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Citation Management Tools: BibTeX

Keep track of articles and books. Make annotations. Create citations and bibliographies easily.

BibTeX Reference Formatting

BibTEX references are formatted in the following style:

@type{ unique_identifier,
   field1 = "value",

   field2 = "value",

   field3 = "value",
... }

Field values can either be enclosed in quotes, as above, or in curly braces (e.g. field1 = {value})

The @type field identifies the type of resource. Common types include:

  • @article
  • @book
  • @conference (or @proceedings)
  • @inbook (book chapter/section)
  • @mastersthesis
  • @phdthesis
  • @misc (outside the normal categories, used for websites)

Various fields are available to use. Standard ones include:

  • author
    (i.e. city)
  • publisher
  • title
  • year
  • url
  • journal
  • volume
  • number
  • isbn
  • issn
  • address 

BibTeX Basics

BibTEX is the bibliographic side of LATEX. Technically speaking, BibTEX is a specific program which processes bibliographic data and interfaces between .tex and .bib files. However, it is used as a catch-all term for a number of LATEbibliographic tools with similar functionality. Collectively, these tools get lumped into the term “BibTEX.” In essence “using BibTEX” has come to mean managing references in a .bib file, rather than doing them by hand.

Every BibTEX citation needs a unique identifier. This is the first item after the opening curly brace, as shown in the example to the left. A best practice is to use a standard system for assigning identifiers, such as the author's last name and year (e.g. sackson1969).

Though they all work similarly, each bibliographic tool in LATEX has its own syntax. The UPenn dissertation template uses the natbib package, in which the standard citation command is \citep{identifier}. As an example, suppose you want to cite the following reference:

@book{ engel1961,
   author = "Leonard Engel",
   title = "Medicine Makers of Kalamazoo",
   publisher = "McGraw-Hill",
   address = "New York",
   year = "1961"

In your .tex file, use the command \citep{engel1961}. By default, the citation will be display as [Engel, 1961]. If you are using the UPenn dissertation template, the citations are pre-formatted, so it will instead display as (Engel, 1961).

In order to use natbib, you must first add the proper commands to your .tex file. (NOTE: If you are using the UPenn dissertation template, these commands are already included, so you can skip this step.) There are three standard commands. The first two go in the preamble:


And the last one goes just before the \end{document} command:


Note that the filename does not include the .bib extension.

There are various ways to customize your references and citations. Ample documentation can be found on Overleaf and elsewhere.

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