That is extraordinarily good of you - thank you very much!