When copying bibtex entries from journal websites, they usually include a lot of information, and not all of it is necessary depending on the journal you are submitting the paper too.

Currently I have two bib files, one with the full citation as taken from the journal page, and the other with the shorthand that I manually entered.

Is there an automatic way to get bibtex to refactor bibliographies? The citation list is starting to get rather large, and so I would like to avoid just copying the main bib file and trimming down the fields by hand. I've heard of people holding on to 4 or 5 bib files with different citation styles, but if you have 30-40 references, keeping track of 150+ references becomes untenable.

More specifically I want the bibliography to ignore title entries and automagically replace 4+ authors with the first author + et al.

If it matters, I'm looking to submit to an AIP journal and want to follow their style manual.

  • Related question
    – Lev Bishop
    Nov 19, 2010 at 23:46
  • 14
    You don't normally alter the .bib file for this: the job of the BibTeX style is to choose what information to include in the bibliography. If the journal style uses all authors, then it does: that is a decision they've made. (I'm a chemist, and we always include all authors as the lead author is always last in the list!)
    – Joseph Wright
    Nov 20, 2010 at 7:08
  • For less than three, you need to set minbibnames as well. For example, if you just want to display the first authour's name, use minbibnames=1,maxbibnames=1
    – vineeshvs
    Feb 27, 2020 at 16:14
  • In case the package option maxnames=4 for biblatex doesn't work, one may need to specify the uniquelist=false option additionally.
    – upe
    Oct 19, 2022 at 17:17

6 Answers 6


As the comments have mentioned, I would recommend against maintaining a bibliography with the abbreviations done by hand. This is exactly the sort of automatic thing that bibtex should be doing for you. That said, I don't know how to control this sort of thing with bibtex. I seem to remember that natbib did automatically truncate author lists, but I can't remember how much control it gave you. (indeed, this could well have been one of the things that made me move to biblatex...)

The biblatex solution would simply be to set maxnames=4 as a package option. Incidentally, biblatex is no longer in beta: v1.0 was uploaded to CTAN yesterday.

  • 1
    Could you provide some example latex code please? Nov 1, 2017 at 4:30
  • 6
    I used the following: \usepackage[backend=biber,style=ieee, maxnames=10]{biblatex}. Just set the number to suit your needs. Jan 23, 2018 at 12:35

I feel a little guilty answering my own question, but this is for the sake of people looking this up in the future.

Bibliography style files dictate how the bibliography is typeset and which fields are kept/modified. As such you simply have to select the right \bibliographystyle{style} before calling \bibliography{bibfilename}

In my case, I had left over boilerplate code from the template I start from for all my latex articles. Revtex sets the style automatically when specifying the document class (and the journal substyle), however I still had a \bibliographystyle{plain} left over from my template. All I had to do was remove that line in order to let revtex select the bib style automagically.

  • Nothing wrong with answering your own question, but note that this doesn't seem to work generally. Jan 15, 2015 at 5:49
  • 4
    Unfortunately this is out of date. On journals.aps.org/revtex/revtex-faq#b9 it says "The BibTeX style files distributed with REVTeX 4.1 and 4.2 no longer truncate the author lists of references (REVTeX 4's .bst files would truncate the list if there were more than 10 authors). APS editors prefer full author lists be used for references with 15 or less authors. For longer lists, use the phrase "and others" in place of the authors you want to omit."
    – Winther
    Jan 31, 2019 at 17:47

A quick search for "et~al." in the .bst file will reveal the code where this is done. In my case (apsrev.bst) I found that the code will look for the key word "other" in the author list and replace with "et~al."

This means I just have to modify the bibitem author to replace all the other authors with "and others". It's not really the correct fix, if it requires modifying the bibtex database file. But it helps, if you want to add your own entry where, for certain reasons, you want or have to truncate the author list.

  • As Seamus pointed out, have a look at biblatex. For starters, see this question.
    – lockstep
    Dec 8, 2010 at 21:06
  • This answer tex.stackexchange.com/a/26582/120014 has more specific instructions on modifying .bst to make it use et al. Not everyone has the option of using biblatex.
    – EL_DON
    May 18, 2017 at 20:17

I came across such issue today, and this is my solution. Since I use Endnote as my daily reference manager, so I intend to export the references as Bibtex format from Endnote. The default output style of BibTeX Export in Endnote is listing all the authors; definitely, you can edit the author key one by one in the .bib output file, but it takes a lot of time if you have several tens of references. The best way is to modify the export style, that is edit the BibTeX Export style in Endnote, find Bibliograpy sub-panel, edit Author Lists and Templates as the means they appear, e.g. you can control the author list by editing the number of authors wish to appear and the others with et al.


I know that this is an ancient post, but I've found myself returning to this page more than once. After having had enough with too much manual fiddling, I discovered a nice python package to parse the bibliography file. This gist can be used to convert a long bibliography file into a short one (it explicitly truncates long author lists) https://gist.github.com/zimmerst/9cb2ccad69b5f55a0a222c01b1d8e183

  • The code runs into the following errors: --------------------------------------------------------------------------- ModuleNotFoundError Traceback (most recent call last) ~/Google/shortauthor/shortenAuthors.py in <module> 6 # usage: python shortenAuthors.py <bibfile> <number of names> 7 from argparse import ArgumentParser ----> 8 from bibtexparser import loads as bib_loads, dumps as bib_dumps 9 from bibtexparser.bwriter import BibTexWriter 10 ModuleNotFoundError: No module named 'bibtexparser' Feb 2, 2019 at 23:55

From https://tex.stackexchange.com/a/482291/113143

You can use the unsrt2authabbrvpp.bst to reduce the author's list without changing anything in the bib file. I have tested it with only IEEE template.

Download it from here: https://gitlab.com/tanwirahmad/ieee-abrv-names

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