Normalizing References

Citing sources and previous work is integral to research. Here are a few tips on getting your references right when using BibTeX (although you may use the formatting rules with whatever system you use). Note these are broad recommendations that I believe will apply to your papers. If you think this is overkill, go check the hundreds of pages the Chicago Manual of Style has on references, including how to cite cooking recipes, blueprints, songs, papers in foreign languages, and whatever you can think of.

Keep your references in a single place

You will likely have to cite the same related work on multiple papers, so just keep all your references around in one place. Keeping them in one place might have other uses, like helping you find a paper you’ve read in the past but don’t remember the title or authors. Whenever I start a new paper, I link (with ln -s) my BibTeX file to the paper’s directory. Any new references I read and cite will be available in the (single) BibTeX file for other papers. If you like to get crazy, you may use a reference management system; I don’t like to get crazy.

What to show

References should be consistent, and by consistency I mean that you should show the same items of information for conference and journal papers. I settled on the minimum amount of information that allows a reader to unambiguously find the referenced paper. Using the minimum makes it easier for you to create the BibTex entry and minimizes use of space, which we so often lack.

For conference articles I show exactly: authors, title, conference, and year. BibTeX does this automatically for you if you have author, title, booktitle, and year fields in your BibTeX inproceedings entries. In BibTeX source files, everything outside entries is considered a comment, so you can just move all information that is not one of these four items outside the entry and keep them around. Here is an example entry in my BibTeX file:

    author = {Sundaresan, S. and Feamster, N. and
              Teixeira, R. and Magharei, N.},
    title = {{Measuring and Mitigating Web Performance
              Bottlenecks in Broadband Access Networks}},
    booktitle = IMC,
    year = {2013},
 isbn = {978-1-4503-1953-9},
 location = {Barcelona, Spain},
 pages = {213--226},
 numpages = {14},
 url = {},
 doi = {10.1145/2504730.2504741},
 acmid = {2504741},
 publisher = {ACM},
 address = {New York, NY, USA},
 keywords = {DNS prefetching, bottlenecks, broadband networks},

For journal articles I show exactly: authors, title, journal, volume, number, pages, and year. As before, BibTeX does this automatically for you if you have these fields in your article entries. Here is an example entry:

   author = {Roughan, M. and Willinger, W. and Maennel, O. and
             Perouli, D. and Bush, R.},
   journal = IEEEJSAC,
   title = {{10 Lessons from 10 Years of Measuring and Modeling
             the Internet's Autonomous Systems}},
   year = {2011},
   volume = {29},
   number = {9},
   pages = {1810--1821}
 keywords={Internet;routing protocols},

Other normalization tips

Capitalize titles: The Chicago Manual of Style recommends we capitalize titles (and section headers). Once you invest time in learning how to capitalize titles, you will get it right and it will look better too. Note that BibTeX removes capitalization from titles by default (a desperate attempt at consistent capitalization?), so you need to add two opening and closing braces to tell BibTeX you are a pro! Check the examples above.

Normalize conference and journal names: To avoid having conferences and journals appear differently, you can create aliases for them. In the example above I use IMC and IEEEJSAC, which were defined earlier in my BibTeX file as follows:

@string{IMC = "Proc. IMC"}
@string{IEEEJSAC = "IEEE J. Selected Areas in Communications"}

Abbreviate first names: My reasoning is that abbreviating first names saves space, so do it everywhere. Do not omit authors, e.g., using et al.