Is there a convention for how to enter publications that are "in preparation" or "submitted to Some Journal" into a BibTeX database?


One can enter non-numeric information -- such as "in press" and "forthcoming" -- directly in the year field of a bibliographic entry.

The only time that having non-numeric information in the year field may cause trouble is if you (a) have several "in-press" pieces by the same author(s) and (b) need to ensure that the entries are sorted in a certain order. Fortunately, an easy fix for this is suggested in the BibTeX manual:

  • First, set up a command named \noop (short for "no operation"): At the top of your .bib file, you should enter

    @preamble{ " \newcommand{\noop}[1]{} " } % a do-nothing command that serves a purpose
  • Later on in the bib file, you'd augment the year fields of the "in-press" entries as follows:

      author  = "John Smith", 
      year    = 2011,
      journal = "Unorganized Scholarly Impressions",
      ... }
      author  = "John Smith", 
      year    = "\noop{3001}in press",
      journal = "Journal of Nothingness",
      ... }
       author  = "John Smith", 
       year    = "\noop{3002}forthcoming",
       journal = "Review of Random Thoughts",
       ... }
  • With this setup, and assuming you're employing a bibliography style that sorts entries by year, "smith:2011" will always be listed before "smith:inpress-a" which, in turn, will always be listed before "smith:inpress-b".

  • Note that \noop{<anything>} generates no LaTeX output. However, it is still useful, because when BibTeX encounters it while building the bibliography file (which will have the file name extension .bbl), it will "see" the contents of the two year fields as 3001in press and 3002forthcoming, respectively, and thus perform its sorting job correctly.

  • Observe that I recommend using fake years -- such as 3001, 3002, and so on -- to make clear to all readers of the .bib file (including yourself!) that these aren't real publication dates but are being used solely for the purpose of ensuring a correct sorting order.

The natbib citation command \citet{smith:inpress-a,smith:inpress:b} will generate

Smith (in press, forthcoming)

This may well be confusing to your readers. To avoid this problem -- and assuming, for the sake of this example, that both pieces will be published later in 2012 -- you'll have to change the two year fields to something such as

year = "\noop{3001}in press 2012a"


year = "\noop{3002}in press 2012b"

respectively. With these modifications in place, the command \citet{smith:inpress-a,smith:inpress:b} will generate the more readily parsable output

Smith (in press 2012a, in press 2012b)

Later on, once the pieces are published, you can update the .bib file and replace "\noop{3001}in press 2012a" with the actual publication year -- which may turn out to be 2013. (Obviously, you'll want to use that opportunity to also enter the actual values of the entry's other fields, such as volume, issue, pages, etc.)

Addendum: Note that the \noop command can also be used to impose a sorting order on pieces that have already been published. Suppose that you have three entries published in 2005 by the particularly prolific "John Miller", with keys miller:2005a, miller:2005b, and miller:2005c; let's assume the keys were chosen in this manner because you happen to know that the 2005a piece was published in February, the 2005b piece in June, and the 2005c piece in October 2005. Suppose further that all three entries currently contain the field year = 2005. If two or three publications are to be included in a bibliography that's sorted by author and year, there's unfortunately no guarantee that BibTeX will list these entries according to the values of their keys. To ensure that the miller:2005a, miller:2005b, and miller:2005c entries will always be sorted and thus listed in this order, you could use the \noop command and modify the entries' year fields as follows:

   author = "John Miller",
   year   = "2005{\noop{a}}",
   author = "John Miller",
   year   = "2005{\noop{b}}",
   author = "John Miller",
   year   = "2005{\noop{c}}",

That way, if for a given publication you need to include the pieces with keys 2005b and 2005c, BibTeX will be sure to give them the year labels 2005a and 2005b when the .bbl file is created.

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  • 1
    Instead of calling the command \noop, would it make sense to call it \sortorder - so that it's clear what's going on? Or would there be some other undesirable consequences from this? – jhabbott May 22 '16 at 2:27
  • @jhabbott - Thanks. I can't think of any undesirable consequences of naming the macro \sortorder. A personal anecdote: in the close to five years that have passed since I posted this answer, I've actually switched from \noop to \noopsort in my own work (i.e., my own working papers) -- precisely to provide a clue as to the macro's purpose. I'm pretty sure that \noopsort is also the name used in some of the original BibTeX documentation. – Mico May 22 '16 at 5:26
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    With pdflatex I get only the last four characters of the Year field in the citation. E.g. a field like year = "\noop{3001}in press", produces a citation like (de Sousa, ress). – Luís de Sousa Feb 13 '17 at 13:29
  • @LuísdeSousa - The way the year field is rendered is governed by the bibliography style. Which bibliography style does your document employ? – Mico Feb 13 '17 at 13:33
  • 1
    I am using apalike. – Luís de Sousa Feb 13 '17 at 13:48

If you are using a traditional BibTeX style file, use the @unpublished type and use the notes field to explain the status. If you are using biblatex, then you can use the @article type and add the information to the notes: biblatex tends to be more forgiving in what is 'required' for an article.

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  • I could be wrong, but doesn't the notes field show up in the output with the @article type as well? – Reid Oct 13 '11 at 14:10
  • @ReidPriedhorsky It does, but some BibTeX styles issue a warning if you have no year, volume or pages for an @article entry. Some may give very odd formatting as a result, so I'd avoid that unless using biblatex. In the later case, there are not really any 'required' fields in the same way as traditional BibTeX, so the problem is avoided. – Joseph Wright Oct 13 '11 at 14:53
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    In my version [BibTeX 0.99c (TeX Live 2009/Debian)], this works if I use the type @article and the field name note, rather than notes. – SabreWolfy Aug 7 '12 at 11:25

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