Learn from an experimental physicist

Aug 24, 2016 learning LaTeX phys-492/592

  title = "Limits on {WIMP} cross-sections from the {NAIAD} experiment at the {Boulby} {Underground} {Laboratory}",
  author = "{UK Dark Matter Collaboration} and G.J. Alner and H.M. Ara\'{u}jo and others",
  journal = {Phys. Lett. B},
  volume = "616",
  pages = "17--24",
  year = "2005",
  eprint = "0504031",
  archivePrefix = "arXiv",
  primaryClass = "hep-ex",

As a graduate student, you may only write 1 or 2 papers with a dozen of citations in each. The best way for you to deal with it in LaTeX is probably the most basic bibliography support within LaTeX:


  Leslie Lamport,
  \emph{\LaTeX: a document preparation system},
  Addison Wesley, Massachusetts,
  2nd edition,

where you write the author, title etc. all by hand. You will have to style the output manually as well, using LaTeX commands, such as \emph{} in the example above.

When you become a postdoc, you may have to coauthor several papers in a certain field. This is when you need to consider switching to a more sophisticated reference system. The most common approach in natural science publications is to use a combination of BibTeX and natbib as described in this and this posts on StackExchange:

\bibliographystyle{unsrtnat} % sort by order of appearance

An example BibTeX entry is given at the beginning of this post. Detailed description of the BibTeX format is available from bibtex.org and wikibooks. How to cite an arXiv article using BibTeX is described here and shown in the top example.

It looks like that eventually the good and old combination of BibTeX + natbib will be replaced by the new and shining combination of Biber

  • BibLaTeX. But please don’t make the change too soon if your primary usage of LaTeX is for scientific publications. The advantages and disadvantages of both systems are described in detail in this post on StackExchange. Basically, because most of the scientific publishers still maintain their own BibTeX style files, you will have to use the old combination for submitting your paper draft to them. You can certainly use the new system to write your own book and publish it through Amazon.

I personally use Zotero to automatically generate .bib files in BibTeX or BibLaTeX format. The switching between the two system is not that hard.


Blogs on physics research and educational activities of Jing LIU, an assistant professor in physics at the University of South Dakota. He is an experimental physicist developing novel particle detectors for astroparticle physics and civil use.