Customizing Biblatex Styles For Different Fields And Outputs

The Core Issue: Making BibLaTeX Cite Things Correctly

When using BibLaTeX for managing bibliographies and citations in LaTeX documents, one of the main challenges is configuring the styles to correctly format references for your particular field and intended output format. Out-of-the-box BibLaTeX provides styles for many common publication types, but customization is often needed to adhere to the specific requirements of scholarly journals, university format guidelines, or publisher style manuals. This article explores techniques for modifying BibLaTeX to handle nuanced citation and bibliography criteria.

Modifying Citation and Bibliography Styles

BibLaTeX is designed to be highly customizable, with numerous style templates, formatting options, and macro definitions that can be altered. Some common reasons you may need to customize styles include:

  • Adapting styles for a new field or journal not already included
  • Tweaking small formatting details to match exact publisher specifications
  • Changing citation formats preferred in different countries/languages
  • Adding support for less common source types not handled by default styles

The overall process involves identifying an existing style that most closely matches your requirements, then modifying its behaviors by overriding or extending macros, templates, and formatting directives to produce the desired output.

Styles for Specific Fields

Academic fields have diverse needs, standards, and common practices when it comes to in-text citations and bibliographies. Humanities disciplines tend to use footnote citations and focus heavily on author details, while scientific publications want compact numeric citations with emphasis on date and title. Below are customizations tailored for major fields.

STEM Fields

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics papers most commonly use numbered citations keyed to a bibliography, with terse, standardized formats.

IEEE Journal Style

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers transactions have citation numbers in square brackets, with a numbered reference list sorting works by appearance. To emulate this, make IEEEtran.bbx your base style and:

  • Wrap citations in [-brackets]
  • Set the sorting scheme to none
ACM Conference Style

The Association for Computing Machinery wants bracketed citation numbers, sorted alphabetically by first author in the bibliography. Customize with:

  • Bracketed citations [1]
  • First author primary sorting


For arts, history, and cultural studies, textual references and author details are more critical. These fields enumerate works in lengthy bibliographies.

MLA Style

Common in language and literature, the Modern Language Association format uses parenthetical citations referring to an alphabetized bibliography. Alterations may include:

  • (Author Date) in-text citations
  • Hanging indent paragraph formatting
  • Full first name spelling
Chicago Style

Favored by publishers and some journals, Chicago’s footnote citations and extensive detail suit long manuscripts best. Refinements like these help:

  • Footnote citations with specific punctuation
  • Full date ranges for journals
  • Chapter number inclusion

Output-Specific Customizations

Beyond fields of study, citation requirements also depend heavily on the intended output, whether digital or print-based. Additional software, deliverable formats, and user needs should inform custom styles.

Print vs. Digital

Print media and PDF manuscripts have fixed paginations requiring exact page number citations. Websites and applications call for dynamic links:

Adding URLs and DOIs

Enable back-end connectivity by attaching:

  • DOI fields with digital object identifiers
  • URL links to online resources
Removing Locators

Skip static information like:

  • Page numbers
  • Volume/issue details

If output location changes frequently.

Books vs. Articles

The source publication category shapes citation requirements, with books and journal articles needing distinct handling.

Chapter Titles

Books often cite contributing chapter details. Include:

  • Chapter authors distinct from editors
  • Chapter title markup

When citing anthology and compilation content.

Page Ranges

Spanning source locations differs between periodicals and manuscripts:

  • Article page numbers don’t need full spans (first only)
  • Book chapter ranges require inclusive intervals

For precise identification.

Example Code for Custom Chicago Style

As an illustration, if an institute needed citations following Chicago format with footnote numerals and bibliography compilation, the style could be achieved with:

Bibliography Driver for Books


Citation Macro for Footnotes


Best Practices for Extending Styles

When embarking on alterations to existing BibLaTeX styles, keep these guidelines in mind:

Start with Base Styles

Leverage default templates like:

  • numeric.bbx
  • authoryear.bbx

For common structures to modify.

Use BibLaTeX Macros

Take advantage of predefined macros for:

  • Formatting instructions
  • Field output
  • Punctuation

As building blocks for novel style needs.

Test Often

Check citation rendering frequently with:

  • Minimal example documents
  • Bib file entries
  • Output diffs

To validate changes iteratively.

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