Can thebibliography be sorted by citation order? Or is there a solution with an inlined bibliography that can be sorted?

Not having an additional .bib file would be preferable.

My current bilbiography is inluded in the rest of the article inside a thebibliography block.

The citations in\cite{ne} the bibliography should\cite{flowers} be ordered 
according which order they appear in the text. 


\bibitem{fetebok} \emph{Internal Combustion Engine Fundamentals}

\bibitem{ne} \emph{Förbränningsmotorer}

\bibitem{flowers} \emph{HCCI Research Towards Development for Stationary Power 


Should output:

The citations in[1] the bibliography should[2] be ordered 
according which order they appear in the text. 

[1] Förbränningsmotorer
[2] HCCI Research Towards Development for Stationary Power Applications
[3] Internal Combustion Engine Fundamentals
  • Welcome to tex.sx! It's not necessary to sign your questions (as there is already a box with your username below it) or to begin them with a greeting.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 9:41
  • 5
    The standard unsrt style does exactly this: a minimal example of your code would be very useful to give a more targeted answer.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 9:42
  • 3
    This is a duplicate of tex.stackexchange.com/questions/14976/…. This qn is a bit more clearly phrased and easier to find than the older qn, so it might be an idea to close the older one as a duplicate of this one. Commented May 4, 2011 at 10:48
  • \bibliographystyle{unsrt} doesn't seem to work with \begin{thebibliography}. Nothing is changing anyway. Commented May 4, 2011 at 17:10
  • 3
    You might need to delete your .aux and .bbl files before it will work properly...
    – Seamus
    Commented May 4, 2011 at 17:13

3 Answers 3


If you really need a bibliography sorted by citation order you have two choices:

(1) write the entries in thebibliography in citation order

(2) use a .bib file, \bibliographystyle{unsrt} and BibTeX.

There is a third choice, actually, but I did it just to prove it's possible:


     \expandafter\xdef\csname uns@cite#1\endcsname{\arabic{mycite}}%
       \csname uns@bibitem#1\endcsname}%

% Define here the bibliography entries
\mybibitem{fetebok}{\emph{Internal Combustion Engine Fundamentals}}
\mybibitem{flowers}{\emph{HCCI Research Towards Development for Stationary 
  Power Applications}}

The citations in~\unscite{ne} the bibliography should~\unscite{flowers}
be ordered according which order they appear in the text. 



Notice that this \unscite can't process lists of references or the optional argument like the usual \cite. It might be done, but I advise you against this approach.

  • 1
    @Argyll Usage of BibTeX is covered in any LaTeX primer.
    – egreg
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 8:09
  • 2
    Well, the options I use is [style=phys,sorting=none,backend=bibtex]. It sorts the references for most of my documents. Just not the one I am currently working on, which follows the order of references in the .bib file. I have no clue of the reason.
    – Argyll
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 8:12
  • 2
    @Argyll This is biblatex, a different thing
    – egreg
    Commented May 28, 2016 at 11:57
  • 4
    I'd strike the ''really'' - citation by order of occurrence is an absolute must-have.
    – reggie
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 8:27
  • 2
    @reggie The only reason for bibliographies in citation order was simplifying the life of typesetters in the olden times. This sorting makes no sense whatsoever for the reader who'd like to find things in the references and a long list in citation order obviously is of a hindrance. It's possible to get automatic alphabetic order and correct cross-references even with word processors, not only with BibTeX/biblatex, but academic inertia unfortunately wins.
    – egreg
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 8:35

I'd already created 150 references in a document using thebibliography, and was faced with the task of sorting them in order of first appearance in the text (a very common requirement in scientific journals).

you have two choices: (1) write the entries in thebibliography in citation order (2) use a .bib file, \bibliographystyle{unsrt} and BibTeX.

Both the above require a lot of work to either manually re-sort thebibliography or manually create a database .bib file.

https://code.google.com/p/latex-bibitemstyler/ seemed to be the solution, but I couldn't get it to work on my system and was working to a deadline. So I've written a brief and very inelegant Python 2.7 workaround which does the job and might help someone with a similar problem. If there could be a standard LaTeX command to sort thebibliography by order of first citation in the text in future releases, I'd be very grateful.

print"\n\nBibSort_v1\nSorts LaTeX 'thebibliography' in order of first citation in text\nDave Williams 26Mar2017\nRun the code in the same directory as your LaTeX source file\nUsing Python 2.x"
filename = raw_input("\n\nEnter LaTeX source filename (e.g. 'input.tex'): ")
fileobject = (open(filename, 'r'))
rawtext = fileobject.read()
start = '\\begin{document}'
end = '\\begin{thebibliography}'
bodytext = rawtext[rawtext.find(start)+len(start):rawtext.rfind(end)]
start = '\\begin{thebibliography}'
end = '\\end{thebibliography}'
bibliography = rawtext[rawtext.find(start)+len(start):rawtext.rfind(end)]
authorlist = []
for char in range(0,len(bodytext) - 10):
    if bodytext[char:char+6] == '\\cite{':
        author = ''
        char +=6
        while (bodytext[char] != '}'):
            if (bodytext[char] == ' '):
            elif(bodytext[char] == ','):
                char +=1 
                if author in authorlist:
                    author = ''
                author += (bodytext[char])
                char +=1    
        if author in authorlist:

labellist = []
reflist = []
for char in range(0,len(bibliography) - 7):
    ref =''
    if bibliography[char:char+9] == '\\bibitem{':
        label =''
        while(bibliography[char] != '}'): 
            label += bibliography[char] 
        while (bibliography[char:char+9] != '\\bibitem{'):
            if char == len(bibliography) -1:
            elif (bibliography[char]) == '\n':
                char +=1
                ref += (bibliography[char])
                char +=1

dictionary = dict(zip(labellist, reflist))
output =''
orphanlist =''
    for name in authorlist:
        output += '\\bibitem{' + name + '}\n' + dictionary[name] + '\n\n'
    if len(authorlist) < len(labellist):
        output+="%" + "-"*80 + "\n"
        output+= "%"+ " The following %d references are in thebibliography but not cited in the text:\n\n" % (len(reflist) - len(authorlist)) 
        orphanlist = list(set(labellist)-set(authorlist))
        for name in range(0, len(orphanlist)-1):
            output += '\\bibitem{' + orphanlist[name] + '}\n' + dictionary[orphanlist[name]] + '\n\n'
    print("\n\n%d unique references were found in the text and sorted in order of appearance in the text" % (len(authorlist)))
    print("%d additional references were found in \\thebibliography which were not used in the text" % (len(orphanlist)))
    print("\nNew bibliography saved as:\n%s\n\nUsing a text editor, Copy all contents of this file,\nand Paste over the existing mybibliography in your LaTeX source file:\n%s\n" % (filename[:-4]+'_NewBib.txt',filename))
    fileobject = open(filename[:-4]+'_NewBib.txt', 'w')
except (TypeError, ValueError), e:
    print e
    print "\nThere may be a mis-match between the labels in your bibliography\n and one or more labels in your in-text citations.\nPerhaps there is a typo, or you've used a capital letter in one\nbut not the other.\nPlease check your the flagged citation using 'find' in your\n Latex editor and run this Python script again."
  • Fyi. That code is sitting 8 years in Github now. Not sure if this is a solution.
    – user236748
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 19:45
  • I got the python version of the latex-bibitemstyler to work (which now is on github at github.com/LaTeX-Bibitem-Styler/latex-bibitemstyler as others have pointed out). It didn't work on (plain) Windows for me, but it worked fine on Linux via WSL.
    – Adrian
    Commented Mar 26 at 11:53

Yes there is a way to sort \bibitems in the order order of appearance in the text. Have a look at https://code.google.com/p/latex-bibitemstyler/, a nice little program that does this job like a charm.


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