On Using org-ref

This is another brief post, but I wanted to talk about a tool that I’ve been appreciating a lot lately: org-ref.

The long and short of it is that this is a library that works with org-mode to help you manage citations and your bibliography. You can read the installation instructions at the org-ref github page linked above, but the basic idea is that you can insert references into your org-mode text like


and you’ll get out the actual citation properly connected to your bibliography when you export the file. You can insert citations with a key binding, mine is C-c ], and it will give you a nice little menu based on the bibtex file you have that will let you choose which reference to include. There’s also a number of helper functions that allow you to build up your bibtex file and download pdfs just from the doi or the arXiv id.

This is all cute and something I appreciate, but in some ways what I really like is that if you open the link (with C-c C-o or by clicking on it) then you also open up the associated pdf, if it exists, and open notes on that paper. Maybe it’s silly, but I was really happy about the notes because for the link above I get, in my designated notes file, something that looks like

** TODO 2009 - {Physics, Topology, Logic and Computation: A Rosetta Stone}
  :Custom_ID: 2009arXiv0903.0340B
  :AUTHOR: {Baez}, J.~C. and {Stay}, M.
  :JOURNAL: ArXiv e-prints
  :YEAR: 2009
[[cite:2009arXiv0903.0340B]] [[file:~/Dropbox/Papers//2009arXiv0903.0340B.pdf][pdf]]

which really simplifies my whole system of trying to link up papers, notes, pdfs and all of that because I used to link all of those things together manually with each paper and it was a headache. I feel like this is going to make it easier for me to write blog posts too, since I can export citations to HTML as well.

So, yeah, it’s not like you couldn’t have done all of this with elbow grease and plain bibtex, but as someone who needs a lot of organization to keep my thoughts in order this is a bit of a godsend.


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