I am writing a pure-math paper.

I want to cite a paper where the authors are not listed in alphabetical order, e.g.:

John Smith and Anna Perez

I know that the latter is the supervisor of the former.

I assume that when citing this paper, I should not change the order of authors (if this is wrong or more complicated, please let me know).

What I’m less sure about, is where to list the paper in my bibliography. Typically, I just sort the bibliography alphabetically. But here it is not clear to me if I should do this.

For example, should a paper by Kay Roberts be listed before or after the above paper in the bibliography? Or is there no consensus on such situations?

  • 3
    I vote to close this question. This is a question for math practitioners and it is not of general interest to the Academia:SE .
    – EarlGrey
    Aug 25, 2022 at 14:16
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    @EarlGrey I believe answers to my question would likely also be applicable to other disciplines where alphabetical author order is standard. Aug 25, 2022 at 14:22
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    @EarlGrey: Even if this were exclusively of the academic customs of mathematics, it is still about academic customs and thus on-topic. It is not about mathematics itself.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 25, 2022 at 15:01
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    If it's a math paper, you're likely using bibtex for your bibliography. Let bibtex do the sorting. Aug 25, 2022 at 19:40
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    For humour and possibly some insight, consider the converse: Suppose I am writing a paper in a field with an authorship order based on legwork and supervision hierarchy. Now I want to cite a paper from a field with alphabetic authorship order. How would I “correct” the authorship order or sorting?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 25, 2022 at 20:16

4 Answers 4


Do not change the order.
Alphabetize by the first listed author.
If in doubt, I could imagine adding a "dummy" entry in the bibliography:

Perez & Smith, see Smith & Perez.

  • 15
    I used to be rather uncertain about what to do when authors were not listed alphabetically. I don't think this issue ever arose in anything I've published, but in my personal manuscripts and bibliographies I used to worry about it a lot, this being before I realized the alphabetization of authors is NOT used in nearly every field besides math. Your 30 May 2007 reply to me in sci.math about this issue led me to look into the matter carefully, and now I always use the exact ordering as given in the paper. Aug 25, 2022 at 11:03
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    Completely agree with the first part, but am a bit confused why you make the suggestion about a dummy entry. I know quite a few non-alphabetical papers in math, but have never seen such dummy entries in references (and I assume they would be removed by the journal).
    – Kimball
    Aug 26, 2022 at 2:21
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    @Kimball: I've seen dummy entries in several book bibliographies when the reference list is at least moderately long (over 100 entries, say) and the book is such that it would be useful for a reader to not overlook one or more papers by someone that the reader of the book might reasonably be expected to consult the bibliography to find works by, such as a historical survey of some topic. For example, this is done for ALL authors in The Higher Infinite by Akihiro Kanamori (1994) (continued) Aug 26, 2022 at 7:50
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    (authors with co-authored works appearing elsewhere in the "Indexed References" are directed to those elsewhere-appearing works by a "See also ..." list of names). This is also done (for ALL authors, I think) in Zermelo's Axiom of Choice by Gregory H. Moore (1982). I'm sure I've also seen this in some survey papers (especially having a historical bent), but I don't know any examples off-hand. Aug 26, 2022 at 7:51

The order under which the paper was published must also be kept during citation. Note that, in the mathematical field, the alphabetical order is not a general rule, some authors follow an order in terms of the amount of contributions.

As for the bibliography format, if you are using the LaTeX editor, it generates the bibliography for you, you just have to choose which format do you want to have your bibliography in.

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    In mathematics, alphabetical order is a general rule. If I saw a paper in mathematics where the authors were listed in something other than alphabetical order, I would be brought up somewhat short, and wonder why it was done---it is unusual. Obviously, other fields are different, but the general rule in mathematics is that authors are in alphabetical order. Of course, you are correct to state that the order of the authors should not be changed in a bibliography or citation. Aug 25, 2022 at 13:56
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    @XanderHenderson, In applied mathematics I have accoutered many papers where the alphabetical order wasn't respected. You can check for instance the two papers at the end of this reply (note that there are more papers but these are the only one I could find right now). Note that for pure mathematics, you are right, the majority follow alphabetical order, however for applied mathematics, there is no general rule, as both ordering styles are followed by authors. link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00285-010-0397-x, link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40435-016-0233-2
    – Med Med
    Aug 25, 2022 at 14:27
  • Note: I said "mathematics", not "applied mathematics", which is an entirely different animal. Perhaps I should have said "pure mathematics", but this was the language used in the original question, so it was apparent to me that the context was clear. Aug 25, 2022 at 14:29
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    It is not clear if the paper being cited is in pure math. Some pure math papers cite papers in other fields. Lemmas lurking in strange places. Aug 25, 2022 at 16:18

In your bibliography, the author order must match the author order given on the paper you are citing.

When sorting your bibliography alphabetically, sort by the first author surname.


In a cited publication, use the author order given in the original.

(In the case of a paper you are co-authoring, the order of authors is generally by established seniority or standing within the relevant community. If this becomes a contentious issue you could always randomise the order and note that it is '(in no particular order)'.)

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    I'm not sure what field your second paragraph applies to, but OP is writing a paper in pure math, which typically uses alphabetical order
    – Anyon
    Aug 26, 2022 at 14:10

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