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Bibliography Alphabetical Order Rules Apostrophe

Sort the reference list in alphabetical order.

Begin with the surname of the first author of a source. The first author is the author who is named first in a source; this isn’t necessarily the author the first letter whose surname appears earliest in the alphabet.

Sometimes you run into problems because, for example, you have multiple publications from the same author or authors with the same surname.

Rule 1

Alphabetize letter by letter, and remember “nothing comes before something”.

Example 1: Alphabetize letter by letter

Swaen, G., comes before Swaenen, K.

Pater Ab, T., comes before Pater Batel, A. K. S.

Mascherano, B., comes before Mascher-Beno, T. S.

Rule 2

A prefix like M’, Mc and Mac are taken as spelled and not as sounded out.

Example 2: Prefix like M’, Mc and Mac

MacArthur comes before McAllister

MacNeil comes before M’Carthy

Rule 3

For sources with just one author, you sort based on the publication date of the source, listing the oldest source first.

Example 3: The same and only author with two publications

Swaen, B. (1996).

Swaen, B. (2012).

Rule 4

Sources with one author come before sources with multiple authors, when the first author is identical between the two source types.

Example 4: One author comes before multiple authors with the same first author

Swaen, B. (2012).

Swaen, B., & Driessen, K. (1999).*

*Even if the publication date is earlier, one author still comes before multiple authors.

Rule 5

For multiple-author sources listing the same first author, but with different second and third authors, sort based on the second author. If the second author is the same, then sort based on the third author. And so on, per author.

Example 5: Sort based on second author, third author and so forth

Swaen, B., & Driessen, K. (2004).

Swaen, B., Laak, R. van, & Schweinsteiger, B. (2003).

Woziaski, B. J., Totti, F., & Mascherano, K. (2009).

Woziaski, B. J., Totti, F., & Vidal, P. (2006).

Rule 6

For sources with multiple identical authors, sort by publication date, as in Example 3 for single authors. The oldest source comes first.

Example 6: Sort based on second author, third author and further

Totti, F. J., & Schweinsteiger, B. (1999).

Totti, F. J., & Schweinsteiger, B. (2005).

Rule 7

For sources with the same author(s) and the same publication date, you alphabetize based on the title of the source. Pay attention! Don’t take prefixes into account (like A, The, An, etc.).

Example 7: Sorting sources based on title

Totti, F. J., & Schweinsteiger, B. (2005). Better home than away.

Totti, F. J., & Schweinsteiger, B. (2005). A view to a kill.

Exception to Rule 7

If the sources are articles in a series of multiple articles, then sort the sources bases on this series (Part 1, Part 2 and so on). Place lowercase letters a, b, c and so on directly after the year.

Example Exception to Rule 7: Articles based on a series

Totti, F. J., & Schweinsteiger, B. (2005a). The semifinals explained.

Totti, F. J., & Schweinsteiger, B. (2005b). The finals explained.

Rule 8

If different first authors have the same surname, then sort based on the initials of the first names. Also note these initials in source referencing in the text.

Example 8: Different first authors with same surname

Totti, F.J. (2010)

Totti, K.J. (2009)

Rule 9

Alphabetize of (n.d.) and (in press) when you have the same author with a publication date.

Example 9: No date and in press

Totti, K.J. (n.d.)

Totti, K.J. (2009)

Totti, K.J. (in press)

In conclusion

  • When the author is not a person but an organization, this doesn’t change the order of the reference list. You still sort based on alphabet.
  • You write out abbreviations of organizations before you alphabetize them.
  • Only if the author is listed as ‘Anonymous’ do you use ‘Anonymous’ as author’s name.
  • If there is no available author, then record the title of the source in place of the author.
  • When the name of the author/company begins with a number, you need to treat the number as if though it is written out. Thus, if you alphabetize a source such as 6 Flags, you alphabetize it under the ‘S’ of ‘Six’.


In any piece of written work in which you have cited references to published works, it is necessary to provide a bibliography, or list of references, at the end of your work.

You should provide only one such list. For some reason, many people have acquired the curious belief that they should give two lists: one list of all the references in the order they occur, and a second alphabetical list, or something similar. This silly practice is a pointless waste of time and paper: there should be only one list of references, and the references in your text should direct the reader straight to that list, as explained earlier.

The precise form of your bibliography may vary slightly, depending on what system you have used for citing references in your document. Here I shall assume that you have used the Harvard system, as recommended.

The bibliography is put into alphabetical order according to the surnames of the authors and editors you are citing. If you cite two authors with the same surname, put them in alphabetical order by their first names or initials. If you cite several different works by the same author, put them in date order, earliest to latest. If you have two or more works with the same author and the same date, use the a, b, c system already described. When you cite multiple works by the same author, that author's name need be written out only once; for succeeding works, you can use a horizontal line instead of repeating the name. A book with no author or editor is listed alphabetically by its title.

There are just three types of work which are very commonly cited in bibliographies: books, articles in books, and articles in journals. For each type, the form of the reference is slightly different, but, above all, the reference must be complete.

For a book, you must give the name(s) of the author(s) or editor(s), the date, the title, the place of publication and the name of the publisher. For an article in a book, you must give the name(s) of the author(s), the title of the article and the first and last pages, as well as full information on the book itself, as just described. For an article in a journal, you must give the name(s) of the author(s), the date, the title of the article, the name of the journal, the volume number and the first and last pages. Names of authors should be given just as they appear in their publications.

If you are citing two or more articles from a single book, you can put that book into your list as usual, and cross-refer each article to that book, as shown below.

There are several slightly different systems for arranging and punctuating references in a bibliography, almost all of them acceptable. They differ chiefly in whether they use full stops or commas to separate parts of the reference, in whether they put quotation marks around the titles of articles, and in where they place the date. I recommend full stops rather than commas, single quotation marks around titles of articles, and the placing of the date immediately after the author's name, and that is the system used in my examples below. Standard sources like The MLA Style Guide often recommend slightly different systems, and your tutor or publisher may insist upon one of these; in that case, you should fall into line, but make sure your references are complete.

Here is a sample bibliography:

Anderson, Henrietta. 1986. A Study of Shoes. New York: Cavalier Press.
——— 1989a. American Footwear: A Cultural History. Boston: Institute for American Cultural Studies.
——— 1989b. The Rise and Rise of the Stiletto Heel. New York: Cavalier Press.
Cannon, Felix (ed.) 1964. European Footwear: a Collection of Readings. Oxford: John Compton & Sons.
Ginsberg, Sylvie and Kate Bruton (eds). 1977. If the Shoe Fits: Essays on the History of Footwear. San Diego: Malibu Press.
Halliwell, C. N. 1990. `The Irish brogue'. In C. L. James and P. T. Caldwell (eds). British and Irish Footwear 1720–1880. Dublin: Irish Academy of Arts. Pp. 173–203.
Institute for American Cultural Studies. 1978. A Sourcebook on American Costume. Boston: Institute for American Cultural Studies.
Jensen, Carla. 1964. `The wellington boot'. In Cannon (1964), pp. 358–71.
Kaplan, Irene. 1983. `The evolution of the stiletto heel'. American Journal of Costume 17: 38–51.
——— 1990a. Review of Anderson (1989b). American Journal of Costume 24: 118–121.
——— 1990b. `The platform shoe and its influence'. Boots and Shoes 23:154–178.
Maxwell, Catherine. 1982. `The ski boot: practical footwear or fashion accessory?' Boots and Shoes 15: 1–37.
Maxwell, Catherine and Henrietta Anderson. 1981. `The great American sneaker'. Boots and Shoes 14: 77–92.
Maxwell, George. 1964. `Italian Renaissance footwear'. In Cannon (1964), pp. 105–138.
Shoes and Boots: a Compendium. 1950. London: British Museum.

Note carefully how these references are given. If you need to cite some other kind of work, such as a newspaper article, a sound recording, a film, a video, a radio or television broadcast or a CD-ROM, you should consult a comprehensive source such as The MLA Style Manual. However, so long as your reference is complete, you can't go too far wrong.

One further point. If you have to enter a title in your alphabetical list, ignore the words the, a and an at the beginning. So, a book entitled A History of Footwear would be listed under H, not under A, and the newspaper called The Guardian would be listed as Guardian, under G.

If you are using the number system for citing references, then, of course, each item in your bibliography must be preceded by its number. You should still, however, put those items in alphabetical order. Many people who use the number system simply list the items in the order in which they occur in the text. This allows the reader to find a particular reference, all right, but she can no longer glance at your bibliography to see if particular authors or works are present. All readers will find this unhelpful, at best, and a university tutor is likely to be very annoyed.

Copyright © Larry Trask, 1997

Maintained by the Department of Informatics, University of Sussex