There are only really two kinds of citations I need to have in my paper

  1. (Lewis, 2001)
  2. (Lewis, 2001:54) where 54 is the page number

After a ton of googling I managed to find out that it's possible to create both these kinds of citations with org-ref in org-mode [1] [2]

For a minimal example:

#+LATEX_HEADER: \usepackage[round]{natbib}
#+LATEX_HEADER: \setcitestyle{notesep={:}}

* Test
1. This is an author year citation citep:lewis_plurality_2001
2. This has a page number [[cite:lewis_plurality_2001][100]]


Will create:

  1. This is an author year citation (Lewis, 2001)
  2. This has a page number (Lewis, 2001:100)

But as noted in How to cite author-date including page number in org-mode? - to achieve the citation with page number you have to type [[cite:lewis_plurality_2001][100]]

The problem is that it will be virtually impossible to write a paper where you have to stop and square bracket every reference in that way. So I'm wondering if there isn't an easier way to do this with org-ref that I'm missing ?

2 Answers 2


If you know the bibtex key you want to cite then you can use org-insert-link to do this. Usually that is bound to C-c C-l, you will be prompted for what kind of link, you can choose cite (the capitalization is a little annoying and you might have to figure out how to not get Cite with this. I use ivy, and I have to toggle the case sensitivity, and search for ^cite: to get what I want.), then use completion to select the bibtex key, then you will be prompted for the description.

If you want the completion on the title/author etc, you need to make a new function like this

(defun harvard-cite (key page)
  (interactive (list (completing-read "Cite: " (orhc-bibtex-candidates))
             (read-string "Page: ")))

   (org-make-link-string (format "cite:%s"
                 (cdr (assoc
                       (cdr (assoc key (orhc-bibtex-candidates))))))

Then, you can bind it to a convenient key and get on with your writing.

  • Thank you so much Professor Kitchin - didn't expect I'd be getting an answer directly from you! org-insert-link is exactly what I was looking for and works pretty much perfectly. But the harvard-cite function is the cherry on top and is just that much faster b/c you don't have to select the citation type first. For some reason though my orhc-bibtex-candidates was empty so I also had to evaluate (setq org-ref-bibtex-files '("references.bib"))
    – nmu
    Sep 4, 2019 at 20:31

Just wanted to mention another possible way of doing this, building on what Professor Kitchin said. I am also a complete lisp noob so this may violate lisp intergalactic laws I am not aware of, be that as it may - the function does seem to work for me.

The harvard-cite function works near perfectly fine just by itself. The only other thing I had to do to get it running was add (setq org-ref-bibtex-files '("bibliography.bib")) to my ~/.emacs otherwise my orhc-bibtex-candidates would be empty.

As it is the function will use only a single citation type with a page number, but if you also listen for an ivy prefix arg, then you can do a M-X harvard-cite and when hovering over an entry hit C-u to choose a different citation type. But if you just hit RET your default citation link will be used.

After reading https://kitchingroup.cheme.cmu.edu/blog/2016/06/14/Using-prefix-args-in-ivy-actions/ I somehow managed to modify the function to do just that. And with the code below you can select an alternate citation with C-u RET.

(setq org-ref-bibtex-files '("bibliography.bib")) ;; replace with your default bib file
(defun harvard-cite (entry page)
  (interactive (list (completing-read "Cite: "
                     (read-string "Page: ")))
  (setq key (cdr (assoc "=key=" (cdr (assoc entry (orhc-bibtex-candidates))))))
  (setq type (if ivy-current-prefix-arg
                 (ivy-read "type: " org-ref-cite-types)
  (insert (org-make-link-string (format "%s:%s" type key) page)))

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