General infos

I'm a law student in Switzerland and I discovered about a week the beauty of LaTeX after having a big fight with MSWord (over pretty much everything).

I got around the basics (paper and text formatting, inserting a citation, creating a bibliography, etc.) but now I am stuck with THE major problem why I abandoned MSWord to LaTeX: bibliography and citation styles.

I am using TeXShop and MacTeX on Mac for the typesetting, as well as JabRef to organise my bibliography.


In Switzerland, if you want to write a legal document (article, book, essay for university), you need to obey certain rules concerning bibliography and indexes, as well as the citation formats. They do not correspond to any of the classical styles available around the world (e.g. APA, MLA, IEEE).

I found an interesting package on CTAN (biblatex-swiss-legal, accessible here) that would have allowed me to avoid ask this question here. Unfortunately, the package hasn't been updated since biblatex's last update (at least 2014), especially concerning the namelabel parameters. I was successful in fixing most of the bugs, but a few are too tough for a newbie TeX user to handle.

I therefore decided to create my own bibliography and citation style, ex nihilo, from scratch.


My questions are mainly concerning the general aspects of creating a bibliography and citation style, I'll find the specific commands afterwards on the different forums:

  1. Is there any way to avoid using biblatex, natbib & co. while writing that .bst/.cst-file?
  2. What is the utility of biber in this context?
  3. Is makebst ran on Terminal really useful, or can I just encode the styles directly as a UTF-8 file?
  4. What are the basic essentials I need to include in the document?

I know that wanting to create a personal bibliography and citation style without that much of an experience on TeX may seem crazy (and/or naive), but the original motive for which to change to LaTeX is precisely these characteristics of a scientific paper: uniform bibliographic and citing styles. I'm willing to spend a great deal of time to get this done when I'll start university in September. And as the French saying claims: «c'est en forgeant qu'on devient forgeron» (practise makes perfect)!

  • 5
    Just a few observations: biblatex is much easier to customise than .bst files (which are written in Reverse Polish Notation and use a syntax very different from TeX). Biber is more powerful than bibtex, and understands UTF8, which bibtex does not.
    – Bernard
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 16:34
  • 1
    @Bernard That's the most appealing thing anyone's ever said about BST files. Is it really just WFF 'N PROOF in reverse?!!
    – cfr
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 21:03
  • 1
    Really, this question is much too broad. It is asking about way more than can possibly be covered in an answer here. Moreover, it will be much easier to fix up the existing style you found if it is just a question of updating it for current Biblatex. Saying that's beyond the ken of a new user and then saying you want to start some sort of bibliography style from scratch is ... really ... crazy. I appreciate your enthusiasm and that you are willing to spend time on this, but don't start off by attempting something which would dampen anybody's enthusiasm. Use your time more effectively!
    – cfr
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 21:08
  • (1) Biblatex case: does not apply. natbib case: yes. (2) Which context? It takes a list of citation keys and pulls out the entries for those keys from a database, preprocessing and sorting the data to create a file of the data associated with those keys in a form Biblatex can use. (3) Unanswerable. makebst is certainly useful. UTF-8 is inapplicable if makebst is in the picture because BibTeX doesn't do UTF-8 and makebst creates BST files for BibTeX. If you learn the language, you can write a .bst directly (not in UTF-8). (4) Which document? The style must cover every entry type needed.
    – cfr
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 21:14
  • @cfr: my bad, I got rather confused with all the names and the possible "marriages" between them. I started reading the biblatex explanation pdf, saw a lot of the things I might be interested in, so I guess I'll stick by it for the moment. I thought that writing a .bst would require the same "language" (syntax?) than TeX (beginners naiveness, mea culpa). Thanks a lot for your answers and your tips! Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 21:24


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