We asked Scott Townsend, our digital scholarship student assistant, to check out Zotero, the citation manager that integrates with Firefox. Here's what he had to say. — Miriam Posner, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Digital Scholarship Commons
by Scott Townsend
What is Zotero?
Zotero is free, open-source reference management software to manage bibliographic data and related research materials (such as PDFs). Some of the features include web browser integration, online syncing, generation of in-text citations, footnotes and bibliographies, as well as integration with the word processors Microsoft Word, LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org Writer. It is produced by the Center for History and New Media of George Mason University (GMU).
Why do I need Zotero?
Before I found out about Zotero, I was organizing my sources just like I had been since middle school. Like many students, I would copy and paste the website url of the site I’d like to use into a Word document.
When I wanted to look back at the site to cite it in a bibliography I would have to open the Word document and copy/paste the url back into my web browser to re-visit the site. Although this usually worked, it was relatively inefficient and created some problems. First of all, I would end up with a Word document of unorganized url’s rather than a consolidated database of research with different folders and directories. Related images, links, etc. often got lost in the unorganized mix and I would also find myself needing my research while on a computer in the library while all I had was a Word document of sources on the laptop back in my dorm room. Zotero was the simple, free solution to organize and maintain my research. Zotero offers a number of unique features that I have found people don’t realize they need, but are very grateful when they discover them.
What does Zotero offer?
One of the best parts about Zotero is that it works directly in your Internet browser. Switching back and forth and copy and pasting between Word and Firefox is not ideal when you are trying to maintain a train of thought.
Once you download Zotero, a small icon that looks like a piece of paper will appear on the right side of the url address bar. As you can see in the screenshot above, simply click this icon to save the webpage into your library which can be opened by clicking the Zotero tab on the bottom right of your browser.
Zotero is not simply a place to save a link to a website. With Zotero, you can organize libraries for each research project that contain everything associated with that project, including Word documents, PDF’s, and more.
Although your research will already be organized with Zotero, it also offers a sidebar next to each link for you to write notes associated with each source or document.
My favorite part about Zotero is how easy and efficient it is to create bibliography. Once you have a library full of sources, you can simply highlight them in the Zotero tool bar and drag and drop them into an e-mail, word processor, or basically anything, and Zotero will create the full bibliography for you. I was always frustrated with the time it took to try to track down the publisher, edition number, etc., for each source I included in my bibliography, so I find this feature to be a great time-saver.
Another feature that makes Zotero stand out is its syncing ability. You can access all your libraries of sources on any computer or even mobile device simply by signing into Zotero. You can also make your libraries public and share them with classmates and other researchers around the world. It also allows you to discover other researchers doing work in your field.
Above is an example of Zotero being accessed through a mobile device.
How do I start using Zotero?
The steps to download Zotero are simple:
1. Go to www.zotero.com and click the red “download” button at the top right of the home page.
2. Firefox will download the plug-in. (In order to download the latest version of Zotero you may need to upgrade to the latest version of Firefox. To do this, simply go to www.mozilla.com and download the latest version.)
3. After downloading the Zotero plug in you are going to want to register with a username, password, and your e-mail. This will allow you to use all the features of Zotero including the sync feature to easily switch from your laptop to phone or other device.
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