Gökser Gökçay is an independent researcher with a PhD in Modern Turkish History and he also writes about software applications for research. He contacted us offering to share his experiences of a referencing management system called Zotero.

This post reminds me of just how far things have come since I wrote my own PhD using the only tool available to me then – Endnote Version 6! Enjoy!   Claire

It is a challenge to sit at the desk everyday and write the manuscript you have been working on for the last months or years. For academic writers, it is much more of a challenge because we need to worry about giving proper references and citations according to the various rules for our target journals. It is a time-consuming practice and, as Patrick Dunleavy suggested it is an old one that needs to be changed. Yet, until it is reformed, academic writers need to spend considerable time to present all that information properly. Reference management software like Zotero, Mendeley and EndNote makes this process easier and less time consuming. I used Zotero and Microsoft Word in collaboration for my PhD thesis and it saved me a great amount of time. In this blogpost, I will explain what Zotero is and how I used it in my workflow with MS Word – although you can use other word processors like LibreOffice or NeoOffice.

Advantages of Using Zotero

Using Zotero has several advantages over adding bibliographic entries manually. First of all, adding books or any type of item to your library of works cited/used is as simple as clicking an icon in the browser. For instance, if you do it manually, you need to write down all the bibliographical data by hand. With hundreds of sources, it takes too much time and effort. With Zotero it is quick and simple once you learn it. Secondly, items in your Zotero library can be easily adapted to a given style guide (APA, MLA, Chicago etc.). Styles can be changed at any time and applied to all items in your library. Third – and most important of all for doctoral writers – exporting a whole bibliographic list takes less than ten seconds. Any longform writers who use diverse sources for their study should use reference management software like Zotero. It is easy, saves you a lot of precious time and lessens your worries about the style rules because it automates pretty much everything. Now, let’s see how it is done.

Installation of Zotero

There are two ways to install Zotero to your computer: as a standalone or a Firefox extension. If you use Firefox as your default browser, I strongly recommend installing and using it inside Firefox, as it is much easier. But if you don’t use Firefox, the standalone application also works smoothly on PC, Mac and Linux operating systems. When installing Zotero, you will be prompted to install a Word or LibreOffice extension. If you install them, a toolbar will be added to your word processor, which makes it easy to add citations to your manuscript. If you use Chrome or Safari, Zotero has extensions for them, too.

Adding Citations

As I mentioned, Zotero makes it pretty easy to add entries to your bibliography. In order to do that, you should use browser extensions to capture bibliographic information from websites like WorldCat, Google Books and Amazon. Using Zotero’s browser extension, you can pull all the information in one click. Each item that you wish to reference can be fetched with Zotero’s extension in a single click. For instance, you search for a book’s name in WorldCat and when you click to its link, the page is fully loaded and an icon appears at the end of the address bar in Chrome (or in Zotero’s browser toolbar icon in Firefox and Safari). When you click it, it is added to your Zotero library. If you have added collections to your Zotero library, the entry is added to the last collection you have selected. (See this small video clip  how it’s done.)

Organization and Styles

Speaking of collections, it is possible to divide your library into different sections. For example, if you are writing multiple articles at the same time (who doesn’t), each could have its own collection. After you have added the entry to your Zotero library, you can add tags to them in order to search for specific subjects. At this point, you might be asking, “I’m adding my sources to Zotero but my institution’s citation rules and the journal where I’m attempting to get published are using different citation styles – how will I change this?” This is one of the aspects where Zotero excels. When adding your sources, you don’t need to worry about any styles or citation rules. Using Zotero’s preferences, you could change the citation style at any time.

Adding Citations to Word Processor

After the source is added to the library, you would naturally want to add it to your text. To do this, you have two options: you could drag the source from Zotero and drop it into the word processor or you could use the Zotero’s word processor plugin. I have shown how to add citations via drag/drop and toolbar plugin in two small clips.

As you can see, the drag and drop method is very useful for adding footnote references. For adding inline citations, the toolbar plugin in your word processor is much more useful.

Adding Bibliography and Sync

Even after you have finished the whole manuscript with its citations, you need to provide the whole bibliography you have used. If you have collected all your PhD sources under one collection, you could export them to a word document in one click. Just right click at the collection and choose ‘Create Bibliography from Collection’. Without Zotero, it would take hours, if not days, to gather all those sources and format their style according to the requirements of your university or a particular journal. Additionally, Zotero keeps your entire library on the cloud and in sync. If you found a book at the library but are not sure whether you have made use of its data before, you could easily check Zotero on your laptop or any browser by logging into Zotero’s website and checking your library.

Having your complete library of sources at one location provides you with a centralized and constantly synced resource for your research. Zotero helps you to reference properly, worry less about any technicality and focus on the thing you need to do: writing.