I am writing my PhD Thesis with LaTeX. There are no special instructions in my institution about how to write citations and reference lists.

I decided to use Biblatex but then I realized that existing styles (MiKTeX 2.9) don't meet my needs.

I would like to use an "author-year" citation style, and a style for the reference list similar to what Springer uses in journals such as TEST —see http://www.springer.com/statistics/journal/11749 and then Instructions for Authors > References > Reference list. I copy it here, anyway:

Reference list entries should be alphabetized by the last names of the first author of each work.

  • Journal article

    Gamelin FX, Baquet G, Berthoin S, Thevenet D, Nourry C, Nottin S, Bosquet L (2009) Effect of high intensity intermittent training on heart rate variability in prepubescent children. Eur J Appl Physiol 105:731-738. doi: 10.1007/s00421-008-0955-8

    Ideally, the names of all authors should be provided, but the usage of “et al” in long author lists will also be accepted:

    Smith J, Jones M Jr, Houghton L et al (1999) Future of health insurance. N Engl J Med 965:325–329

  • Article by DOI

    Slifka MK, Whitton JL (2000) Clinical implications of dysregulated cytokine production. J Mol Med. doi:10.1007/s001090000086

  • Book

    South J, Blass B (2001) The future of modern genomics. Blackwell, London

  • Book chapter

    Brown B, Aaron M (2001) The politics of nature. In: Smith J (ed) The rise of modern genomics, 3rd edn. Wiley, New York, pp 230-257

  • Online document

    Cartwright J (2007) Big stars have weather too. IOP Publishing PhysicsWeb. http://physicsweb.org/articles/news/11/6/16/1. Accessed 26 June 2007

  • Dissertation

    Trent JW (1975) Experimental acute renal failure. Dissertation, University of California

What I like of this style is:

  • No extra dots after initials, no commas between surnames and initials. Very clean.
  • No "&" before the last name.
  • No quotation marks for titles.
  • No italics for journal or book titles.
  • No "In:" for articles.
  • No "pp." for articles.

What I would like to change:

  • I would add a dot after the year. For example:

    Giner-Bosch V (2012). Whatever [...]

    Also before the book name:

    [...] In: Smith J (ed). The rise of modern genomics [...]

  • I would use full name for journals, but it depends on my .bib file, I guess.

  • Maybe I would add a final dot after each entry.

And maybe other small things like that.

This is in fact quite similar also to the reference list style that is usual in many medical scientific journal, but they don't usually use an author-year style. Instead, many of them use a numbered system, and they sort references by appearance order. In that case, the year usually goes after or before the journal issue number, as in:

[...] Eur J Appl Physiol 105(2009):731-738

And there are also some other traditions such as adding semicolons like this:

[...] Eur J Appl Physiol 2009;105:731-738

that I am not interested in replicating.

By the way, I've been searching about reference styles, and I am not sure but I think the style I am interested in reproducing is none of the most famous ones, such as MLA, APA, Chicago, Vancouver and so on. But despite that, I see it is used in Springer publications, anyway!

So my question is about building a new Biblatex style (or modifying an existing one).

I've already seen some other questions that are very related to this.

But if I write this new question is mainly because of this first point:

  1. Am I missing something, or this process is actually too handcrafted?? I mean, in my humble opinion, creating or adapting news styles for Biblatex seems to take too much time and to be too delicate (in the sense that it is too easy failing in small details). I thought that it would be kind of more automatic, or that there would already be plenty of styles available (see point 2).

  2. Second point, very related to the first one. Do you know if there is already a Biblatex style that meets my needs?? Maybe I missed it.

  3. If not, which of the existing Biblatex styles do you recommend me to tweak or modify? The one that is closer to the final result I want.

  4. Do you recommend me any of the previously posted questions/answers in particular, or other documents out of this website (Biblatex reference, I guess)? Any other piece of advice?

Notice that my document is written in Spanish, but as far as I know this is not a problem, because Biblatex and Babel get along well together. I mean, my style file don't need to take that into account.

I found this previous entries quite interesting and helpful:

but if I ask this new question is because I want just to be sure I've understood that modifying an existing style is the only way (points 1 and 2).

I don't think a minimal working example is necessary, but in case you think it is, please tell me.

  • 1
    In case anyone is interested, finally I decided to change to Natbib + Custom-bib. Custom-bib makes creating customized bibliographic styles quite easy.
    – Vicent
    Commented Nov 5, 2012 at 16:28

1 Answer 1


There's a lot of questions here. Maybe some that are rather subjective. Rather than produce an essay I'll try to answer your questions.

  1. Yes, the process is handcrafted, if you won't accept or live with one of the standard or common styles, or at least if you need to make more than a few changes to them. With respect, the reason is clear once you look at your own question. You have found a style you like, but you would like a few little things changed: a full stop after some parentheses, and the book name. Fortunately or unfortunately, everyone has these little quirks: corner cases, inconsistencies, favourite little points. This is life. And in the end that means handcrafting. A lot can be done by changing macros, so that the rough work is done quickly. But it's these "little things" that take time.

    Sometimes this becomes a bit frustrating, as one wonders whether this or that feature of a citation style is really required. All of them more-or-less convey the same information, which is really part of the problem: because then we have room for endless debate on matters of taste, about which people, being people, can sometimes feel strongly. To some extent the degree to which your style has to be handcrafted depends on your own ability to live with something that isn't quite exactly what you want. If you could resign yourself to using, say APA or Chicago style, we have exactly what you need. You are driven to bespoke by an exquisite refusal to be seen wearing something off-the-peg: as is your prerogative.

    Bibtex of course managed the semi-homemade approach via makebst. But it's a much simpler system: because of the complexity of biblatex, I doubt such a system is viable. At any rate it would be a huge amount of work, and doesn't exist. The nearest biblatex comes to that is actually the highly configurable styles like the DW styles; but they are not really focussed on your author/year system.

  2. In terms of styles to look at, there are two fairly mature styles that are focussed on author-year citations: biblatex-chicago (which you load as a package of its own) in its authordate version, and biblatex-apa. The former is quite a way from what you want. The latter is pretty close, actually, to your format (though with more periods and punctuation than you like), but might be a good starting point for customization. This does not "meet your needs" if you mean "look exactly as you want your style to look", but it is a totally competent modern citation style which conforms very closely to an established style-guide.

  3. For modification, I'd always start with a standard style (unless it's really a question of tiny tweaks). In your case, I'd probably work from authoryear (or one of its close variants -- though before that I'd look at the code for APA to see if it might be a closer fit.

  4. There is no perfect single source. My own experience, beyond the questions you have identified, is that one got most help from the biblatex documentation, but sometimes even more from the source code, especially biblatex.def and standard.bbx, which you need to keep at hand. They provide the copious examples that the technical documentation rather lacks.

A few suggestions:

  1. Please, please, see if you can't bring yourself to use a style like APA or Chicago, with minimal modification (e.g. to remove unnecessary periods after initials and the like). This would be very much simpler. If you can't, and you are determined to roll your own ...

  2. Ask yourself why you are using biblatex. I'm a huge fan of it, because in my field it is essential: you simply cannot have adequate legal bibliographies with bibtex. You may need it for all sorts of reasons. But if you are not going to need its advanced features, but aim for nothing that bibtex could not do, but are determined on a bespoke approach, then going the makebst route might be better for you. (Or modifying the Springer .bst files which are, I think, available.)

  3. If the answer to those questions is that you are going to use biblatex but produce your own style then

    • start with the book, article, inbook and incollection drivers, in that order. Once you've got them, you are more than half way there usually.

    • when tackling the drivers, use a variety of test data that you are confident about (i.e. you are sure how it should end up being printed). Change only a bit at a time. Make sure to test with unexpected data too.

    • test very frequently. It's horribly easy to introduce some annoying little error like an extra space somewhere, which can be hell to track down later.

    • sort out the punctuation (\newunitpunct and friends) as the first thing you do. Spend some time studying the documentation's quite lengthy description of the punctuation system, which is cunning and useful, but not immediately intuitive.

    • encapsulate as much as you can so that you get repeatable units: aim for drivers which are simply a succession of \printfield, \newunit, \newblock and \usebibmacro, without any heavy logic or formatting built in. Use \bibmacros to control logic, and the various \format...ing directives to deal with formatting and typography.

    • you are going to need to revise (not, of course, edit: make a new alternative) at least one .lbx file because they are stuffed full of full stops after abbreviations.

    • try to build a style which will precisely follow the Springer one, and then add your tweaks (perhaps with an option), so that you can make the style available to others.

  • Thanks, @Paul. I am trying to modify an existing style, but as you said, I don't know if I need all the power of Biblatex, and if I don't succeed, maybe I'll try with Natbib.
    – Vicent
    Commented Nov 4, 2012 at 10:44

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