I’m busy as a bee writing two papers for ISIT 2007 (in Nice, woohoo!) and as usual I find myself at odds with the IEEE Transactions style formats. The BibTeX format by default puts the bibliography in order of how references are cited, and as far as I can tell there is no option for putting things in alphabetical order. One option is of course to use the \nocite command before any of the other text. This will put the citations in the bibliography without anything in the main text — a handy feature for sneaking in references that you don’t need but should cite (perhaps to appease reviewers). But that hack defeats the purpose of BibTeX, which is to stop you from futzing with your bibliography by formatting the thing in the correct manner, be it APA, MLA, ACM, or IEEE.
I understand that for a survey paper it would be advantageous to list references in the order that they are cited. That way all the papers on topic A will be in a big block together in the bibliography, and the cite package provides a nice shorthand that will list the references as [1 – 5] instead of . For conference papers, which often have fewer than 10 citations, it seems that the aesthetic benefits of an alphabetized bibliography outweigh the minor inconvenience in typesetting. From looking at existing published papers, it seems that the IEEE isn’t particularly insistent on making the bibliography in citation-order. So why not provide the alphabetical option?
Perhaps its because the entire LaTeX package system is being maintained by Michael Shell, who I’m sure has better things to do with his time, like a real job. It almost boggles the mind that so many people in the IEEE use this LaTeX package and the Institute doesn’t really support it in the way that the AMS supports AMSTeX.