I have to start this post by noting that I am affiliated with Zotero in any way. I’m just a loyal lover of open-source software.
Good. Now that that’s done, I must profess my love to Zotero. Zotero is a citation manager. If you already use programs like RefWorks or EndNote, then you already know what a citation manager is. If you’ve never used a citation manager before, then get ready to have your mind blown, because it’s a pretty awesome concept if you are a student (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a librarian). Citation managers let you collect citation data for research, including journal articles, websites, and books, and organize the items in folders. The citations can be tagged, annotated, and moved around as you work on different projects. Better yet, the citation manager can create your bibliography/references list for you AND automatically add in your in-text citations in any style form (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc).
Basically it makes storing articles, creating bibliographies, and in-text citations much less of a pain in the ass.
Zotero is awesome because it’s both FREE and it’s competitive with the other popular citation tools that are currently available. When looking at the features available, I think it’s actually the best option between the heavy-hitters of RefWorks and EndNote. Here’s how I installed the program on my Mac:
- First I had to download the stand-alone software for Zotero. This is a program that lives in my applications folder on my computer.
- Next I downloaded the Safari connector. This puts a little button next to my address bar so I can add items directly from my web browser.
- The standalone version of Zotero automatically adds plugins to Word.
One I downloaded the standalone program and the Safari connector, I was ready to go. I did this back in August, so I’ve been using the program for about 3 months. I had to have my computer completely re-imaged about a month ago, but all of my citations were saved because my data lives in the cloud. I reinstalled the program and everything was there! That will be really nice feature when I go to start my dissertation, since I’ll never have to worry about losing everything.
Here are some of my favorite things about Zotero:
- When I save a citation, the record includes a link back to the original item in the online database where I found it. This lets me view the PDF or search for similar items again.
- I can tag my items however I want.
- I can access my Zotero files from the web at any computer. This is helpful when I’m at the library without my laptop!
- I can add my in-text citations from the Word plug-in.
As I’m approaching the end of the semester and I’m in the middle of all of my big final papers, I’m just so impressed with how much easier the research is with a citation manager. I hope I never have to sit and type out my own citations again! It keeps me organized, saves me time, and I’m building a great personal database of relevant articles, books, and websites for my research interests. If you haven’t ever used a citation manager before, you should check it out. Most academic libraries (and public libraries) have librarians who will gladly help you install and learn to use this program or a similar program. If you use RefWorks or EndNote, you may want to consider switching. Click the button below to visit Zotero’s website for more information and links to download:
Don’t just take my word for it, though. Do your research on the various citation management software that’s out there. Here are a few articles to get you started:
- ProfHacker compares EndNote and Zotero
- MIT’s Comparison Chart for EndNote, RefWorks, and Zotero
- Another comparison chart from Penn State
- Information about EndNote and Zotero, with screenshots and installation details
- Stanford’s Guide to Zotero, with screenshots
Do you use citation management tools? Which are your favorites?