How to Use BibTex for Reference Management (A Beginner’s Guide)

What is BibTex?

BibTex is a bibliography management software for LaTex formatted documents.

LaTex is a document-formatting tool that uses plain text. You just need to type in the plain text and it is typeset into a document of your choice.

LaTex formats and creates content such as references, bibliographies, tables of content, tables, schematics as well as mathematics.

As such, LaTex is used in the publication of various documents. Examples are, scientific documents, PHD theses, books, scholarly articles, essays and journals. It is especially popular among STEM and mathematics scholars.

How to use BibTex format

BibTex references contain three components,

  • Field types
  • Citation keys
  • Entry types

BibTex citation keys

These are terms used to uniquely describe the entry type. Citekeys allow BibTex to translate your entries into well-formatted references.

BibTex field types

BibTex has numerous fields that denote specific bibliographic data.


This field denotes the year of a written or published work. In case you want to insert a year range, enclose them either in brackets or quotes. Examples of year entries,

  • Year = 2007
  • Year = {1995–1997}


Use this to store a volume number of a journal or book volume. You can enter a volume number in three ways,

  • Volume = 16
  • Volume = “30”
  • Volume = {1}


This entry denotes a title of the work you want to reference. Use correct capitalization to prevent BibTex from changing the words into lowercase. There are numerous ways you can enter a title field,

  • Enclosing the first letter of each title word in brackets. For example,

Title = “{C}arlos {J}ung-{E}arly {I}nventions in {S}pace”,

  • Put the entire title field into brackets to preserve capitalization. For example,

Title = { {The 5AM Club} }


This is a non-standard BibTex field entry that denotes the url of web pages. Example of a url entry,

  • Url = “”


This stores the series name of book volumes or journal articles. Example of a series entry,

  • Series = “Lecture Notes in Software Programming”


This field describes the reference work in details. An example of a type entry,

  • Type = “Government Report”


This field stores the institution of learning which awarded the paper or thesis used. For example,

  • School = “University of Illinois”


This type represents the page number or page ranges where the work was cited from. For a page range, use double hyphens. For example,

  • Page = “69–75”


This field keys in the work’s publisher’s name.

For example,

  • Publisher = “HarperCollins Publishers”


This field stores additional information that does not fall into the other fields or entry types.

For instance, when you reference a web page, use this field to state when you accessed the web page.

For example,

  • Note = “Accessed: 2015-07-01”


Use this field to denote the organization that published the manual or report used and hosted a conference.

For example,

  • Organization = “Python Software Organization”


This field represents the journal number or techreport number. An example would be,

  • Number = “GAO-13-5”

ISBN (International Standard Book Number)

This is a non-standard BibTex field type. Obtain it from the back of a book or report.

An example is,

  • ISBN = “967-231456278”


This field represents the month of publication or writing of the work used. The most preferred way in BibTex is a 3-letter abbreviation for the month.

For example,

  • Month = jun


This field keys in the journal name.

For example,

  • Journal = “Accounting Horizons”


This field is used in the misc entry type. It denotes unclear publishing details. For instance, the cited work may have been distributed only and never published.

An example of this field,

  • Howpublished = “distributed at the tax centre”

ISSN (International Standard Serial Number)

Like the ISBN, this field is a non-standard in BIbTex.

An example is,

  • ISSN = “1550-1321”


This signifies the institution in charge of the report used.

For example,

  • Institution = {International Monetary Fund}

DOI (digital object identifier)

Another non-standard BibTex field, this type is used to key in the doi number of a journal, book or conference paper.

An example of a doi field,

  • Doi = “10.978/2345913.1876.17984573”


This field keys in a book’s edition number. BibTex standard for this field is to use ordinal numbers. However, this format is not compatible with some BibTex styles.

An example,

  • Edition = {Second}


This field keys in the author’s name. When listing multiple authors, separate their names using ‘and’.

Examples of this field are,

  • Author = “Cane, Harry”
  • Author = “Mary, Ann and Harris, Ethan”


This stores a specific chapter in a book or novel.

An example of this field entry,

  • Chapter = {4}


This field keys in the working title of a book. Use it when making inbooks and incollections entry types.

An example of this is,

  • Booktitle = “{E}lisabeth {E}lliot: Passion and Purity”


This field keys stores the address of an institution or publisher. Don’t insert all the address details, the city name is sufficient.

An example,

  • Address = “Vienna, Austria”


This field keys in a short description of the reference used. For example,

  • Annote = “The researchers at MIT explore in this article how……”

How to use BibTex entry types

BibTex has 14 entry types for your reference sources. The plain text entered for each entry type is different.

When creating entries, start with @ symbol followed by the entry type then details of the entry, enclosed in brackets.

For example,

  • @manual (……)
  • @article (……)

Here are detailed examples of each entry type.


Use this where the publisher is identified.

An example of a book entry in BibTex is as follows.

@book (CitekeyBook,

Author = “Harper Lee”,

Title = “To Kill a Mockingbird”,

Publisher = “Warner Books”,

Address = “Alabama, AL”,

Year = 1960



You can reference articles from journals, web, newspaper, periodicals or magazines.

Here is an example of an article’s plain text in BibTex.

@article (CitekeyArticle,

Author = “N. W. Bailey”,

Title = “Evolutionary models of extended phenotypes”,

Journal = “Trends in Ecology and Evolution”,

Year = 2012,

Volume = “27”,

Number = “3”,

Pages = “561–569”,



Use this when referencing handbooks for explaining how to operate something to a user.

Example of a manual entry is,

@manual (CitekeyManual,

Title = “Beginners Guide to Python”,

Author = “Python team”,

Organization = “Python Software Foundation”,

Address = “Wilmington, Delaware”,

Year = 2020,



Insert a PHD thesis this way;

@phdthesis (CitekeyPhdthesis,

Author = “Shepherd, Amy Rose”,

Title = “Evolving Trends in Social Media Influencing”,

School = “Massachusetts Institute of Technology”,

Address = Cambridge, MA”,

Year = 2015,

Month = jan



Incollection is a section of a book, novel or a collection of short stories.

Enter its plain text as follows;

@incollection (CitekeyIncollection,

Author = “Clason, George, S.”,

Editor = “Conrad, Charles and Best Success Books”,

Title = “The Richest Man in Babylon: The Man Who Desired Gold”,

Booktitle = “The Richest Man in Babylon”,

Year = 1926,

Publisher = “Penguin Books”,

Address = New York, NY”,

Pages = “9–11”,



This is a section, page range or chapter within a book.

Make an inbook entry as follows;

@inbook (CitekeyInbook,

Author = “Sharma, Robin”,

Title = “The 4 Focuses of History Makers”,

Booktitle = “The 5AM Club”,

Year = 2018,

Publisher = “HarperCollins Publishers”,

Address = “London Bridge Street, London”,

Pages = “103–148”,



Use this entry when referencing conference proceedings.

Here is an example of one;

Editor = “Mary Stephens and Tom Hutchens”,

Title = “Proceedings of The 10th Annual Food Animal Medicine Conference, Columbus, Ohio”,

Series = “The Use of Drugs in Animal Food Medicine”,

Volume = “310”,

Publisher = “The Ohio State University”,

Address = “Columbus, OH”,

Year = 1984,



A booklet has no identified publisher or supporting institution, but has already been bound as a book.

Enter a booklet entry as follows;

@booklet (CitekeyBooklet,

Title = “Cable tours in The Alps”,

Author = “Marie Fogel”,

Howpublished = “Distributed at Vienna Tourist Office”,

Month = aug,

Year = 2010



Use this entry where the other entry types don’t match the reference sources.

Enter a misc entry as;

@misc (CitekeyMisc,

Title = “TranscribeMe Style Guide”,

Author = “ {TranscribeMe}”,

Howpublished = “\url {}”,

Year = 2017,

Note = “Accessed: 2021-10-5”


White papers, technical reports

This entry is for institutionally published white papers or reports.

Type this entry as follows;

@techreport (CitekeyTechreport,

Title = “Economic Policy”,

Author = “O’Hara, Maggie”,

Institution = “Institute of Labor Economics”,

Address = “Bonn, Germany”,

Number = “BOA-ILE-5791-2”,

Year = 2016,

Month = jun,


Masters thesis

Use this when referencing theses for Masters degrees.

Enter a masters thesis entry as follows;

@mastersthesis (CitekeyMastersthesis,

Author = “Anne Garvin”,

Title = “Coffee Consumption of Graduate Students”,

School = “University of Illinois”,

Year = 2018,

Address = “Urbana, IL”,

Month = sep



This entry is for unpublished documents such as paper drafts or manuscripts.

Insert this entry as follows;

@unpublished (CitekeyUnpublished,

Author = “Mark Huresh”,

Title = “Global Warming: a ticking time bomb”,

Year = 2014



This entry is for published papers of conference proceedings.

Insert one as follows;

Author = “Hay, Brian”,

Title = “Drone Tourism: a study of the current and potential use of drones in hospitality and tourism”,

Booktitle = “Annual conference of the changing landscape of tourism and hospitality”,

Series =  “CAUTHE 2016”,

Year = 2016,

Pages = “49–68”,

Publisher = “CAUTHE 2016”,

Address = “Blue Mountains, Sydney”,



Use the same entry text as for inproceedings.


There you have it! Using BibTex for your referencing is not only fun, it is engaging. Nonetheless, once you insert the entry types correctly, LaTex editing tools format the references for you.

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Grace Njeri-Otieno

Grace Njeri-Otieno is a Kenyan, a wife, a mom, and currently a PhD student, among many other balls she juggles. She holds a Bachelors' and Masters' degrees in Economics and has more than 7 years' experience with an INGO. She was inspired to start this site so as to share the lessons learned throughout her PhD journey with other PhD students. Her vision for this site is "to become a go-to resource center for PhD students in all their spheres of learning."

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