BiBTeX – your new best friend

We’ve all been there. You finished your text, your lay out is great, you more or less added footnotes and references. But now you have to start adding your bibliography. Preferably adhering to pages and pages of guidelines and rules. Luckily, 20 years ago, Oren Patashnik figured you needed help. He created BiBTeX to work along LaTeX by utilizing a plain-text file-format which can be created and modified in any arbitrary text-editor (learn more here).

A BiBTeX database contains all your entries in a .bib file, which can be used and reused in any LaTeX file. An example of an entry in this database is:

title={Has the Battle Been Won? The Feminzation of History},
author={Hunt, L.},
journal={Perspectives on History},

In this case the reference type is an @article, while all details are listed inbetween {}. The first word after the opening curly brace is the citation key or the BiBTeX key, unique for each entry and used to cross-reference a citation to your bibliography. This means you don’t even have to¬†manually add the author and year to your in-text references, but simply \cite{citation key} in your text. In this case I can refer to the article by \cite{perspectiveshistory}, but more on citations later. An article entry needs to contain the author, journal, title, and year of publication. You can add these elements as demonstrated in the example, by element={} or element=””. The optional elements in case of the article type are the month, note, number, pages, and volume. I also included the doi, or domain object identifier, a specific and unique link to the article. You can find the required and optional fields for each reference type here.

The standard BiBTeX entries include: @article, @book, @booklet, @inbook (for a specific chapter or entry in a book), @inproceedings (a conference paper), @manual, @mastersthesis or @phdthesis, @misc (for other publication types), @proceedings (a collection of conference papers), @techreport, and @unpublished. For more information on standard templates, you can always go the the wikibooks documentation.

Once you added all your references to your BiBTeX database – no worries, most online bibliographies allow you to export the citation in a BiBTeX format – you need to insert your bibliography in your LaTeX file. Usually a bibliography comes after your content, but before you \end{document}. First, you choose the \bibliographystyle{plain}, which refers to the standard included plain.bst or style file. You can also find style files for most journals that defined their own reference style. Next, you simply include your \bibliography{bibfile} withouth adding the .bib extension. If your BiBTeX database is located in another file, you need to add the location such as \bibliography{refs/references}. Once you included your bibliography, you can create citations easily with \cite{reference}, or \citep{reference} if you want to use the plain bibliography style for your citations.

Finally, I would like to add that in order to adapt the appearance of your bibliograhpy to the document language for words such as editors, and, or in, you can add \usepackage[fixlanguage]{babelbib} to your preamula and \selectbiblanguage{dutch}. You also need to select a bibliography style which supports this package, such as \bibliographystyle{babplain}. If you want LaTeX to also display BiBTeX entries which were not cited in the text, you can add \notice{*} to show all entries, or \notice{name} for a specific entry. For my next and final entry on LaTeX, I will try to create a template for the master thesis of the faculty of Arts at the KU Leuven. Wish me luck!