I am currently writing my thesis and I have each chapter as a separate project- I've been told I should join them up but I don't want to for now as I would find it overwhelming. I'd like to be able to reference labels of figures, tables, equations etc that are in other Chapters, i.e other projects, so that when I do eventually link up the chapters as a single project, the cross-referencing all works fine. If I add in the references as this stage, I obviously get warnings because the reference doesn't exist. What I would like to do is have a command that I can switch on and off which turns on and off these external references. I call this command \refext for 'external reference'. Initially, I had code that looked like:

Option 1: Do nothing, I'm not ready, output the reference as words

\newcommand{\refext}[1]{Ref. #1}

Option 2: Yes, go ahead and reference up- I'm ready to compile all these things together as a single document:


I would comment out the command I wasn't using, and in this way it was 'switchable' It would either print out the name of the label, or treat it as an ordinary reference.

This works, if the label is a single word. However this does not work if the label contains an underscore in the title- which all of my labels do.

After some reading, I have come across this answer which is similar to what I want to do: How can I pass underscore to \newcommand properly?

However, I have tried this and it doesn't work for me:

\newcommand{\refext}{\begingroup\catcode`\_=11 \dorefext}


I get the error 'missing begin document' however of course I want to define my rules before I begin my document. The document compiles fine with all my other \newcommands being in the same place.

Catcode 12 also doesn't work. I switched it out for 11 because I thought it might be better if it treated the underscore as text.

I don't really know what I'm doing here! I am not very adept with latex and I've entered into this new commands area a bit blind! Help would be much appreciated- thank you!

  • 2
    Welcome to TeX.SX! The underscore should do no harm when you use option 2; the problem is with option 1, where you can more simply do \newcommand{\refext}[1]{Ref.~\detokenize{#1}}
    – egreg
    Sep 30, 2014 at 9:03
  • you could use xr package and reference into the other documents directly (although really it's simpler to make it all one document and use \includeonly when you are just working on a single chapter Sep 30, 2014 at 9:11

1 Answer 1


Underscores can be part of a label, but printing them is normally disallowed, because the underscore is used in running text for denoting subscripts in math formulas.

Option 2 should give no problem: you're just replacing \ref with \refext. For option 1, when you want to see the keys rather than the reference, you can do


The \detokenize command will, besides other things, make _ printable. I added also \texttt in order to make the key more evident in the text.

Small example (I'll use option 2):




Here's some text where we cite \refext{some_thing} and go on


enter image description here

  • 1
    Thank you so much Egreg!!! I've spend hours staring at this, trying more complicated solutions than necessary, and this is just such a simple and nice solution and works perfectly! Thank you for removing my growing headache!
    – Emily
    Sep 30, 2014 at 9:34
  • Also thank you David for your help as well :). This is my first time posting on here and I'm very impressed and pleased at how helpful people are! I agree this is definitely the more elegant way to do things- I should have started it as one project from the very beginning that would have been far more sensible. Alas- my poor decisions, lack of knowledge and stubbornness have brought me to this point!
    – Emily
    Sep 30, 2014 at 9:48

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