I have noticed that it seems like every other conference has it's own citation style; even in the same field, or subfield. Or at least each provide their own bibtex style (.BST) file.

  • Are they actually different styles?
  • Is there a historical reason for this?
  • Is there a ongoing practical reason for it today?

(I am in Computer Science. I am not sure if this is field dependent)

  • I don't have a straight answer, but if I had to guess why it continues...tradition.
    – tonysdg
    Feb 8, 2017 at 2:13
  • 4
    Methinks it's a bit like asking why chocolate bars come in different wrappings: mostly marketing and brand differentiation. (No doubt some will argue there is really a real difference in the base product...) In the "old" days you can imagine different publishers had physically different fonts, but these days I can't imagine that's an obstacle. I'd be happy to know of a really deep reason.
    – user67075
    Feb 8, 2017 at 3:00
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    You think you can convince all the different publishers (ACM, IEEE, SIAM, Springer, JMLR, LIPIcs, etc) to agree on a common BibTeX style? Good luck!!
    – JeffE
    Feb 8, 2017 at 3:29
  • This is not unique to computer science. I suspect you will find quite a few journals that are not internally consistent. I spotted one a few years ago that had a detailed style guide, but no longer followed its own guide. Feb 8, 2017 at 3:35
  • @AnonymousPhysicist as an aside, note that I added "computer science" to the question title, just to clarify the focus of the question. But I agree it could be framed in general terms. I just think that the general question of why entire disciplines have different citation styles (e.g., medicine versus law versus psychology) has a different answer to why computer science conferences have different styles. Feb 8, 2017 at 5:02

2 Answers 2


It is a matter of history, technology, and personal preferences. Different citation styles have arisen in different times to serve different needs.

A citation answers many questions, often including:

  • Who did it? Sometimes the citing author wants to give credit to earlier work, and sometimes the reader is just curious.
  • Is it new to me? The reader often wants to know whether they are already familiar with the cited work. I use a combination of authors, title, publication venue and/or year, depending on the article. Other people may prefer using other information.
  • Where can I find it? Traditionally we needed information like publication venue, publisher, volume, issue, and page numbers. DOIs and URLs are often better in electronic publications. Many people just do a web search with the title and use the rest to confirm that the returned result is correct.
  • Where was it published? Some people are interested in the prestige of the publication venue. Many want to keep track of interesting venues.
  • When was it published? Publication years help to establish a rough timeline of events.

The in-text style also depends on the typical amount of citations in the venue/field. The less work you cite, the more of the above questions you can answer in the text, and the reader does not have to jump between the text and the bibliography. On the other hand, verbose citations can get confusing, if you have too many of them. In such cases, it is better to refer to the bibliography.


Style, tradition and reputation. Different styles fit different uses; typographic design is more of a opinion thing than the truth. The things have been done some way and the people assume and often want that they are done in a such manner. And you can bet that Harvard will fight for Harvard-style, not least because it brings them a lot of reputation.

  • 1
    Bad example WRT Harvard I think: see guides.library.harvard.edu/cite/guides "The "Harvard System" is something of a misnomer, as there is no official institutional connection. It's another name for the author/date citation system,... If you're looking for authoritative guidance, there are many excellent sources... the Chicago Manual of Style ..." Feb 8, 2017 at 8:39
  • Yes, but it is not like they are not happy with the naming. My example is for a kind of an identity thing that some relate to a style as their style. Harvard is maybe a bad example on authority side, and APA would be better, but for APA it is all about pride and the pay-off is not as good; there is no alternative for an association of a geographic area, as there is for an university. Feb 8, 2017 at 9:04

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