Is there any accepted format for BibTeX citation keys? Zotero uses the author_title_year format and Google Scholar uses authorYearTitle (I'm in favor of Google's format). I use output files of both; that makes my BibTeX files inconsistent.

If there is no accepted format, which format if used by most softwares? What is your suggestion?

I use Pajoohyar (a fork of Zotero) with AutoZotBib plugin.

Update: I should point out that my editor is TeXworks that unfortunately has no auto-complete or other facilities for citation insertion

  • 2
    Related: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/22577/…
    – lockstep
    Jan 25, 2013 at 9:16
  • AUCTeX (for emacs/xemacs) does <last><year>:_<some-title-words>
    – vonbrand
    Jan 25, 2013 at 16:38
  • There is no 'best' way, but I'm in favour of what ends up looking like: smith2000tiat --- which is last name + year + the first letter of the first four words of the title. That way, even if smith published eight things in 2000, there is very little chance that you'll end up with duplicate keys. Year and last name are often easy to remember (especially when PDFs are saved as smith2000_this-is-a-title.pdf!), but I second all advice to use reftex in emacs: there is, imnsho, no better system out there.
    – jon
    Jan 25, 2013 at 18:33
  • I hope that my answer here would satisfy your needs to do bibliography with Zotero without the need to use the autocomplete feature.
    – doctorate
    May 20, 2013 at 12:13

2 Answers 2


I think the best advice is to pick a format that works for you and stick to it. If you have a sensible workflow, then it doesn't really matter what your keys are. For example, I use RefTeX in emacs to insert keys. So I basically can just ad-hoc search for the author name and then mark the references I want to insert. I don't actually have to remember what the keys are.

That said, here's one piece of advice that has made my life easier: Whatever format your bibtex keys are in, try to put your downloaded pdfs in the same format. That makes finding a paper you cited way easier.

  • @Thanks, Today I tested RefTeX and it is very useful. Is it possible to push citation from it to TeXworks like other programs that is supported by default? Jan 25, 2013 at 18:33

The short answer, as you can see is nope. That said, some programs (e.g., JabREf) can auto generate keys for you with more or less whatever format you want. This makes converting your bib file so that you use a consistent scheme pretty painless. See for example: http://jabref.sourceforge.net/help/LabelPatterns.php

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