Bibliography managers like Zotero can vastly simplify how you keep track of sources for your research. They can also take a lot of the grunt work out of composing citations.

But of course, what a citation manager puts out is only as good as what you put into it. And sometimes it can take a bit of coaxing or trial and error to figure out how to put information in so that you get it back out in the format you want.

A Problem: Needing to Use Multiple Styles

This situation gets compounded when you have to toggle between requirements for different style manuals. In some limited cases, you might be able to lightly edit what you have stored in your reference manager on a case-by-case basis so that you can get the output you need for different styles.

But continually editing and reediting your reference database gets old quickly. And it isn’t a viable option as soon as you have to start using different style manuals for different projects you’re working on at the same time and that draw from some of the same sources.

For instance, among my current projects, I’m having to use both the SBL Handbook of Style (SBLHS) and the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) itself. Of course, properly using SBLHS frequently requires that you refer to CMS. But one of the publishers I’m currently writing for requires that I use CMS as a primary style authority without reference to SBLHS.

Most of the time, a citation manager like Zotero can make the switch between these different styles in different documents pretty seamlessly. But sometimes you need to nuance a bit how you store information about a particular reference so that you can get the proper—and different—output that multiple styles require (e.g., SBLHS, CMS).

An Example: Handling Series Names and Abbreviations

A case in point is how SBLHS and CMS treat works published in series. As we’ve discussed before, for SBLHS, the series title may well get abbreviated. Thus, you’d have a citation like

1. Armin Lange and Matthias Weigold, Biblical Quotations and Allusions in Second Temple Jewish Literature, JAJSup 5 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).

But for CMS, you’d need to give the series name in full. Thus, you’d have

1. Armin Lange and Matthias Weigold, Biblical Quotations and Allusions in Second Temple Jewish Literature, Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplements 5 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).

How should you set up your reference manager so that it will give you either “JAJSup” or “Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplements” when you need it based on the citation style you’re using?

A Solution for Zotero

The answer and options will be different depending on the particular reference manager you use. The answer for Zotero isn’t immediately obvious. But it is pretty straightforward once you get used to it.

To illustrate, let’s continue with our SBLHS and CMS example with the resource I just mentioned.

1. Ensure You’re Running a Recent Version

First, be sure you’re running Zotero v.5.0.61 or higher. To check your Zotero version, open Zotero, and go to Help > About Zotero. The version number will be listed in grey font immediately under the “Zotero” heading.

If you’re not running at least Zotero v.5.0.61, update Zotero, or do a fresh install of the latest version.

2. Install the SBLHS Style

By default, Zotero comes with citation style support for CMS. But if you haven’t yet installed the style for SBLHS, you’ll need to get that from the Zotero style repository. Or you can download a slightly modified version of the style that does a better job handling citations for sources where SBLHS specifies a particular abbreviated citation (e.g., BDF).1

3. Enter the Full Series Name

Next, for any titled volumes in series, you’ll need to put the full series name in the “Series” field. In our example, this would be “Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplements.”

4. Enter the Series Abbreviation

Then, find the “Extra” field near the bottom of the “Info” pane in Zotero for a given source. In this field, add collection-title-short: followed by the appropriate abbreviation for that series.

For instance, for the resource we’re using as an example, we’d enter collection-title-short: JAJSup. (Note that you will want a space between the colon and the abbreviation.)2

5. Save the Abbreviation Code in an Easy-to-reference Place

As an optional step, save collection-title-short: in a text snippet manager like Phrase Express.

I’m never sure I remember exactly what the proper abbreviation code is. But with a text snippet manager like Phrase Express, all I have to do is use a few key strokes to search for “Series,” and I can drop the proper code into Zotero.


That’s it. From there on out, simply use Zotero as usual to cite your sources.

If the document uses the SBLHS style and you’ve included a collection-title-short: [abbreviation] entry, Zotero will know to use that abbreviation for the series name.

If the document uses the CMS style, Zotero will use the full series name, whether or not you’ve included a collection-title-short: [abbreviation] entry for that resource.

What challenges have you encountered when using Zotero with multiple citation styles?

Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  1. For more information about this modified style, see “Citing Grammars with the SBL Handbook and Zotero.” 
  2. For recommending this solution, I’m grateful to the kind and ever-helpful folks at the Zotero forums
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