References, Bibliographies, And Works Cited: Customizing Headings In Latex

Customizing Reference Section Headings

When creating a document in LaTeX that contains references, you may need to customize the heading for the references section. By default, LaTeX uses the heading "Bibliography" for the section containing the full bibliographic information for cited sources. However, style guides or publisher requirements may call for a different heading such as "References" or "Works Cited." Fortunately, LaTeX provides easy methods for customizing these headings as needed.

Why Customize Headings?

There are several key reasons why an author may want to modify the default bibliography heading in a LaTeX document:

  • To meet style guide requirements - Certain style manuals have specific rules about using the terms "Bibliography," "References," or "Works Cited" for source citations.
  • To fulfill publisher submission criteria - Academic journals, presses, or other publishers often require papers to follow standardized formats.
  • For consistency in collection of papers - Such as in a thesis or dissertation containing separately written articles or reports.
  • To avoid confusion for readers - Using conventional headings helps readers quickly identify the complete citation listing.

Modifying the Bibliography Heading

The basic method for altering the bibliography heading involves redefining the \bibname command in the preamble of the document. By default, \bibname prints "Bibliography." To change this text, we can include a command like:


This will redefine \bibname to print "References" instead. Then, when LaTeX generates the bibliography section heading using \bibname, it will output "References."

Example Code to Change Heading to “References”

Here is a complete example showing how the heading switch can be implemented:



Text citing an author \parencite{Smith:2021}.

This code first loads biblatex for managing citations and references. It then redefines \bibname to "References" before beginning the main text. Finally, after citations like \parencite{Smith:2021} have been inserted in the body text, \printbibliography will generate the references list with the customized "References" heading.

Modifying the Works Cited Heading

Similar to the \bibname command, LaTeX also includes a \refname command that controls the "Works Cited" heading sometimes used in bibliographies. For example, to change this heading text, you can use:

\renewcommand{\refname}{Works Cited}

Note that unlike \bibname which applies to any bibliography, \refname is primarily intended for use with bibliography styles that print the label "Works Cited." However, the methods can be combined to customize multiple headings if needed.

Example Code to Change Heading to “Works Cited”


\renewcommand{\refname}{Works Cited}

Here is a citation \textcite{Lee:2019} in the text.

In this example using an MLA-like style, \renewcommand defines the "Works Cited" term for the references heading. The \printbibliography command then outputs the list of cited works under the modified heading.

Customizing Other Aspects of the Reference Section

In addition to simple heading changes, LaTeX provides further flexibility to customize reference list presentation and formatting in multiple ways. Controlling features like:

  • How individual reference entries are displayed
  • Sort order of references
  • Section numbering schemes

can help authors tailor bibliographies and reference listings to specific requirements or style conventions.

Controlling Reference Item Formatting

The biblatex packages supports fine-grained modifications to the output format of individual reference items through the use of additional formatting commands.

For example, attributes such as:

  • Font family
  • Font shape
  • Text case
  • Line spacing

Can all be adjusted on a per-field or per-entry basis to create custom bibliography output styles.

Example Code for Custom Formatting

Here is a demonstration of how such low-level reference list formatting can be implemented in practice:


%Format author names in small caps





Notable customizations here include:

  • Author names set in SMALL CAPS via \textsc
  • Extra line spacing between references added by \vspace command in \bibsetup
  • Lack of quotation marks around the title fields

Together, such modifications enable precise control over reference formatting.

Sorting and Ordering References

The order that entries appear within the formatted reference list is another aspect that can be configured as needed. By default, most biblatex styles sort items alphanumerically by author names. However, alternative criteria can be set for sorting such as:

  • Publication year
  • Entry type
  • Citation order

Manual reference sorting is also possible simply by the order of entries within the attached .bib database.

Example Code for Sorting by Author Name

Here, biblatex auto-sorting will arrange entries alphabetically by author family name:






Lee, John (2021). reference info...

Zelle, Jennifer M. (2022). reference info...

Changing the sorting scheme is as simple as modifying the sorting option passed to biblatex in square brackets. This flexibility makes it convenient to handle alphabetization preferences.

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