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BibTeX: How does BibTeX work?

BibTeX is a tool for incorporating citations into a LaTeX document. This guide will discuss how and why you might want to use this powerful tool.


BibTeX works through a tagging system similarly to its sister program LaTeX.  An example of a BibTeX citation downloaded directly from ACS is shown below:


author = {Błoński, Piotr and Tuček, Jiří and Sofer, Zdenĕk and Mazánek, Vlastimil and Petr, Martin and Pumera, Martin and Otyepka, Michal and Zbořil, Radek},

title = {Doping with Graphitic Nitrogen Triggers Ferromagnetism in Graphene},

journal = {Journal of the American Chemical Society},

volume = {139},

number = {8},

pages = {3171–3180},

year = {2017},

doi = {10.1021/jacs.6b12934},

note ={PMID 28110530},

URL = {},

eprint = {}


This block of code can be formatted in the style of your choice.  For example, \bibliographystyle{achemso} will produce an ACS-style citation.

(1) Błoński, P.; Tuček, J.; Sofer, Z.; Maz´anek, V.; Petr, M.; Pumera, M.; Otyepka, M.; Zbořil, R. Doping with Graphitic Nitrogen Triggers Ferromagnetism in Graphene. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2017, 139, 3171-3180.

A BibTeX record comprises multiple pieces of metadata, separated by commas.  Each field has a name and corresponds to a specific piece of information about the article.  These fields need to be structured in specific formats.  For example, names are formatted as {Last1, First1 and Last2, First2 and Last3, First3 and …}.  Additionally, each record is prefaced with an “@” tag that can vary based on the type of the information being cited, such as book, article, patent, etc.  

BibTeX References

The complete reference for .bib file formatting can be found at:

That last link is pertinent to our example, as the author names contain characters which must be correctly encoded, or LaTeX will not be able to compile the document.