How to Use Zotero to Properly Cite Grammars in SBL Style

You might think that citing a grammar according to the SBL Handbook of Style would be pretty straightforward.1 And you’d be right, but there are several special cases to account for.

1. Cite section numbers wherever possible.

Instead of citing a grammar by page number, you should cite by section number wherever possible to give the most precise reference. You’ll designate a single section with “§” and a section range with “§§”.

2. Cite grammars by abbreviation where applicable.

For many common Hebrew and Greek grammars, the SBL Handbook specifies an abbreviation by which to cite a given grammar (§8.4). You may find others also when you check IATG3.

For instance, Gesenius-Kautzch-Cowley is cited simply by the abbreviation “GKC”. Blass-Debrunner-Funk is cited simply as “BDF”.2

The full bibliographic information for these sources then goes in an abbreviations list and should not appear in the bibliography.

3. Adjust your reference manager’s output accordingly.

If you use reference manager software, you’ll want to consider how best to get that software to produce the abbreviated references you need for cases like this. If you use Zotero, you have two main options.

a. Enter footnotes manually, or use the prefix and suffix fields.

If you need to cite only one or more grammars only by an abbreviation(s), you can simply add a footnote and type the appropriate text without going through Zotero’s “add citation” process.

If you are citing a grammar(s) and another source(s) in a Zotero footnote, you can simply add the appropriate grammar citation text to the prefix or suffix fields of your existing citation, depending on whether you want the grammar citation to come before or after the other source(s) you are citing.

So, for instance, when adding or editing a citation, you could type “BDF §458;” into the prefix field to add a citation to Blass-Debrunner-Funk §458. Zotero would then build this text into the footnote so that the footnote will look as it should.

The upside of this method is that it is quite straightforward. The downside is that any sources you cite in this way won’t appear in any bibliography Zotero generates for your document.

SBL Press doesn’t want sources cited by abbreviation in a bibliography anyhow, but in some cases, you might find that you want this (e.g., requirements from a professor, journal, or volume editor).

In that event, your best option will be to edit the bibliography that Zotero prepares to add any sources you’ve included in your footnotes simply by adding their abbreviations as text. Since you entered those citations simply as text, Zotero won’t “know” to add these sources to your bibliography unless you make those changes directly.

b. Install the current SBL style in your reference manager.

Other ways of getting this output automatically from Zotero may be on the horizon. But things are really quite easy if you have the current version of the SBL style installed.

Not long ago, you would have needed to install a custom variant of the main SBL style or edit the style yourself. That’s no longer necessary, however. The changes necessary to cite grammars and other sources by abbreviation are now part of the main SBL style.

You can get the style from the Zotero repository directly. Or if you drop your name and email in the form below, I’ll drop you an email about that style. I’ll also include the style for the Catholic Biblical Association, which uses many of the same abbreviations as SBL style.

Once you have the style installed, for any source you need to cite by an abbrevation, just add Annote: [abbreviation] in that Zotero resource’s “Extra” field. So, for instance, for Blass-Debrunner-Funk, you would add Annote: BDF.

The upside of this method is that you can cite grammars by abbreviation while using the Zotero add citation dialog.

The downside is that you might need to edit your bibliography, if you have one, to remove these sources and move them to an abbreviation list (per SBL style’s requirement).

But you will probably know pretty well which few sources are cited by abbreviations. So, you should be able to edit your bibliography as needed pretty quickly to relocate these sources.

Conclusion

In the end, citing grammars according to the SBL Handbook of Style is quite straightforward.

If you want to cite them while using a reference manager, the process may be a bit more detailed to set up since the manager may not have a mechanism for handling largely custom citation patterns like the abbreviations SBL Press specifies for common grammars.

But with some careful thought about how you want to approach citing these kinds of resources, you can certainly streamline them into your existing citation process.


  1. Header image provided by SBL Press

  2. Also important is SBL Press’s discussion of citing Herbert Smyth’s Greek Grammar

Focus on Writing While Zotero Does Even More Formatting

Zotero is a free tool for managing bibliographies and citations.1 It’s now even more useful for researchers in biblical studies.

That’s particularly true if you’re using the styles for either the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA) or the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).

Catholic Biblical Association

The style for the CBA is what you’ll see if you read a Catholic Biblical Quarterly article.

Zotero has supported CBA style for some time. But per CBA’s current guidelines, the style now

  • Supports custom citations specified by CBA and stored in Extra via the annote variable (e.g., annote: BDF),
  • Allows series abbreviations to be stored in Extra via the collection-title-short variable (e.g., collection-title-short: NIGTC),
  • Truncates page ranges per the guidance of the Chicago Manual of Style (e.g., 115-116 becomes 115-16),2
  • Capitalizes English titles stored in sentence or lower case in “headline” style,
  • Gives citations with a “sub verbo” locator the “s.v.” notation and those with a “section” locator the § symbol,3
  • Overrides Chicago’s en dash with a hyphen when delimiting page ranges, and
  • Includes a period at the end of a citation.

The updated style now also corrects a few bugs in the prior version. These include

  • Correcting the output of a work cited with only editors as responsible parties from “, ed. [name(s)]” to “[name], ed.” or “[names], eds.”,
  • Correcting the delimitation and spacing with volume-page citations (e.g., “1:105”), and
  • Lowercasing “rev. ed.” and, if it appears other than at the start of a sentence, “ibid.”

Society of Biblical Literature

Like CBA, SBL style requires you to cite a number of resources by specific abbreviations.

I’ve previously discussed how you could modify the SBL style in order to store and cite by these abbreviations. That was pretty messy, but you could install a customized style file where I’d already made that change.

That worked, but it meant that you didn’t receive updates as quickly. It also meant that I had to keep re-producing the modified style every time an update came out. Or neither you nor I would benefit from the corrections that that update included.

Now, however, annote-based citations are supported in the SBL style that’s in the Zotero repository.

In addition, for some time, citations with section locators have had a space after § or §§ that shouldn’t have been there (thus, e.g., “§ 105” rather than “§105”). That’s now fixed too.

So, if you cite a grammar, you can just choose “section” as the locator type. You don’t any longer need to drop in § or §§ as the first characters in the locator field.

Just choose a “section” locator, and enter the sections you’re citing. Zotero will take care of the rest.((These comments pertain to the note-bibliography version of Zotero’s SBL style. If you use the parenthetical citation-reference list version, the behavior may differ.)

Conclusion

Citing sources is important work. And no matter how good software gets, you still have to know the style you’re writing in because you’re responsible for the final product.

That responsibility doesn’t shift when it’s challenging. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything by hand.

Careful use of tools like Zotero will go a long way in helping you keep your citations in order while also clearing your way to focus on the substance of your research and writing.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. If you specify the locator type as “section” rather than “page,” however, Chicago-style truncation doesn’t currently happen. 

  3. The style should be able to output § when you cite only one section and §§ when you cite multiple sections. But it currently uses § even when you cite multiple sections. 

How to Get the Most from Your Virtual Conference Meeting

Due to COVID-19, many traditionally in-person conferences have gone fully online or convened hybrid meetings with some in-person and some online attendees.1

Hybrid or online conferences are novel for biblical studies. So, we’re all learning as we go to varying degrees.

But with the following 8 steps, you can help set yourself up for an enriching meeting where you focus on biblical scholarship rather than the technology for delivering the meeting.

  1. Have your software and hardware ready.
  2. Plan what sessions you will attend.
  3. Connect early.
  4. Don’t be afraid to break the ice.
  5. Don’t hog the line.
  6. Come to learn.
  7. Focus on the sessions you attend.
  8. Take notes.

1. Have your software and hardware ready.

Well before your first session, be sure to install (or update) and test any software as needed, like Zoom. Also, test your speakers and your microphone.

By getting all of the technology set up early, you’ll avoid last-minute troubleshooting frustrations or delays immediately before a session.

Also, if you’re presenting or otherwise likely to speak during the session, try to arrange to use a headset or dedicated microphone.

The microphone built into your webcam, laptop, or mobile device can do in a pinch. But the audio will be much better for the rest of the attendees if you’re able to use a dedicated microphone.

2. Plan what sessions you will attend.

Depending on the particular conference’s choices, one of the nice things about virtual meetings is that sessions can be offered on a broader schedule. They can also be recorded for later viewing if you aren’t able to attend live.

But these upsides are also downsides if you try to consume too much of the meeting. Just because you can be in or rewatch more sessions in a virtual meeting doesn’t mean you should.

Instead, be choosey. Use the conference program or planner to find the sessions most pertinent for you.

That way, rather than giving surface engagement to a wide array of sessions, you can go all in on the few that most align with your interests.

3. Connect early.

In my first fully online conference, I was scheduled to presented a paper. The morning of my paper, I got on to connect to my session in what I thought was enough time.

It just so happened, however, that my computer also decided that it needed to reboot to install an update that morning too. 😐

I ended up still connecting to the session on time even after the reboot, although with a bit less margin than I would have liked. But if I hadn’t had the buffer provided by trying to connect to the session early, I could easily have been late for my own paper.

Don’t let that happen to you. Instead, connect ahead of a given session with enough buffer to handle any last-minute issues that arise.

4. Don’t be afraid to break the ice.

“Zoom rooms” and the like do a great job facilitating the structured interaction that occurs in person during paper presentations and discussion times. For the unstructured times before and after a conference session convenes, virtual rooms introduce some special awkwardness.

When you attend a conference in-person, the room allows any number of things to happen before and after the session.

You can sit quietly by yourself. Or you can converse with one or a few other attendees in that session. There might be still more people in the room sitting by themselves or talking in their own groups.

But in a virtual room, everyone attending the session is all in the same group. That can make interaction before and after the session pretty awkward.

If you’re talking to one other person, all the rest of the attendees are listening in on your conversation. But the alternative is for you all to sit around staring at each other while you stare into your webcams.

Any way you slice it, the unstructured time before or after a session is going to be awkward. So, try your best not to worry about the awkwardness.

If everyone’s having a staring contest, feel free to do the same. But also don’t be afraid to break the ice by making some light small talk, especially if you know someone else in the session.

You’ll get to catch up with a colleague. And if anyone else jumps into the conversation, you might meet someone new too.

5. Don’t hog the line.

At the same time, there’s another principle that goes closely along with the fact that you can break the ice. And that is that you shouldn’t hog the line.

A virtual meeting room is a shared communication space. So, in one way, that room is simply another iteration of the concept of “party line” telephone service.

Given that similarity, similar etiquette applies. If you break the ice, be sure also to leave enough space between or after you do so so that others can chime in if they want as well.

And particularly before the session, it goes without saying that the small talk needs to give way easily to the moderator when it’s time to bring the session to order.

6. Come to learn.

Whether you’re giving a paper or listening to one, come to learn and contribute.

Come to learn from the presenters about their work and contribute to the discussion of it. Or come to learn from the audience about yours.

Either way, if you come to learn and contribute rather than to impress, you’re likely to do more of both while also lessening the time you’ll spend faced with imposter syndrome.

7. Focus on the sessions you attend.

Nowadays, it doesn’t take attending many academic conference sessions in person before you notice something. During a session, some portion of the audience will be focused on … their email, Facebook, Twitter, the program book, or really anything besides the session they’re physically attending.

Maybe, they’re “multitasking.” But even if they are, studies show they’re not really paying attention.

I’ve been guilty of this practice in the past too, particularly later in a conference when sleep deprivation has tended to set. But while it might help with staying awake, getting adequate sleep is a much better approach that will also help you pay closer attention to the sessions you choose to attend.

As you “multitask” between two or more increasingly complex tasks, your ability to track with either at the same pace drops precipitously. You’ll typically need to elongate the time you spend on the multiple tasks you tried to bundle.2

That creates problems when you try to combine two incredibly complex and language-intensive tasks like listening to an academic paper and checking your email or social media.

In addition, the easier you make it for your brain to “escape” an academic paper into the world of your email or social media, the more difficult you make it to maintain focus the next time around on a different paper or cognitively demanding activity.3

Plus, if you craft for yourself a very selective conference schedule to start with, you’ll already have biased your schedule toward the sessions that you find more worth attending. And if they’re more worth attending, they’re more worth attending to while you’re in them.

8. Take notes.

Taking notes in a session is a great way to help keep your mind from wandering off—let alone wanting to seek out distracting stimuli like email or social media.

It’s also a good way of helping you retain the content of the papers you attend, whether or not you look at your notes again afterward.

In a virtual conference, you’ll already have some electronic device running when you’re attending a session. So, you may be inclined to take your notes digitally on that same device.

If that works for you, that’s great. But handwriting notes can provide benefits you don’t get if you’re taking notes by typing.4

(If you want to store notes digitally after your conference, Rocketbook has a great notebook-scanner app pairing that makes digitizing handwritten pages very easy.)

Conclusion

It can take some work to get the most from an academic conference. That’s true whether the conference is in-person, online, or some mixture of the two.

But with some forethought and preparation, a virtual conference can provide a great opportunity for you to hone your craft in biblical scholarship.


  1. Header image provided by Compare Fibre

  2. Multitasking: Switching Costs,” American Psychological Association, 20 March 2006. By contrast, habitual tasks that require very little attention can be more successfully combined with other tasks that require more attention (e.g., folding laundry while listening to a podcast). For this reason, Greg McKeown suggests distinguishing between multitasking and multifocusing. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 219–20; cf. C. S. Lewis, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 212–15. 

  3. Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (New York: Grand Central, 2016), 157–59. 

  4. Pam A. Mueller and Daniel M. Oppenheimer, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” Psychological Science 25.6 (2014): 1159–68. 

Why You Need to Ship for Feedback after Distribution

The only way to know whether you research is publishable is to ship it.1

You can and should ship for feedback. And good shipping for distribution is still shipping for feedback.

That’s true before publication because it will help turn any “no’s” you receive into improvements in your research.

But even after publication, the best shipping for distribution still includes an openness to feedback.

Shipping for Feedback after Publication

After a piece has been published, responses might be positive, or they might be negative. Often, they’ll be some of both.

But you’re shortchanging yourself if you only consider either the positive or the negative responses.

The positive ones are most encouraging. You need that. The negative ones are probably be most educational. You need that too.

Just like when you ship for feedback to improve your work before seeking publication, it’s nice when critical responses aren’t trolling. But even when they are, it’s possible to read past that.

And the more you open yourself to look past the emotions bound up with having your work critiqued, the more you’ll be able to learn from those reviews and use them well.

Your openness to feedback even after publishing might even give you new ideas or help you produce better work in the future.

An Example of Using Feedback after Publication

One example is Tom Wright’s Justification.2 In that book, he’s responding primarily to John Piper’s Future of Justification, whose subtitle makes its critical stance fairly apparent, A Response to N. T. Wright.3

But Justification doesn’t just restate arguments Wright had previously made. It includes some distinct, new approaches to the debate about justification in Paul.

Justification shows an openness to provocation, an openness to critique, that leads to adaptation and attempts at refinement.

You might fall on either side of this debate between Wright and Piper, or you might take the choice for “none of the above.”

But in any of these cases, Wright’s Justification provides a helpful example of the kind of adaptability that can and should go along with shipping, even when you’re shipping for distribution.

A Concluding Encouragement

So, there are two ways to ship your work. You can ship it for feedback. Or you can ship it for distribution.

But even when you ship for distribution, shipping well means being open to feedback you might receive, whether before or after publication.

Shipping for feedback is primary. Yet that shouldn’t be the only shipping you ever do.

By continuously shipping only for feedback, you avoid shipping something for distribution that isn’t entirely perfect. But you also miss out on actually contributing to the discussion.

Shipping only for feedback doesn’t allow you to help the who that your research is really for in the first place.4

So, don’t get stuck. Work, write, rewrite, revise, and ship—ship both for feedback and for distribution—recalibrate and revise where necessary, and ship again.


  1. Header image provided by Bench Accounting

  2. N. T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009). Since its initial publication, the volume has also been re-released with an updated introduction (2016). 

  3. John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007). 

  4. For a similar point, see Stanley E. Porter, Inking the Deal: A Guide for Successful Academic Publishing (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), 160–162. For the principle of the priority of who over what, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussion of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64. 

How to Ship Your Research for Distribution

You have to ship your research in order to find out whether it’s publishable.1

You can and should ship for feedback. But you also can and should ship for distribution.

Shipping for Distribution

The other way to ship a project is to ship it for distribution. This is “firm shipping” where you’re committing to a particular form of your research that you’re wanting to get to your who.

It’s the kind of shipping you do when you’ve done your due diligence and you’re ready to call the project finished.

Where you ship to for distribution will depend on who you’re trying to reach. Your who might listen to podcasts, attend live talks, read journal articles, or work through monographs.

In each case, you’re going to ship for distribution to the folks who can help you get your research into those different channels, be they podcasters, conference organizers, editorial boards, or acquisition editors.

… and for Feedback

That said, the best shipping for distribution still entails shipping for feedback.

You might not feel the same level of tentativeness you do in shipping your project for feedback.

But whatever you ship isn’t going to be the last word on your topic. So, it’s best to recognize that up front.

Even when your work is “done,” even when you’re shipping for distribution, you’re still able to learn. And your best shipping for distribution will be shipping that’s open to other’s responses, whether positive or negative. It’s a shipping that stays teachable.

Conclusion

This kind of shipping for distribution is hugely advantageous. By contrast, if you ship for distribution without openness and teachability, you’re setting yourself up for a bumpy ride.

The whole point of shipping is that it’s the one thing you can do to test whether your research is, in fact, publishable.

And in that test, the outcome isn’t predetermined. The answer might be “yes,” or it might be “no.”

The “yes” is definitely nicer to hear. But if you’re not open to the value you and your research gets from the reasons for a “no,” you’ll seriously limit where you can find a “yes.”

On the other hand, if you’re shipping for feedback even when you’re shipping for distribution, you’re open to that sort of value. You’re open to continuing to improve your work so that it’s more likely to get a “yes” the next time around.2


  1. Header image provided by Bench Accounting

  2. For discussion of how to turn a “no” to your advantage, see Stanley E. Porter, Inking the Deal: A Guide for Successful Academic Publishing (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010), 89–102 

How to Ship Your Research for Feedback

To learn whether your work is publishable, there’s no escaping the need to ship it.1

Who your research is for will determine what it means to publish it.2 But even when you have the same who, “shipping” can take either of two primary forms.

These forms depend on your goal in shipping a particular project—in particular, whether you’re shipping (1) for feedback or (2) for distribution.

Shipping for Feedback

One way to ship a project is to ship it for feedback. This is “soft shipping.”

It’s shipping because you’re making your work available to one or more people besides yourself. But it’s “soft” because of the goal you have in shipping.

You’re wanting feedback that you can use to improve your work. In doing so, you’re recognizing, by definition, that the work that you’re shipping isn’t done.

So, there’s some additional tentativeness in shipping for feedback that isn’t as present when you’re shipping for distribution.

Some good examples of shipping for feedback include, if you’re a student, submitting your work to your professor. It can also include things like

  • sending your work to peers for an informal review or
  • presenting your work at conferences where there’s opportunity for feedback to you from a respondent, an audience, or both.

Feedback from Whom?

The key is that you ideally want to ship for feedback to folks who have a few specific characteristics, like

  • Knowledgeability. They don’t have to be an expert in your particular topic. But they have to have enough related knowledge to provide feedback.
  • Execution. If someone agrees to give you feedback or attends a conference session you’re presenting in, it’s best if they actually convey their feedback to you. It doesn’t much help you to improve your work if folks evaluate it but then don’t express their evaluations to you.
  • Honesty. It’s nice to hear your work is great. But that’s not why you ship for feedback. You ship for feedback to get honest input on what you might be missing. So, you need to ship to folks who are willing to tell you that.
  • Good-will. This is a balancing element to honesty. You want folks who will tell you what they honestly think. But you probably aren’t too excited about having your work trolled.

Conclusion

The more of these kinds of characteristics you can find, the better your feedback is likely to be.

At the same time, you might not always be able to find all of these characteristics in folks to whom you might ship for feedback. But even if some are lacking, take that feedback with the corresponding amount of salt, use it for what it’s worth, and keep pressing forward.


  1. Header image provided by Bench Accounting

  2. Here, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussion of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64.