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It's easiest just to give an example:

\bibitem[AHU]{ahu} Aho, A.,\ Hopcroft, J.,\ and 
Ullman, J.\ (1976).  {\em{The Design and
Analysis of Computer Algorithms.}} Addison
Wesley, Reading, Mass.
\bibitem[AT]{AT} Auslander, L. and Tolmieri, R. 
(1979). Is Computing with the Fast Fourier
Transform Pure or Applied Mathematics?
{\em{Bulletin (New Series) of the AMS Vol. 1}}

We have first specified the largest bibliographic label with ({AHU}),and then specified that the bibliography entries are to be labelled [AHU] and [AT]. If you prefer a numbered bibliography, you can leave out the bracketed argument. (The commands here would then begin \bibitem{ahu} Aho,... and \bibitem{at} Auslander,....) In that case, latex would number the bibliography entries automatically. Also, there is a command \cite{ } for making references in the text to a bibliography item which works a lot like \ref{ } (described above). You can type \cite{key} where key appears in curly braces to a \bibitem command; latex will then insert the correct reference number in brackets. For example, if we had let latex number the bibliography above, we could type

It was proved in \cite{ahu}, ...
to produce ``It was proved in [AHU], ...''.

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