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A Short Guide to Reference Management using natbib with BibTeX

The natbib package adds new features to the standard \cite{*} command in LaTeX that includes in-text citations with various options and customizations, especially for author-year schemes and displaying the textual and parenthetical when using BibTeX.


It is worth noting that the package is compatible with both author-year and numerical citations and with the standard bibliography *.bst files.

This article explains how to use natbib to format and cite bibliographic sources.

Getting started: Using Parenthetical and Textual/Narrative In-Text Citations with natbib

We specify a minimal structure, similar to the one discussed in the previous section. To do this, we load the library with \usepackage{natbib}. The library provides options that can be passed via \usepackagee[options]{{natbib}, which we cover later. The basic citation commands in Natbib are \citet{*} for textual/narrative citations and \citep{*} for parenthetical citations.

\title{A Short Guide to Reference Management using natbib with BibTeX}
\date {January 1988}


\textbf{Narrative citation:} \citet{Doe:1966} investigated the risks of incorrectly \\
recorded [...], which results in distortion.
\textbf{Parenthetical citation:} The risks of incorrect recording of [...] could lead to distortion




With \bibliography{sample} we refer to our .bib-file, which contains two sample entries:

title = {Study on the risks of incorrectly recorded [...] and their impact on [...].},
author = {John Doe},
year = 1966,
journal = {BibTeX Publishing},
volume = 44,
number = 44,
pages = {123--456}
title = {An interesting article},
author = {John Smith},
year = {201X},
journal = {Journal of Interesting Articles}

A Short Guide to Reference Management using natbib with BibTeX

An example that natbib works wonderfully with numeric citation styles; let's change the corresponding commands of the code above:


A Short Guide to Reference Management using natbib with BibTeX

cite{*} commands provided by natbib

The following table summarizes the differences between the commands, based on cite{*}, and what you might expect to see. Both numeric and author-year styles are included, as well as multiple citations.


As we subsequently discover, we should note that some examples are not chosen sensibly: Hardly ever will two different sources share one chapter. \citet*{...} lists all authors without et. al. Nevertheless, the table should offer a solid understanding of how the commands behave.

Command (single citation)Output (author-year)Output (Numeric)Command (Multiple citations)Output (author-year)Output (Numeric)
\citet{Doe:1966}Doe (1966)Doe [1]\citet{Doe:1966,smith201X}Doe (1966); Smith (201X)Doe [1], Smith [2]
\citet[chap.~4]{Doe:1966}Doe (1966, chap. 4)Doe [1, chap. 4]\citet[chap.~4]{Doe:1966,smith201X}Doe (1966); Smith (201X, chap. 4)Doe [1], Smith [2, chap. 4]
\citep{Doe:1966}(Doe, 1966)[1]\citep{Doe:1966,smith201X}(Doe, 1966; Smith, 201X)[1, 2
\citep[chap.~4]{Doe:1966}(Doe, 1966, chap. 4)[1, chap. 4\citep[chap.~4]{Doe:1966,smith201X}(Doe, 1966; Smith, 201X, chap. 4)1, 2, chap. 4]
\citep[see][]{Doe:1966}(see Doe, 1966)[see 1]\citep[see][]{Doe:1966,smith201X}(see Doe, 1966; Smith, 201X)[see 1, 2]
\citep[see][chap.~4]{Doe:1966}(see Doe, 1966, chap. 4)[see 1, chap. 4]\citep[see][chap.~4]{Doe:1966,smith201X}(see Doe, 1966; Smith, 201X, chap. 4)[see 1, 2, chap. 4]
\citet*{Doe:1966}Doe (1966)Doe [1]\citet*{Doe:1966,smith201X}Doe (1966); Smith (201X)Doe [1], Smith [2]
\citep*{Doe:1966}(Doe, 1966)[1]\citep*{Doe:1966,smith201X}(Doe, 1966; Smith, 201X)[1, 2]

Other options are, for example, suppressed brackets with \citealp and \citealt corresponding to the commands \citep and \citet. With \citeauthor one can suppress the year, and with \citeyear the authors. Further commands and options around \cite in natbib can be found in the Reference sheet for natbib usage [PDF]: https://gking.harvard.edu/files/natnotes2.pdf


Options for natbib

The following are the options that can be declared via \usepackagee[options]{{natbib}:

rounddisplays round parentheses
squaredisplays square brackets
curlydisplays curly braces
angledisplays angle braces
semicolonmultiple citations are separated by semicolons
colonsame as semicolon
commamultiple citations are separated by coma
authoryeardisplay author-year citations
numbersdisplay numerical citations
superdisplays superscript numbers for numerical citations
sortsorts multiple citations in order of references displayed in bibliography.
compresssorting and multiple numerical citations are compressed where appropriate
sort&compressmultiple numerical citations are compressed where appropriate
longnamesfirstthe full name of the author appears in the first citation
sectionbibredefines \thebibliography to output \section instead of \chapter
nonamebreakDisplays all author names of a citation in one line