Zotero: The Best Medicine for Academic Writing Induced Anxiety

January 28, 20111comments

Nothing is more impressive, especially in the eyes of a college student, than a long and perfectly cited bibliography.  The reference page(s) can make or break all your work; they are the proverbial “Achilles Heel” of academic writing. Even if your manuscript showcases a brilliant thesis, is brimming with powerful insights or full of ground-breaking discoveries, if your bibliography is incorrect--or even limited-- not only will you be counted down in school but in academia your work cannot be trusted. As a result, countless hours have been wasted and many nightmares caused by obsessing over placement of comas and periods, worried about matching the citations in the text with the proper style in the bibliography or panicked that an entire source document had failed to be cited! However, it seems that a solution is on the horizon,  in the form of Zotero, a free reference software available online[1].

Zotero eliminates many of the stressors of creating citations in the manuscript which often make academic writing painfully tedious.  It works as an extension to your Firefox browser and as an add-on to Microsoft Word; and thus acts like a translator between journal articles in online databases, newspaper articles, videos, images, or any other citable online source and your Word manuscript. With the same ease of copying and pasting or changing fonts, you tell Zotero what citation style to use, what sentences should be credited to which sources and almost like magic, the bibliography forms at the end of the document. 

It also allows for adjustments during the editing process, re-formatting the entire document and bibliography if sentences with citations are moved or deleted. Zotero will change the style of all citations and the bibliography if necessary. The Zotero extension, itself, helps organize and manage all the many citations accumulated by an academic writer. The extension offers options such as creating folders to aggregate citations, a tagging option to label citations, and the ability to manually add references which are unable to be automatically entered from the internet.  Furthermore, Zotero offers a note-making option and the ability to link documents in your hard-drive to citations in the Zotero directory.

Unlike other scholars[2], I have only recently discovered Zotero and begun to use it as part of my writing process. As such, I have yet to thoroughly utilize all the features or troubleshoot all the inevitable glitches. However, I already foresee a few places for improvements. For example, now Zotero only functions with Firefox browsers, and only can be utilized while using an internet connection. Also uploading a pre-existing PDF on you hard-drive into Zotero proves to be more difficult, requiring more steps and possibly additional downloads.  However, the active user forums and updates on the main Zotero website suggests that this software is not stagnant and will continue to develop  and improve with input from users.

Without hesitation I suggest all students and academics to try this innovation in academic writing. Give an hour to downloading the software and watching a few excellent tutorials online[3] and you will be well on your well to stress-free bibliographies—leaving more energy to crafting the power insights and ground-breaking discoveries of tomorrow.

Setting up - Zotero tutorial video for beginners

Post Script:
Of course I used Zotero to input the citations and footnotes for this reflection.

                                                                                                         - Greer Waldrop

[1] “Zotero | Home,” http://www.zotero.org/.
[2] Thomas E. Vanhecke, “Zotero,” Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA 96, no. 3 (July 2008): 275-276.
[3] Meet Zotero: Part I - Setup, 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgdrnxlzV8Y&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

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keywords: Zotero, reference manager, endnote, referencemanager, bibliography, citations, citationmanager, citation manager, scientific writing, manuscript writing, paper writing, research

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+ comments + 1 comments

January 29, 2011 at 12:14 AM

Glad you like Zotero. A couple of comments:
For example, now Zotero only functions with Firefox browsers,
The alpha version of a standalone app with connectors for Chrome and Safari was recently released:

and only can be utilized while using an internet connection.
nope. you don't need an internet connection. Zotero works just fine offline.

Also uploading a pre-existing PDF on you hard-drive into Zotero proves to be more difficult, requiring more steps and possibly additional downloads.
that depends - getting pdfs in should be as easy as dragging them to Zotero (unless you're on linux, where that's currently broken).
The problem is getting the data for the pdfs, but in many cases this will work:

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