next up previous
Next: References Up: BibTeX ing Previous: Fields

Helpful Hints


This section gives some random tips that aren't documented elsewhere, at least not in this detail. They are, roughly, in order of least esoteric to most. First, however, a brief spiel.

I understand that there's often little choice in choosing a bibliography style--journal X says you must use style Y and that's that. If you have a choice, however, I strongly recommend that you choose something like the plain standard style. Such a style, van Leunen [] argues convincingly, encourages better writing than the alternatives--more concrete, more vivid.

The Chicago Manual of Style [], on the other hand, espouse the author-date system, in which the citation might appear in the text as `(Jones, 1986)'. I argue that this system, besides cluttering up the text with information that may or may not be relevant, encourages the passive voice and vague writing. Furthermore the strongest arguments for using the author-date system--like ``it's the most practical''--fall flat on their face with the advent of computer-typesetting technology. For instance the Chicago Manual contains, right in the middle of page 401, this anachronism: ``The chief disadvantage of [a style like plain] is that additions or deletions cannot be made after the manuscript is typed without changing numbers in both text references and list.'' LaTeX, obviously, sidesteps the disadvantage.

Finally, the logical deficiencies of the author-date style are quite evident once you've written a program to implement it. For example, in a large bibliography, using the standard alphabetizing scheme, the entry for `(Aho et al., 1983b)' might be half a page later than the one for `(Aho et al., 1983a)'. Fixing this problem results in even worse ones. What a mess. (I have, unfortunately, programmed such a style, and if you're saddled with an unenlightened publisher or if you don't buy my propaganda, it's available from the Rochester style collection.)

Ok, so the spiel wasn't very brief; but it made me feel better, and now my blood pressure is back to normal. Here are the tips for using BibTeX with the standard styles (although many of them hold for nonstandard styles, too).

  1. With 's style-designing language you can program general database manipulations, in addition to bibliography styles. For example it's a fairly easy task for someone familiar with the language to produce a database-key/author index of all the entries in a database. Consult the Local Guide to see what tools are available on your system.
  2. The standard style's thirteen entry types do reasonably well at formatting most entries, but no scheme with just thirteen formats can do everything perfectly. Thus, you should feel free to be creative in how you use these entry types (but if you have to be too creative, there's a good chance you're using the wrong entry type).
  3. Don't take the field names too seriously. Sometimes, for instance, you might have to include the publisher's address along with the publisher's name in the publisher field, rather than putting it in the address field. Or sometimes, difficult entries work best when you make judicious use of the note field.
  4. Don't take the warning messages too seriously. Sometimes, for instance, the year appears in the title, as in The 1966 World Gnus Almanac. In this case it's best to omit the year field and to ignore 's warning message.
  5. If you have too many names to list in an author or editor field, you can end the list with ``and others''; the standard styles appropriately append an ``et al.''
  6. In general, if you want to keep BibTeX from changing something to lower case, you enclose it in braces. You might not get the effect you want, however, if the very first character after the left brace is a backslash. The ``special characters'' item later in this section explains.
  7. For Scribe compatibility, the database files allow an @COMMENT command; it's not really needed because BibTeX allows in the database files any comment that's not within an entry. If you want to comment out an entry, simply remove the `@' character preceding the entry type.
  8. The standard styles have journal abbreviations that are computer-science oriented; these are in the style files primarily for the example. If you have a different set of journal abbreviations, it's sensible to put them in @STRING commands in their own database file and to list this database file as an argument to LaTeX's \bibliography command (but you should list this argument before the ones that specify real database entries).
  9. It's best to use the three-letter abbreviations for the month, rather than spelling out the month yourself. This lets the bibliography style be consistent. And if you want to include information for the day of the month, the month field is usually the best place. For example
        month = jul # "~4,"
    will probably produce just what you want.
  10. If you're using the unsrt style (references are listed in order of citation) along with the \nocite{*} feature (all entries in the database are included), the placement of the \nocite{*} command within your document file will determine the reference order. According to the rule given in Section 2.1: If the command is placed at the beginning of the document, the entries will be listed in exactly the order they occur in the database; if it's placed at the end, the entries that you explicitly \cite or \nocite will occur in citation order, and the remaining database entries will be in database order.
  11. For theses, van Leunen recommends not giving the school's department after the name of the degree, since schools, not departments, issue degrees. If you really think that giving the department information will help the reader find the thesis, put that information in the address field.
  12. The MASTERSTHESIS and PHDTHESIS entry types are so named for Scribe compatibility; MINORTHESIS and MAJORTHESIS probably would have been better names. Keep this in mind when trying to classify a non-U.S. thesis.
  13. Here's yet another suggestion for what to do when an author's name appears slightly differently in two publications. Suppose, for example, two journals articles use these fields.
        author = "Donald E. Knuth"
        .  .  .
        author = "D. E. Knuth"
    There are two possibilities. You could (1) simply leave them as is, or (2) assuming you know for sure that these authors are one and the same person, you could list both in the form that the author prefers (say, `Donald E. Knuth'). In the first case, the entries might be alphabetized incorrectly, and in the second, the slightly altered name might foul up somebody's electronic library search. But there's a third possibility, which is the one I prefer. You could convert the second journal's field to
        author = "D[onald] E. Knuth"
    This avoids the pitfalls of the previous two solutions, since BibTeX alphabetizes this as if the brackets weren't there, and since the brackets clue the reader in that a full first name was missing from the original. Of course it introduces another pitfall--`D[onald] E. Knuth' looks ugly--but in this case I think the increase in accuracy outweighs the loss in aesthetics.
  14. LaTeX's comment character `%' is not a comment character in the database files.
  15. Here's a more complete description of the ``author'' information referred to in previous sections. For most entry types the ``author'' information is simply the author field. However: For the BOOK and INBOOK entry types it's the author field, but if there's no author then it's the editor field; for the MANUAL entry type it's the author field, but if there's no author then it's the organization field; and for the PROCEEDINGS entry type it's the editor field, but if there's no editor then it's the organization field.
  16. When creating a label, the alpha style uses the ``author'' information described above, but with a slight change--for the MANUAL and PROCEEDINGS entry types, the key field takes precedence over the organization field. Here's a situation where this is useful.
       organization = "The Association for Computing Machinery",
       key = "ACM"
    Without the key field, the alpha style would make a label from the first three letters of information in the organization field; alpha knows to strip off the `The ', but it would still form a label like `[Ass86]', which, however intriguing, is uninformative. Including the key field, as above, would yield the better label `[ACM86]'.

    You won't always need the key field to override the organization, though: With

        organization = "Unilogic, Ltd.",
    for instance, the alpha style would form the perfectly reasonable label `[Uni86]'.
  17. Section 2.1 discusses accented characters. To , an accented character is really a special case of a ``special character'', which consists of everything from a left brace at the top-most level, immediately followed by a backslash, up through the matching right brace. For example in the field
        author = "\AA{ke} {Jos{\'{e}} {\'{E}douard} G{\"o}del"
    there are just two special characters, `{\'{E}douard}' and `{\"o}' (the same would be true if the pair of double quotes delimiting the field were braces instead). In general, BibTeX will not do any processing of a TeX or LaTeX control sequence inside a special character, but it will process other characters. Thus a style that converts all titles to lower case would convert
        The {\TeX BOOK\NOOP} Experience
        The {\TeX book\NOOP} experience
    (the `The' is still capitalized because it's the first word of the title).

    This special-character scheme is useful for handling accented characters, for getting 's alphabetizing to do what you want, and, since BibTeX counts an entire special character as just one letter, for stuffing extra characters inside labels. The file XAMPL.BIB distributed with BibTeX gives examples of all three uses.

  18. This final item of the section describes 's names (which appear in the author or editor field) in slightly more detail than what appears in Appendix B of the LaTeX book. In what follows, a ``name'' corresponds to a person. (Recall that you separate multiple names in a single field with the word ``and'', surrounded by spaces, and not enclosed in braces. This item concerns itself with the structure of a single name.)

    Each name consists of four parts: First, von, Last, and Jr; each part consists of a (possibly empty) list of name-tokens. The Last part will be nonempty if any part is, so if there's just one token, it's always a Last token.

    Recall that Per Brinch Hansen's name should be typed

        "Brinch Hansen, Per"
    The First part of his name has the single token ``Per''; the Last part has two tokens, ``Brinch'' and ``Hansen''; and the von and Jr parts are empty. If you had typed
        "Per Brinch Hansen"
    instead, BibTeX would (erroneously) think ``Brinch'' were a First-part token, just as ``Paul'' is a First-part token in ``John Paul Jones'', so this erroneous form would have two First tokens and one Last token.

    Here's another example:

        "Charles Louis Xavier Joseph de la Vall{\'e}e Poussin"
    This name has four tokens in the First part, two in the von, and two in the Last. Here BibTeX knows where one part ends and the other begins because the tokens in the von part begin with lower-case letters.

    In general, it's a von token if the first letter at brace-level 0 is in lower case. Since technically everything in a ``special character'' is at brace-level 0, you can trick BibTeX into thinking that a token is or is not a von token by prepending a dummy special character whose first letter past the TeX control sequence is in the desired case, upper or lower.

    To summarize, BibTeX allows three possible forms for the name:

        "First von Last"
        "von Last, First"
        "von Last, Jr, First"
    You may almost always use the first form; you shouldn't if either there's a Jr part, or the Last part has multiple tokens but there's no von part.

next up previous
Next: References Up: BibTeX ing Previous: Fields

Antonio Resende
Sun Feb 23 17:11:28 GMT 1997