I am looking for an introduction to writing/coding a .bib file for biblatex that covers more than the basics and goes into more depth than the biblatex manual.

Basically the content of the “Database Guide” section of the manual but with more detail than the (although good) reference-style explanations of the manual.

I've started compiling a bibliography and stumble over the more complex instances of proceedings, journals, yearbooks and the like. While the manual is concise and surely “correct“ I think I'm not the only one who would benefit from more verbose explanations. However, searching the web or stackexchange didn't give me good results so far.

[If there's anything specifically written with German humanities in mind it would be a bonus ...]

  • Do you just mean what fields to include for various entry types? What about biblatex-examples.bib? – David Purton Jun 23 at 6:37
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    You might also find biblatex-sbl-examples.pdf useful. It's fairly tightly tied to biblatex-sbl, but at least it's more in the humanities field, and gives some good ideas of how I've done different types of references. – David Purton Jun 23 at 12:25

Paul Stanley's biblatex-tutorial has a few words about the .bib file format and discusses a few common examples.

Dominik Waßenhoven's DTK article (in German) about biblatex also includes a short section about .bib files https://web.archive.org/web/20161025012738/https://www.dante.de/DTK/Ausgaben/2008-2.pdf

The style documentations for styles written by Alex Ball have extensive example sections showing the .bib entry and the output. While your chosen style may not give the exact same output and may be different in a few details (his styles offer a great many features that are not implemented in the standard styles), the entries shown there may still serve as an example of good practice. The biblatex-bath documentation and the biblatex-oxref oxyear style documentation are well worth a look.

I also always recommend a look at the example entries in biblatex-examples.bib (the file should be installed on your system, you can find it with kpsewhich biblatex-examples.bib or you can view it on GitHub). There are even some explanatory annotations for some entries. The database is supposed to be used with both the legacy BibTeX and the modern Biber backend, so it is still ASCII only. Nowadays I would of course recommend Biber and UTF-8 encoding of the file.

It is good to keep some pieces of advice from btxdoc (which is for BibTeX, but the general ideas of course also apply to biblatex) in mind (while I agree with the general sentiments expressed there, I don't really agree with all of the examples)

  1. The standard style’s thirteen entry types do reasonably well at formatting most entries, but no scheme with just thirteen formats can do everything perfectly. Thus, you should feel free to be creative in how you use these entry types (but if you have to be too creative, there’s a good chance you’re using the wrong entry type).

  2. Don’t take the field names too seriously. Sometimes, for instance, you might have to include the publisher’s address along with the publisher’s name in the publisher field, rather than putting it in the address field. Or sometimes, difficult entries work best when you make judicious use of the note field.

  3. Don’t take the warning messages too seriously. Sometimes, for instance, the year appears in the title, as in The 1966 World Gnus Almanac. In this case it’s best to omit the year field and to ignore BibTeX’s warning message.

You should feel free to experiment a bit, play around with the various types and fields and see what you get. Usually there are two ways you can influence the output: Via the input in the .bib file or via modifications of the bibliography/citation style. In the end what matters is the output in citations and the bibliography and if you have to go against some recommendations or have to bend the rules a bit to get what you want, then so be it. Of course I prefer to stay true to the meaning of the entry types and fields, but I'm also aware that it can be tricky to get biblatex to do what you want and sometimes a little abuse of the data model can offer a quick way out of your conundrum.

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    If you have concrete suggestions for improvements of the biblatex documentation, don't hesitate to get in touch at github.com/plk/biblatex/issues. (It is widely known that the biblatex documentation does not contain a tutorial-type introduction for new users, but it is also widely known that the biblatex documentation is quite long and full-on already. There is some balance to be struck here and time is a limiting factor in projects to enhance the docs, but suggestions [and offers to help!] are always welcome.) – moewe Jun 23 at 6:40
  • At this point in time I'm far away from being able to help with more than questions, and I think the reference in the biblatex manual is well written. When I will have managed to get my head around it I may be helping in some way or another - but there's a huge backlog of development and documentation of my own open source projects ;-) – uli_1973 Jun 23 at 11:41
  • And I will go through your suggestions ASAP. I agree with your referenced bullet points 2. and 3., but right now I'm starting with a bibliography that may become somewhat large on the long run, and I feel that if I bend the rules too much at this point (especially without a proper understanding) there will be ugly issues down the road. – uli_1973 Jun 23 at 11:43
  • I like the biblatex-tutorial very much, although (as you say, @moewe) it only covers a subset of things. One question I had before and still have: Do I get it right that journals are generally only referenced through journaltitle and not through anything that can be coded as a parent entry and accessed through crossref? I had though @periodical would be the entry I can put the main info on a journal in, but that doesn't seem to be the case. – uli_1973 Jun 24 at 12:24
  • @uli_1973 In theory you can crossref a @periodical (either the entire journal or a specific number of the journal, but you have to keep in mind the inheritance rules), see the examples in gist.github.com/moewew/bea2ef284ccd11041b2d5949622ff9d3. But in practice that is rarely done. Maybe because usually the advantages of the approach are not that great: It probably doesn't happen that often that one cites several articles from the same journal issue and if you only have the title in the @periodical you don't win a lot anyway. ... – moewe Jun 24 at 20:39

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