I'm printing the references in my document using:




Here is one example of the generated references.

George J. Borjas. Ethnicity, neighborhoods, and human-capital externalities. American Economic Review, 85(3):365-390, 1995.

How can I insert a space between the “:” and page number for each reference?


1 Answer 1


this formatting is controlled by functions in the file plainnat.bst. two functions may be involved:

  • FUNCTION {format.vol.num.pages}
  • FUNCTION {format.vol.num.eid}

in the code block for each of these there is a line containing a colon:

  • { ":\penalty0 " * pages n.dashify * }
  • { ":\penalty0 " * eid * }

in both of these, the idea is to replace the \penalty0 after the colon by a space.

if you choose this method of making the change, copy the file plainnat.bst into the directory in which the job is being run, rename it to myplainnat.bst and then make the changes. also change




in your tex file.

there may be an easier way to do this, but i sometimes suffer from a "hacker" complex.

EDIT: a similar change was requested for the file jpe.bst (for the journal of political economy). this .bst file is constructed in quite a different manner, and i'm not certain the comparable change will have the desired result. nonetheless, here is a suggestion.

in the definition of

FUNCTION {format.journal.pages}

there is a line

 ":" *

simply add a space after the colon, within the quotes. that will force a space into the expanded bib items. as with plainnat.bst, whenever making such a change, write out the changed file with a new name.

caution: if the manuscript using this is being submitted to a journal that has its own idea of what style is wanted, any change may be refused.

  • Hi barbara, Thanks for your instruction. It works for me. I have another bst file. Could you take a look at how to solve the same problem for this bst file.
    – Wonder
    May 4, 2013 at 1:15
  • @Wonder -- i see that you've deleted some material. have you solved the problem? May 4, 2013 at 12:17
  • I have solved the problem for the plainnat.bst, but not for another bst file. Could I send you a bst file or I should post the code here? This bst file is the reference style for the Journal of Political Economy.
    – Wonder
    May 4, 2013 at 15:05
  • @Wonder -- please name the .bst file and give a link where it can be accessed. May 4, 2013 at 15:37
  • I appreciate your help. The name of the .bst file is jpe.bst. You should find this file in the following link: bst link.
    – Wonder
    May 4, 2013 at 21:46

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