Bibliography Alphabetical Order Numbers

 by Chelsea Lee

If a reference list entry begins with a number (as might be the case for a reference with no author), you should alphabetize the entry in the reference list as though the number were spelled out. So in the following example, the reference that begins with 50 would be alphabetized as though 50 were written fifty.

Farthing, T., & Oates, P. P. (2010). The compendium of kittens (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cat Press.

50 ways to improve your life with cats. (2017). Retrieved from

French, J. S. (2015). Purr-fect: A book about cats. New York, NY: Cat Press.

For numbers that represent years, use the way the year is commonly said to alphabetize the reference. For example, a reference beginning with 1984 would be alphabetized as though it were written nineteen eighty-four, not one thousand nine hundred eighty-four.

In the text, cite references beginning with a number with the first two pieces of the reference list entry: here, that's the title and the year because the reference has no author. If the title in the reference list is nonitalic, put the title in double quotation marks in the in-text citation and captialize it using title case; if the title in the reference list is italic, keep the title in italics in the in-text citation and capitalize it using title case. If the title is long, you can use just the first few words.

Example in-text citation: ("50 Ways," 2017)

 Got other numerical alphabetization questions? Ask away in the comments section.

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’.


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