The following is an e-mail that I sent to all the math grad students at UCSD explaining how to use BibTeX for their bibliographies.

by Skip Garibaldi (
Original 9 Apr 1998
Revised 17 Feb 1999
Webified 6 Oct 1999

It has come to my attention that many of you are doing your bibliographies for your papers by hand. If you are going to do that, you might as well go all the way and just write your papers in cuneiform on clay tablets. You should definitely be using BibTeX to do it, at least if you are using LaTeX. (Of course, if you aren't using LaTeX or AMS-LaTeX to write your papers, you are beyond hope... But allow me to point out that you will have a much easier time with your thesis if you use LaTeX.)

So, here's the deal. You create a bibliography database which contains the data for your various sources. Then BibTeX will look at your document (actually at auxiliary files produced by LaTeX) and create a bibliography which includes precisely those sources that you cite. And it does so in the right format.


  1. It is less tedious and less error-prone than producing a bibliography by hand.
  2. If your paper gets accepted by a journal which wants a very particular style to its bibliography, all you have to do is switch one line (the "bibliographystyle" line) in your document, not retype the whole bibliography.
  3. When you write other papers, you don't have to do any cutting and pasting to bring in bibliographic data from old papers. You just add new references to your bibliographic database.
  4. You never have to type in any bibiliographic data by hand, since one can get it all in the appropriate format for BibTeX from MathSciNet.


  1. You will no longer look like someone who desparately needs help, so you will get less pity from your associates. And, since you are doing your bibliographies by hand now, you probably get quite a bit.

Here's is a sample LaTeX file.





Where foo.bib is your bibliographic database. If you have more than one, you can use this sort of line:

if your files are foo.bib, bar.bib, and quux.bib. DO NOT LEAVE SPACES BETWEEN THE COMMA AND THE NEXT FILE NAME.

Here is a sample .bib file:

    AUTHOR = "A. Borel",
    TITLE = {Linear Algebraic Groups},
    publisher = {Springer},
    address = {New York},
    edition = {second},
    year = 1991
   author =  {A. Borel and J. Tits},
   title =   {Compl\'{e}ments \`{a} l'article: Groupes R\'{e}ductifs},
   journal = {Pub. Math. IHES},
   volume =  {41},
   pages =   {253--276},
   year =    {1972}
  author = 	 "V.I. Chernousov and V.P. Platonov",
  title =        {The rationality problem for semisimple group varieties},
  note =         "Preprint 97-037, Bielefeld"
   author =    {C. Chevalley},
   title =     {Classification des Groupes de {L}ie Alg\'ebriques},
   type =      {S\'eminaire C. Chevalley, 1956--1958},
   institution = {Ecole Normale Sup\'erieure},
   year =      1958
    author =   {J. Humphreys},
    title =    {Linear algebraic groups},
    publisher = {Springer},
    series =   {Graduate Texts in Mathematics},
    edition =  {second},
    year =       1981,
    volume =   21
   author =      {A.S. Merkurjev},
   title =       {Involutions and Algebraic Groups},
   institution = {Universit\'e Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium},
   year =        1993,
   type =        {Recherches de Math\'ematique},
   number =      36,

@incollection {Sp:RG,
   AUTHOR = {Springer, T. A.},
    TITLE = {Reductive groups},
BOOKTITLE = {Automorphic forms, representations and {$L$}-functions (Proc.
             Sympos. Pure Math., Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, Ore., 1977),
             Part 1},
    PAGES = {3--27},
PUBLISHER = {Amer. Math. Soc.},
  ADDRESS = {Providence, R.I.},
     YEAR = {1979},

You should never have to type in this data by hand. You can download it off of MathSciNet. For example, to get the data on the article by Springer, I would search for an article by "Springer, T*" with title "Reductive groups", then in the list of retrieved articles I would mark the right article (by clicking on the button just to its left). Then you can tell MathSciNet to retrieve "Citations (BibTeX)". Then MathSciNet will give you the BibTeX for the article, which in this case looks like

@incollection {MR80h:20062,
   AUTHOR = {Springer, T. A.},
    TITLE = {Reductive groups},
BOOKTITLE = {Automorphic forms, representations and $L$-functions (Proc.
             Sympos. Pure Math., Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, Ore., 1977),
             Part 1},
    PAGES = {3--27},
PUBLISHER = {Amer. Math. Soc.},
  ADDRESS = {Providence, R.I.},
     YEAR = {1979},
As you can see, I only changed two things, the key. (Sp:RG is much easier to remember than MR80h:20062. I should also remark that the : in the keys is just treated by BibTeX as another character. I happen to like using it in my references, but that's just my taste.) Also, without the braces around the 'L', BibTeX will automatically lowercase it, which is inappropriate here.

To refer to the piece by Chernousov and Platonov, one would use

in your document. Suppose you don't explicitly cite Chevalley's preprint in your paper, but would like it to appear in your bibliography. Add the line
to your document.

BTW, if your LaTeX document was called paper.tex, then to compile it you would have to type:

latex paper
bibtex paper
latex paper
latex paper
The second time you run LaTeX, the bibliography will be right, and the third time you run it, the citations in the text will be right. Don't worry. LaTeX is smart enough to tell you if it needs to be run again.

Please see "The LaTeX Companion" or any decent LaTeX reference book for more information on BibTeX and various style files, etc. Many style files are available from CTAN in the tex-archive/biblio/bibtex/contrib/ directory.

Isn't technology cool?