Currently I am writing my master's graduate thesis. I am confused that which ordering style is more formal in a thesis reference list. For instance, consider the following three reference lists that I took as it is in order:

[1] M. Fedrizzi, S. Giove Incomplete pairwise comparison and consistency optimization European Journal of Operational Research, 183 (1) (2007), pp. 303–313

[2] Z.S. Xu Goal programming models for obtaining the priority vector of incomplete fuzzy preference relation International Journal of Approximate Reasoning, 36 (3) (2004), pp. 261–270

[3] P.T. Harker Alternative modes of questioning in the analytic hierarchy process Mathematical Modelling, 9 (3) (1987), pp. 353–360

Here the reference lists were not written in alphabetical order. Is there a general rule (convenience) for better formatting?

  • 3
    Your university or department may have a thesis style guide which you should adhere to. However, I don't think there is a general rule that applies across universities/ countries/ fields. Apr 3, 2017 at 18:40
  • Are you using MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.?
    – Michael
    Apr 3, 2017 at 18:42
  • 2
    @MichaelC. To many people *myself included before I started using this site) those names mean nothing, as one just let's LaTeX handle these things. Apr 5, 2017 at 7:24

2 Answers 2


There are two systems: list the references in alphabetical order, or list the references in the order they are cited in the text. In my experience, which of these two systems is used depends on the academic field you're in.

Before computers made searchable pdf files common, the first system was really useful when looking for a specific author or reference in the bibliography, and the second was really useful when looking for where a reference was cited in the text.

With current technology, I don't think it really matters which system you use, although you should pick one and stick to it. My advice would be to check some other theses submitted to the same department to see how they did it.


Each academic discipline has a citation style it uses. For example, social sciences use APA. Unless your university and department has specified a specific citation type/style, I would recommend using the citation style: APA, Chicago, MLA used in your academic discipline.

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