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I am new to LaTeX and I need to create a list of references.

I browsed through this forum and couldn't find some uniform standard for doing references.

Many people are using, e.g, How to reference properly when citations are grouped by sections

\begin{filecontents*}

@article{A1,
  keywords = {articles},
  title={First Paper},
  author={Green},
  journal={Journal 1}, 
  note={based on \cite{C2}},
  year={2014}
}

Others are using, e.g., When I use the \begin{thebibliography} command, I get it as a chapter. How can I get rid of that?

\begin{thebibliography}{10}
\bibitem{notes} John W. Dower {\emph{Readings compiled for History 21.479.}} 1991.
\bibitem{impj}  The Japan Reader {\emph{Imperial Japan 1800-1945}} 1973: Random House, N.Y.
\end{thebibliography}

What is the form of citation that someone new to LaTeX should use?

And based on what criteria would one choose one method of citation over the other?

5
  • 2
    the filecontents version is a bibtex .bib file normally that would be edited as a separate file, sometimes people put it in filecontents to make a single file example to post here but there is no advantage to doing that in a real document. bibtex will take a .bib file and generate a bibliography enviornment like the one you show, so the two methods are not so different. Mar 30, 2019 at 20:04
  • @DavidCarlisle, may be you didn't notice the second method that is a bibliography created be \begin{thebibliography} and not by using a .bib file. I would add that in the second method this kind of manual created method has the disadvantage thet you can't easy change its style by selecting another .bst (bibliography style) to customize your exported form .bib bibliography.
    – koleygr
    Mar 30, 2019 at 20:37
  • 2
    @koleygr but to latex it is the same thing, all bibtex does is generate a thebibliography enviornment for you. I agree the OP should start by using bibtex and a bib file Mar 30, 2019 at 20:51
  • To comment on the question: the 'normal' way of creating a list of references (called 'bibliography') is to make a separate file with the references in it and run BibTeX or BibLaTeX on your document. See for example latex-tutorial.com/tutorials/bibtex.
    – Marijn
    Mar 30, 2019 at 20:56
  • Ok @DavidCarlisle... Of course bibtex generates the .bbl that is like this ... I just wanted to add that by using bibtex you don't have to edit all your entries in order to change between usual styles of bibliography ... But of course (in some cases) even this way could be simpler if you don't know what to do with a complicated .bst file and/or you don't have the knowledge to change the bst file etc.
    – koleygr
    Mar 30, 2019 at 20:58

2 Answers 2

4

For practical purposes the distinction that should be made is not between thebibliography on one side and filecontents on the other, but between thebibliography on one side and .bib files and BibTeX on the other.

In the bibliography context filecontents is usually only used to make example files self-contained and produce a .bib file for use with BibTeX. That is why you will find many mentions of it here, but in production use one would normally not use it. (I don't doubt that some people do, maybe because they find it more convenient, or maybe because they picked it up as a habit from various sites on the web.)

Manual thebibliography

thebibliography is the manual way to produce bibliographies in citations. All LaTeX offers you here is basically a way to produce a list of labelled entries that can be referenced with \cite. thebibliography usually works like an enumerate list that uses \bibitem[<optional label>]{<entry key>} instead of \item[<optional label>] and automatically sets a \label that you can refer to with \cite (instead of \ref). Everything else is left to you. You have to write and format the entire entry, you have to sort the list, you have to assign labels if you don't want to use a numbered citation style.

\begin{thebibliography}{2}
\bibitem{notes} John W. Dower \emph{Readings compiled for History 21.479.} 1991.
\bibitem{impj}  The Japan Reader \emph{Imperial Japan 1800-1945} 1973: Random House, N.Y.
\end{thebibliography}

Pros

  • The method is easy to get the hang of once you realise it is just a fancy enumerate.
  • You have full control over all details of the formatting and sorting of the entries.
  • No external programs are needed to compile the citations. It is enough to run LaTeX twice (or three times).

Cons

  • There is a chance of inconsistencies since you have to format all entries by hand.
  • It is time consuming to change the bibliography style, since you have to manually reformat every entry. (Suppose you want the name format Dower, John W. instead of John W. Dower in all of your entries. You'd have to invert each and every name manually.)
  • When you add new entries, you need to make sure to get the sorting order right. This is especially tricky if you want to sort your bibliography in citation order so that in your text the first work you cite is numbered [1], the second [2] and so forth. Every time you move around a few sentences with citations you run the risk of having to check your sort order.
  • In case your bibliography entries have context-dependent features like disambiguation letters for works by the same author from the same year (Sigfridsson 2000a and Sigfridsson 2000b), you need to manually calculate those features and keep track of them if anything changes.

For a handful bibliography entries with a straightforward bibliography style writing thebibliography manually is an option. But as soon as you plan on citing more works or want to be able to change the style easily or want to avoid inconsistencies other methods are usually better.

.bib files (BibTeX)

.bib files are a way to address many of the cons of a manual thebibliography by introducing another layer of abstraction and a middle man called BibTeX. .bib files contain the relevant bibliographic information of a work you want to cite in a systematic and machine-readable form.

@article{sigfridsson,
  author  = {Sigfridsson, Emma and Ryde, Ulf},
  title   = {Comparison of methods for deriving atomic charges from the
             electrostatic potential and moments},
  journal = {Journal of Computational Chemistry},
  year    = 1998,
  volume  = 19,
  number  = 4,
  pages   = {377-395},
  doi     = {10.1002/(SICI)1096-987X(199803)19:4<377::AID-JCC1>3.0.CO;2-P},
}

Instead of writing thebibliography manually you tell LaTeX about the bibliography style you would like to see your bibliography formatted in and BibTeX (a helper program, see Question mark or bold citation key instead of citation number) will produce the thebibliography environment for you (in the .bbl file), which LaTeX automatically reads and typesets.

Assuming your .bib file called mybibfile.bib contains the above entry, you could cite it and produce a bibliography in your document called mydoc.tex with

\documentclass{article}

\begin{document}
\cite{sigfridsson}
\bibliographystyle{plain}
\bibliography{mybibfile}
\end{document}

by running (at least) LaTeX, BibTeX, LaTeX, LaTeX (more precisely pdflatex mydoc, bibtex mydoc, pdflatex mydoc, pdflatex mydoc, assuming pdflatex is your preferred flavour of LaTeX) on that file.

Pros

  • All entries are automatically formatted according to a given style. Inconsistencies are less likely.
  • Changing the output style is as easy as selecting another \bibliographystyle.
  • Sorting happens automatically.
  • Extra information can be calculated on the fly for you.
  • It is much easier to re-use entries from other documents by just copying them over. They way BibTeX works means that you can have .bib entries in your .bib file that you don't cite. That means that it is possible to have one master .bib file for several documents with different bibliographies.

Cons

  • You need an external program (BibTeX) and extra compilation steps (LaTeX, BibTeX, LaTeX, LaTeX instead of just LaTeX, LaTeX).
  • You need an external .bib file.
  • If you want to modify the format you need to learn to manipulate BibTeX styles (.bst files) with their reverse Polish notation.
  • You need to learn how to write .bib files and use the BibTeX ecosystem.

.bib files (biblatex)

There is actually another method that shares the same basic ideas of .bib files as the BibTeX approach: biblatex. From a user perspective the BibTeX method explained above and biblatex are not all that different: You have a .bib file, you have a few commands in your .tex file to tell LaTeX and its helper which bibliography style you want, you run an external program (with biblatex usually Biber instead of BibTeX, though biblatex also works with BibTeX as backend). But under the hood the two systems are very different. biblatex does not rely on thebibliography and completely reimplements all bibliographic and citation features. Its bibliography style programming language is not based on the reverse Polish notation from BibTeX, styles can be programmed directly in LaTeX.

To the intents and purposes of this comparison the pros and cons of biblatex and BibTeX vs thebibliography are roughly the same. A detailed comparison can be found in bibtex vs. biber and biblatex vs. natbib.

.bib files make sense if you have a larger bibliography and if you don't want to have to worry about consistency, formatting details and sorting. I usually recommend to use .bib files over manual thebibliography. Whether you want to use classical BibTeX or biblatex is a different matter (I'm biased towards biblatex, but there are reasons to prefer BibTeX over biblatex).


filecontents

As mentioned above filecontents is not really something that can be compared to thebibliography and the BibTeX or biblatex approach to bibliographies, it is just a way to produce external files from within a .tex document. mydoc.tex from above would then look like

\documentclass{article}

\usepackage{filecontents}
\begin{filecontents}{\jobname.bib}
@article{sigfridsson,
  author  = {Sigfridsson, Emma and Ryde, Ulf},
  title   = {Comparison of methods for deriving atomic charges from the
             electrostatic potential and moments},
  journal = {Journal of Computational Chemistry},
  year    = 1998,
  volume  = 19,
  number  = 4,
  pages   = {377-395},
  doi     = {10.1002/(SICI)1096-987X(199803)19:4<377::AID-JCC1>3.0.CO;2-P},
}
\end{filecontents}

\begin{document}
\cite{sigfridsson}
\bibliographystyle{plain}
\bibliography{\jobname}
\end{document}

You would run LaTeX, BibTeX, LaTeX, LaTeX on that file and that would produce a document with a citation and a bibliography. The interesting bit is that the first LaTeX run will produce the .bib file mydoc.bib that is then used as the bibliography database.


Further reading

This answer was meant as a short comparison between manual thebibliography and .bib files with BibTeX/biblatex. It does not want to be a tutorial or showcase of BibTeX.

There are many tutorials and beginner's guides out there for bibliographies with LaTeX. Some are very good, others not so much.

I think https://www.dickimaw-books.com/latex/novices/html/biblio.html and https://www.dickimaw-books.com/latex/thesis/html/citations.html are very good places to start for thebibliography and BibTeX/biblatex.

For biblatex there is biblatex in a nutshell (for beginners).

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  • Wow thats the longest reply I have ever seen. Thank you
    – Concu Bine
    Mar 30, 2019 at 23:38
1

Just to make it clear: In your given code is an relevant error (you missed to define the filename the given code should be stored in: {mybibfile.bib}), it should be:

\begin{filecontents*}{mybibfile.bib}

@article{A1,
  keywords = {articles},
  title={First Paper},
  author={Green},
  journal={Journal 1}, 
  note={based on \cite{C2}},
  year={2014}
}

That simply means (check also the documentation of filecontents with texdoc filecontents) that the following tex code in an mwe (and only in an mwe, for your work you need not to use filecontents) has an line like

\bibliography{mybibfile} 

for bibtex or

\addbibresource{mybibfile.bib}

for biblatex and biber.

For you you would have two files, one called mybibfile.bib (containing the bib entrys you need in your tex document mwe.tex):

@article{A1,
  keywords = {articles},
  title={First Paper},
  author={Green},
  journal={Journal 1}, 
  note={based on \cite{C2}},
  year={2014}
}

In your file mwe.tex you use this bib file as showed above. In your text you have then somewhere \cite{A1} to reference this bib entry.

Do not write the bibliography by your own with adding

\begin{thebibliography}{10}
\bibitem{notes} John W. Dower {\emph{Readings compiled for History 21.479.}} 1991.
\bibitem{impj}  The Japan Reader {\emph{Imperial Japan 1800-1945}} 1973: Random House, N.Y.
\end{thebibliography}

into mwe.tex. That too much ends with ugly errors you can omit using a bib file.

So the following MWE

\RequirePackage{filecontents}
\begin{filecontents*}{mybibfile.bib}
@article{A1,
  keywords = {articles},
  title    = {First Paper},
  author   = {Green},
  journal  = {Journal 1}, 
  note     = {based on \cite{C2}},
  year     = {2014},
}
@book{adams,
  title     = {The Restaurant at the End of the Universe},
  author    = {Douglas Adams},
  series    = {The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy},
  publisher = {Pan Macmillan},
  year      = {1980},
}
\end{filecontents*}


\documentclass[10pt,a4paper]{article}

\begin{document}

This is text with \cite{A1} and \cite{adams}.

\bibliographystyle{unsrt}
\bibliography{mybibfile}

\end{document}

is equivalent to the usage in reality of the bib file mybibfile.bib

@article{A1,
  keywords = {articles},
  title    = {First Paper},
  author   = {Green},
  journal  = {Journal 1}, 
  note     = {based on \cite{C2}},
  year     = {2014},
}
@book{adams,
  title     = {The Restaurant at the End of the Universe},
  author    = {Douglas Adams},
  series    = {The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy},
  publisher = {Pan Macmillan},
  year      = {1980},
}

and the tex code in file mwe.tex in the same directory:

\documentclass[10pt,a4paper]{article}

\begin{document}

This is text with \cite{A1} and \cite{adams}.

\bibliographystyle{unsrt}
\bibliography{mybibfile}

\end{document}

Conclusion:

Please read an introduction into LaTeX and bibtex and using bib files!

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