A Simple Guide to When You Need to Capitalize “Gospel(s)”

As SBL Press has explicitly recognized,

One of the more confusing issues that writers in New Testament studies face is when to write Gospel and when to use gospel instead.1

The key principles are

relatively straightforward until one begins actually writing; then questions inevitably arise.2

The SBL Handbook of Style directly addresses the capitalization of “gospel(s)” in two sections.3 And SBL Press has subsequently provided a supplementary blog post of nearly 1000 words.4

But even with all of this explanation, the issue might still be cloudy. So below, are the essential tests for when you need to capitalize “gospel(s).”

I’ve also ordered the tests in a sequence to help you avoid nonstandard capitalization. So as you work through the list from top to bottom, you can stop when you find the right category, lowercase or capitalize accordingly, and move on.

1. Always lowercase “gospels,” except in the phrase “Synoptic Gospels.”

The SBL Handbook of Style recommends capitalizing “gospels” when it refers to a canonical division.5 But SBL Press prefers “down style, that is, the use of fewer initial capital letters.”6 So, SBL Press now prefers you to lowercase “gospels.”7

This change means that the only time you should capitalize the plural “gospels” is in the phrase “Synoptic Gospels.” And here, note that “Synoptic” also gets capitalized, as does the shorter “Synoptics.”8

But if you have the singular “gospel” and not the plural, move to the next test.

2. Lowercase “gospel” if it refers to a proclamation.

Often, “gospel” doesn’t refer to literature at all. Instead, it means the good news about Jesus, the kerygma.

An example would be a sentence like “At the beginning of 1 Cor 15, Paul summarizes the gospel he preached.”

Because “gospel” here refers to a proclamation, a message, or a body of good news, it needs to appear in lowercase.

If your use of “gospel” doesn’t refer to a proclamation, however, keep working through the next test.

3. Lowercase “gospel” if it’s a “generic reference.”

One of the ways SBL style expresses its “down style” preference is that “gospel” also gets lowercased when used as a “generic reference.”9 But what qualifies as a “generic reference”?

SBL Press doesn’t seem to define this category explicitly. But it appears to describe a way of referencing a work that also identifies the genre of that work. (Thus, “generic” here includes the notion of “genre” rather than generality alone.)

If you’re unsure whether “gospel” is a generic reference, two tests can help you decide:

  1. Try replacing “gospel” with “work” to see if the sentence makes sense (e.g., “In his gospel, Matthew …”).
  2. Check whether “gospel” is functioning as an adjective to modify noun (e.g., “gospel narrative,” “gospel writers”).

If your use of “gospel” passes one of these two tests, you probably have a generic reference. So, you should lowercase “gospel.” But if neither of these tests works, move to the next test.

4. Capitalize “gospel” if it’s part of a title.

If you’re using “gospel” as part of the name for a title of a work, you need to capitalize it. SBL Press considers forms like the following to be titles:10

  • First Gospel
  • Matthew’s Gospel
  • Gospel of Matthew

The same convention would apply to other forms of titles for literary works (e.g., “Gospel according to Matthew”).

If you’re not using “gospel” in the context of a title, however, move to the next test.

5. Capitalize “gospel” if it’s a stand-in for a title.

If you’re using “gospel” alone as a stand-in for a title, you need to capitalize it.

It can be trickier to know when an instance of “gospel” counts as a stand-in for a title. But there’s still a test that can help.

If you’re unsure whether “gospel” is a stand-in for a title, replace that word or the phrase that includes it “gospel” with the full title of the gospel. If the replacement works, “gospel” is a stand-in for a title, and you need to capitalize it.

A great many uses of “gospel” by itself to reference a literary work actually fall into how SBL Press defines the “generic reference” category discussed above. By contrast, capitalizing “gospel” by itself as a stand-in for a title is pretty rare.

So you especially ensure your use of “gospel” isn’t a generic reference before you classify it as a stand-in for a title and capitalize it as such.

If your use of “gospel” doesn’t seem to fit this, or any of the other categories above, there aren’t any more tests to try to sort it out. But there is one clear action you can take to ensure your text correctly capitalizes (or lowercases) the term and communicates clearly.

6. Where needed, revise.

In some cases, you might not be satisfied with a sentence after you apply the capitalization that results from these tests. In that event, consider revising the sentence until you’re satisfied with the capitalization it involves.11


Deciding whether to capitalize “gospel” language can be tricky. But you can cut through confusion with the following five principles:

  1. Always lowercase “gospels,” except in the phrase “Synoptic Gospels.”
  2. Lowercase “gospel” if it refers to a proclamation.
  3. Lowercase “gospel” if it’s a “generic reference.”
  4. Capitalize “gospel” if it’s part of a title.
  5. Capitalize “gospel” if it’s a stand-in for a title.

And of course, if you aren’t satisfied with a sentence based on these principles, you can always revise it until you get it into the shape you want it.

  1. “Gospel versus Gospel,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 15 November 2016, §1; italics original. Header image provided by Josh Applegate

  2. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §1; italics added. 

  3. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §§, 4.3.6. 

  4. “Gospel versus Gospel.” 

  5. SBL Handbook of Style, §4.3.6. 

  6. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §2.2. 

  7. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §§1, 3.4. 

  8. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §§1, 3.1. 

  9. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §3.3. 

  10. “Gospel versus Gospel.” 

  11. “Gospel versus Gospel,” §§2.4–2.5, 3.5. 

How to Make Bulk Editing Items in Zotero Easy

Zotero is a fabulous tool for managing research material.1 The word processor integration makes it easy to insert citations on the fly as you write.

But the citations you insert will only be as good as the information in your Zotero library. So, if some of that’s incorrect or mis-formatted, Zotero will reflect those problems in the citations it creates.

Zotero makes it easy to correct information about any item in your library. But what happens if you need to change many items?

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to change many items all at once. So, there’s no need to make the same change to each of them individually.

1. Set up Zutilo.

To bulk edit multiple items in Zotero, you’ll need to install the latest version of the Zutilo extension.2 Once you have Zutilo installed in Zotero, go to Tools > Zutilo Preferences ….

From there, you’ll notice Zutilo can do a number of things and make several changes to your Zotero interface. To start bulk editing Zotero items, however, it might be simplest to disable all the options on the Zutilo User Interface tab except for

  • Copy item fields,
  • Paste into empty item fields, and
  • Paste into non-empty item fields.

For these items, choose to display them either in the Zotero context menu (i.e., the right- or command-click menu) or in a Zutilo-specific flyout from that menu.

Click OK, and you’ll have Zutilo ready to go.

2. Collect the items you need to edit.

Next, if you haven’t done so already, collect into one place all of the items you need to edit. You can do this by creating a saved search in Zotero based on the item metadata that you want to edit.3

For instance, if you’re using SBL style, “Grand Rapids” is a “well known” place of publication.4 Consequently, it shouldn’t be accompanied by a state name or abbreviation.

So, if you had some entries in your library with this additional information, you might create a saved search to group them all together for easy editing.

3. Use information from an existing item as a template.

For one of the items in this saved search, you’d open the context menu, and use Zutilo to copy the fields for that item.

Then, open a plain text file, and paste in the item fields that you copied. This will give you a long string of what might, at first, look like unreadable code gobbledygook. But if you look closely, especially at the beginning of what you pasted, you should notice how some of what shows up in that item’s record as you look at in Zotero appears pretty transparently in what you’ve pasted into your text editor.

In the text editor, be sure to leave

  • the opening {,
  • the line with "itemType":,
  • any other lines for fields you want to use in your bulk edit,
  • and the closing }.

But delete the other lines. In this example, I’m bulk editing only the place of publication. So, the code gobbledygook above simplifies down to just the following:

  "itemType": "book",
  "place": "Grand Rapids, Michigan",

From this point, you need to make two changes. These are to

  1. change Grand Rapids, Michigan to just Grand Rapids, which is what you want the place name to be for all the relevant items in Zotero, and
  2. delete the comma before the closing }.

Your text file will then look as follows:

  "itemType": "book",
  "place": "Grand Rapids"

4. Bulk edit the items in your saved search.

From this point, copy this content from your text file back onto your clipboard, and return to Zotero. Select all the records you want to update (i.e., all the records in your saved search), and open the context menu.

In this example, there aren’t any empty fields to fill. So, you’ll select “Paste non-empty item fields.”

It may take Zotero a few seconds to process the changes depending on how many you’re making and how many records are involved. But once Zotero finishes, you should see an empty saved search folder.

The folder will be empty because you’ve updated all the records it contained. Now, none of those records matches the search criteria. All of them now have “Grand Rapids” and not “Grand Rapids, MI” or “Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

You can then delete your saved search folder and enjoy the benefits of cleaner citations from a tidier Zotero database without the time and tedium of having needed to edit each record manually.


Zotero’s a wonderful tool. And the various ways of getting bibliographic data into it make entering new items into your library incredibly easy.

But there’s also no accounting for the quality of the data that you’ll initially import into Zotero from whatever sources. And as the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”

Fortunately, Zutilo makes it very easy to quickly correct data in multiple Zotero records, leaving you with less work to do in managing your materials and more time to focus on your research and writing.

  1. Header image provided by NordWood Themes

  2. For this resource and the fundamentals of the process described here, see “Editing Multiple Items at Once,” Zotero Forums, n.d. 

  3. For information about searching and saving searches in Zotero, see Zotero, “Searching,” Zotero, 30 January 2022. 

  4. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), § 

How to Extract Text from Image-only PDFs with Zotero

If you have a PDF of a book chapter or journal article, it’ll be one of two basic types.1

On the one hand, it might have real text inside it. If so, you’ll be able to select specific letters or words inside the PDF.

On the other hand, it might just be a series of page images. If this is what you have, you can click on it all you want, but all you’ll select is the whole page image.

Even when you have real text in a PDF, you’ll have various issues if you try to copy and paste from it. And you probably shouldn’t be doing a lot of that anyhow. Strings of quotations generally isn’t the most effective way to make an argument.

But having real text inside your PDF chapter or article will make that PDF searchable and easier to annotate if you intend to read it electronically, underline or highlight text, or otherwise use your PDF like electronic paper.

If your PDF doesn’t have real text inside it, however, you can use Zotero to add it through “optical character recognition” (OCR). That is, you can have Zotero

  • “look” at an image-only PDF,
  • give a best guess about what text is on the page, and
  • save that text back with the image into another, combined PDF.

The OCR may not be perfect. But it will make your PDFs more usable.

1. Get Zotero ready.

To get Zotero ready to add text to your image-only PDFs, you’ll first need to

Once you have these tools, install the Zotero OCR extension in Zotero.

After you restart Zotero,

  1. Go to Tools > Zotero OCR Preferences.
  2. For the path to your OCR engine, enter the path to tesseract.exe (e.g., C:\Program Files\Tesseract-OCR\tesseract.exe).
  3. For the path to pdftoppm, enter the path where you have Poppler’s pdftoppm.exe (e.g., C:\Users\[yourusername]\poppler-0.68.0\bin\pdftoppm.exe).
  4. Customize the other options according to your preferences, and click “OK.” If you want Zotero’s OCR text back in a PDF file, you should at least leave the “Save output as a PDF with text layer” box checked. But you may want to leave unchecked the option to overwrite the initial PDF, just in case something goes amiss with the conversion.

2. Create a PDF with real text.

At this point, Zotero is ready to

  • run OCR on any image-only PDF in your library and
  • create a new PDF that maps these page images to real text.

To do so, find an image-only PDF in Zotero, right click it, and choose to “OCR selected PDF(s).”

After you click this option, you’ll want to be patient. The process may take a while, even with a comparatively short PDF. And it can look like not much is happening.

But eventually, you should get a command line window that gives you some progress indicators as Tesseract works through your PDF.

When Tesseract finishes, you’ll see a new linked attachment in Zotero with a “.ocr.pdf” ending to the file name. You can use this file to interact with the real text that Tesseract worked out for your PDF’s page images. Zotero’s indexer and your PDF reader’s find function can do the same as well.

If you want to be able to search the new text in your PDF from Zotero, you might want to rebuild or update your Zotero index (Edit > Preferences > Search > Rebuild Index …).

3. Clean up the leftovers.

If you don’t care to keep the leftovers from the conversion process, you can clean them up at this stage. Just right-click either the new linked file attachment or the original one in your Zotero library, and choose to “Show File.”

You’ll then be shown the Zotero storage folder where your PDFs are stored. Be sure not to touch the .zotero-ft-cache or .zotero-ft-info files. But any leftover text (“.txt”) files you can delete.

And if you’re satisfied with the results of the conversion, you can also delete your original PDF from this folder and rename the “.ocr.pdf” file to omit the “.ocr” portion of its file name. It should then have the same name as your original PDF.

So, the original stored file link in Zotero (the one without the little chain icon) should work to open it. And you can delete also the Zotero link to the “.ocr.pdf” file (which you’ve now renamed).


Having real text in a PDF makes it possible to search that document. It also makes it easier to mark it up. Older PDFs or PDFs of older sources might not come with this real text already in them, and OCR is rarely perfect.

But you can use Zotero to add a good amount of accurate text to your image-only PDFs, which will make annotating and referencing these files that much easier.

  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

How to Increase Your Zotero Cloud Storage: 4 Ways

The Zotero “personal research assistant” comes with 300 MB of cloud storage free for attachments in each account.1 That’s a good amount, but it can go quickly, especially if you start storing larger PDFs in your Zotero library.

For instance, the Bavarian State Library has made available PDF scans of Gabriel Vasquez’s entire 4-volume Commentariorum ac disputationum in primam partem Sancti Tomæ. But if you download volume 4, the smallest, and want to store it in your Zotero library, you’ll need 372 MB of storage space.

So, what happens when you use all your Zotero cloud storage but still want to synchronize attachments between multiple computers or just back them up to the cloud?

Two options will require some new cloud storage or new configuration to your existing cloud storage. But another two will let you use the cloud storage you already have as is.

1. Subscribe to a paid Zotero storage plan.

For users who require additional cloud storage, Zotero offers three paid plans, ranging from 2 GB for $20 per year to unlimited for $120 per year.2 Zotero also offers special storage plans for laboratory and institution-wide deployments.3

This option is the most straightforward. It makes it easier for you to access your stored attachments via mobile applications the Zotero app that’s in beta for iOS.4 The downside is that this solution requires paying for an additional cloud storage service.

2. Use your own WebDAV service.

In addition to synchronizing attachment files to Zotero storage, Zotero also supports the WebDAV protocol.5 WebDAV stands for “Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning” and is

an extension to Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that defines how basic file functions such as copy, move, delete, and create are performed by using HTTP.6

If you want to explore this route you can explore setting up your own self-hosted WebDAV service. Or you can look into the Zotero documentation’s list of providers whose WebDAV service is known to work with Zotero.7

Each provider makes available 2–15 GB of free storage. But some also have lower limitations for individual attachment file sizes. In addition, as you’ll see from the notes on several services, you might encounter bugs, problems, or important limitations in trying to use these ready-made WebDAV options.

So, synchronizing attachments via an alternative WebDAV service may be more economical than doing so via Zotero storage. But it will still require some special configuration and perhaps also mean you’ll need to use additional cloud storage service.

A Sidebar on What to Sync and What Not to Sync in Generic Cloud Storage

There are, however, two ways you can use Zotero to store attachments in cloud storage that you already have. When doing so, it’s important to note that you should not allow a generic cloud storage service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive to touch your Zotero database.

If you try to sync your Zotero database with a cloud service, you’re setting yourself up for any number of headaches and may well lose data or corrupt your database file.8 (I’ve made this mistake before. It’s not pretty.)

So, when you sync your Zotero database, you should always use your Zotero account and Zotero’s servers. There’s no downside to this as there’s no limit to how many records you can have in your Zotero database. The only thing that counts against a storage limit are files you might want to attach to those records (e.g., PDFs, webpage snapshots).

3. Move your Zotero storage folder.

By default, Zotero stores attachment files in its storage folder. To find your storage folder, with Zotero open, go to Edit > Advanced > Files and Folders. From the “Files and Folders” tab of the Zotero Preferences dialog box, you can change the directory where Zotero saves all its files, including its main database.

Don’t do this. All you want here is the location of your Zotero profile folder. Once you’ve found this, you can change the storage folder’s location by using a “symbolic link” (or “symlink”).

A symlink isn’t the same as a “shortcut.” A shortcut simply bounces you from one location to another in your file system.

Instead, a symlink allows access to a file or folder via two different paths. So, it’s a bit like using two different email addresses to get messages into the same inbox.

For instance, if you’re on Windows, you can use a symlink to change the location of your Zotero storage directory by taking the following steps:

a. Open your Zotero directory.

By default in Windows 10, Zotero saves all its files under C:\Users\{username}\Zotero. Before proceeding to the other steps, you may want to back up this directory to a safe place, just in case something goes amiss.

b. Move the “storage” folder.

Inside the Zotero directory, you should find a folder named “storage.” Make sure Zotero is closed, and move this folder to the cloud storage folder of your choice. You can also rename the folder if you’d like for ease of reference.

So, for instance, I’ve created a directory D:\OneDrive\Research\Zotero. This directory contains all the sub-folders and files Zotero looks for in “storage.”

c. Create the symlink to your new Zotero storage location.

To create the symbolic link:

  1. Open the Windows menu.
  2. Search for “cmd” or “Command Prompt.”
  3. Right-click this program, and choose “Run as administrator.”
  4. If you are asked whether you want to allow this app to make changes to your device, choose “Yes.”
  5. Enter cd C:\Users\{username}\Zotero. You’ll need to replace {username} with your username as it appears in the file path under step (a) above.
  6. Type mklink /d "storage" {file path where you moved the Zotero "storage" folder}. You’ll need to replace {file path where you moved the Zotero "storage" folder} with the actual file path. This would be D:\OneDrive\Research\Zotero in my example above.
  7. Press Enter.

You should now be able to go back to C:\Users\{username}\Zotero (or wherever your main Zotero folder is) and find there a symbolic link named “storage.” If you click this link, it should open your Zotero storage folder.

The folder will be located in the cloud storage folder where you’ve moved it. But Zotero will be able to access the folder’s contents in the location it expects for the storage folder.

Next, reopen Zotero, and test opening a few attachments. If they open properly, everything went well. If the attachments don’t open, delete the “storage” symbolic link, and try creating it again via the steps indicated here.

Instead of moving Zotero’s storage folder, you can simply create a folder in a cloud storage service of your choice and have Zotero link to files found there.

To do so,

  1. Create the new folder where you want to store Zotero attachments.
  2. Open Zotero, and go to Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Files and Folders.
  3. In the section for Linked Attachment Base Directory, choose the directory you created in your cloud storage folder for housing your attachments. On other computers, you’ll then just need to find the equivalent directory once, tell Zotero where it is, and Zotero will be able to use this base directory without missing a beat.
  4. Click OK.

You’ll then just store in this directory any file you want to link to in Zotero. And to make things still a bit easier, you might consider installing the Zotfile extension.

Among other things, Zotfile can make it easier to rename attachments as you save them in your chosen directory or even to move files stored in Zotero’s storage folder into a different attachment directory.

Storing with or without Stores

Whether you use a paid or free option, these steps should give you some additional options to manage your Zotero storage. And as you continue using Zotero, you’re likely to find that this extra space proves extremely helpful for saving your research and avoiding the need to re-search for what you’ve previously found.9

  1. Zotero, “Zotero Storage,” n.d. Header image provided by Oscar Chevillard

  2. Zotero, “Storage.” 

  3. Zotero, “Zotero Lab and Zotero Institution,” n.d. 

  4. Zotero, “‎Zotero,” App Store, n.d. 

  5. Zotero, “Sync,” 20 January 2022. 

  6. Microsoft, “WebDAV,” 19 August 2020. 

  7. Zotero, “List of WebDAV Services,” 14 October 2020. 

  8. Zotero, “Sync.” 

  9. Zotero, “Winning Tagline: Research, Not Re-Search,” weblog, Zotero Blog, 26 November 2007. 

9 Reasons to Use Zotero in Your Research

A good reference manager can be incredibly helpful for your research. Many different options are available, but you should at least seriously consider Zotero.

Zotero launched its first public beta in the fall of 2006 as a Firefox extension.1 I started using it in the fall of 2007, thanks to some helpful input from Westminster Seminary’s writing center.

At that time, Zotero was useful, but in the years since, ongoing development has made it an even more robust and helpful tool. So, if you’re frustrated with your current system for managing your research, there are 8 reasons Zotero might be an excellent tool for you. Namely, Zotero

  1. is free;
  2. supports SBL, Chicago, and many other styles;
  3. is actively developed and provides exceptional help in the forums;
  4. integrates with Microsoft Word—and LibreOffice Writer;
  5. allows you to “set it and forget it”;
  6. allows you to store files with citation records;
  7. gives you easy ways to customize individual citations;
  8. makes it easy to switch citation styles; and
  9. allows you to improve your citation style.

1. Zotero is free.

Zotero happens to be free, as in zero cost to end users (e.g., “free books”). But it’s also free, as in Zotero doesn’t lock you into a proprietary system that limits what you can do with your own data (e.g., “free speech”):

Zotero has always guaranteed users complete access to their own data, but open source [= free as in “free speech”] means you don’t need to take our word for it. If the organization that runs Zotero disappeared tomorrow, or if we made a decision that didn’t put users’ interests first, others would be free to take Zotero’s source code and continue to maintain and improve it.2

These two types of freedom mean that Zotero has a low barrier to entry. You can give it a try and then get your data back out if you decide Zotero doesn’t work (or stops working) for you for whatever reason.

2. Zotero supports SBL, Chicago, and many other styles.

When you download Zotero, it comes with support for Chicago style built in. Adding support for SBL style is as easy as installing the style from the repository.3

(Or if you want to drop your email into this form while you’re reading this post, skip searching the repository, I’ll send the style straight to your inbox.)

Zotero also supports other biblical studies styles like those from Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Currents in Biblical Research, Tyndale Bulletin, and Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche. And the list keeps growing.

So, even if you need something a bit different from these, you can likely get close enough to make fairly few manual tweaks necessary at the end of your editing to get things just right.

3. Zotero is actively developed and provides exceptional help in the forums.

The Zotero forums are fabulous places to search for help on technical issues that you can’t find guidance about in the regular documentation.

When I come upon something I can’t get right, I routinely find someone has asked a similar question that’s helpful in clarifying what I need to do differently.

Even when I can’t immediately find what I’m looking for in the forums though, very seldom have I posted another question and not pretty promptly gotten a helpful response.

(Of course, when posting questions, you do have to try to state the issue as clearly and completely as possible. “I can’t get Zotero to work” isn’t going to be a great way of helping others in the forum help you with your issue.)

Going along with all of this, Zotero’s developers are active in the forums as well. In several cases, they’ve identified a question I’ve posted as related to a bug or need for additional nuance in the software or SBL style. And sure enough, a subsequent release of Zotero or the SBL style has cleared up the issue.

4. Zotero integrates with Microsoft Word—and LibreOffice Writer.

Remember when I mentioned “free books” and “free speech” above? Well, part of me would really like to use LibreOffice Writer rather than Microsoft Word for exactly this reason.

But there are several reasons—for another post—that I continue using Word for now. And Zotero integrates very nicely with both Word and Writer.

5. Zotero allows you to “set it and forget it.”

Especially with SBL style, it takes some time to learn the nuances of how to put information into Zotero so that you can get the proper output.

But the nice thing is that, once you’ve got a book or article input properly, you don’t have to worry about re-searching for how to compose that citation. You can simply research and write and let Zotero handle the jots and tittles of the citations.4

This doesn’t mean you can offload deep knowledge of SBL style to Zotero or any other platform. You still have to know what you need out of the software so that you can meet your style requirements.

But it does mean that you can focus on noticing and fixing anything that’s amiss. You don’t need to bother with everything that goes right—which the vast majority usually does.

6. Zotero allows you to store files with citation records.

Let’s say you add a journal article to your database. But you have a PDF copy of the article as well.

Where do you keep that copy? In Zotero, you can attach that PDF directly to the citation and so save everything in one place.5

Zotero also provides some cloud storage so that you can sync a minimal number of files among multiple devices. But it’s also pretty straight forward to extend this storage by one method or another. In some cases, you may even be able to do so for no additional cost to you.

7. Zotero gives you easy ways to customize individual citations.

SBL and other styles common to biblical studies aren’t known for being the simplest. And sometimes, they require citations of specific sources that are unique to those sources.

No software could possibly account for all the variables that might come up with such unique citations. But Zotero does provide a useful set of tags that allow you to customize the citations of individual resources or even individual notes. These tags allow you to make text

  • italic or (if it’s already italic) roman,
  • bold,
  • subscript, and
  • superscript.

You can also turn text into small capitals or suppress Zotero’s default capitalization rules. And you can add these tags in your Zotero database—if you want them to apply to all citations of a given source. Or you can use the same tags in the citation dialog to format individual citations.

8. Zotero makes it easy to switch citation styles.

If you do any amount of academic writing for publication, it will eventually happen. You will get a piece turned down by a given journal or publisher. You’ll then need to decide whether to let the piece die on your computer or to revise it and send it elsewhere.

And if you decide to send it elsewhere, a different journal or publisher may well require you to use a different citation style. If Zotero already supports that style, Zotero can do a lot of the reformatting work “automagically” once you install the additional citation style.

Of course, you’ll still need to proofread what Zotero has done and correct any remaining issues. But some careful proofreading and corrections here and there definitely beat the chances you run with “find and replace” or the time you would spend manipulating your citations manually.

9. Zotero allows you to improve your citation style.

Zotero knows how to format citations because of what’s in a given citation style sheet. That style sheet is written in a language called, appropriately enough, “Citation Style Language” (CSL).6

If you’re not the type to tinker with such things, that’s perfectly fine. I wasn’t for a long time. But if you do run into something consistently that’s a bit amiss in a given style, you can definitely update the style so its output is more precise.7

CSL isn’t necessarily “easy” to pick up. But especially if you’re just needing to modify an existing style (rather than create one from scratch), it’s also not too difficult.

And with some persistence, you might find that a little time learning CSL is well spent. It may eliminate a good amount of editing work that you and others had been having to do manually.


A student of mine once observed that citation managers don’t substitute for knowing SBL or whatever other style well. But they can take a lot of the grunt work out of following those styles.

That’s about right. Following a given style guide is a good and necessary part of what writing involves in biblical studies. But then, none of us got into biblical studies so that we could follow the SBL Handbook of Style. 🙂

So it makes sense to consider how you can address your style requirements more efficiently and free yourself up to do the reading, research, and writing that only you can do.

And Zotero is an excellent option for a tool to help you do just this.

  1. Zotero, “Zotero 1.0 Public Beta Launch,” weblog, Zotero Blog, 5 October 2006. 

  2. Zotero, “Why Zotero?,” Zotero, n.d. 

  3. See Zotero, “Citation Styles,” Zotero, 18 December 2017

  4. Cf. “Winning Tagline: Research, Not Re-Search,” weblog, Zotero Blog, 26 November 2007. 

  5. See Zotero, “Adding Files to Your Zotero Library,” Zotero, 7 July 2021. 

  6. See Rintze M. Zelle, “Citation Style Language,” Citation Style Language, 2015. 

  7. See Zotero, “Citation Styles,” Zotero, 18 December 2017. 

How to Quickly Create a Dynamic Table of Contents

Creating a table of contents manually can be a pain and consume much more time and attention than it should.1

Fortunately, you can let Word do the heavy lifting by creating a dynamic table of contents that updates automatically with your document.

1. Prepare your document.

Word can manage a table of contents multiple ways. Rather than discussing all of these, I’m going to describe what seems the simplest method.

So for the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to assume two things:2

  1. You’re using heading styles to format the headings within your document.
  2. You’ve set up the page numbers for your table of contents in Word as described in the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style.

If either of these isn’t true, update your document accordingly.3 Then come back here, and go through the steps in the next section to add your table of contents.

2. Add your table of contents.

Once you have your document prepared:

2.1. Create your contents page header.

Place your cursor at the start of the page in your document where you want to insert your table of contents (e.g., the page numbered “ii”).

2.1.1. What SBL Style Requires

Then, type “Contents” at the top of this page. SBL style wants you to

  1. place this term one inch from the top edge of the page,
  2. center this heading across the page,
  3. have the word “Contents” in all uppercase letters, and
  4. have two blank lines between this heading and the start of your table of contents.4

2.1.2. How to Produce What SBL Style Requires

From this list, especially items 2–4 follow what SBL style asks for with your document’s primary headings (e.g., “Heading 1”).5 But you shouldn’t use your primary heading style to format the “Contents” heading. If you do, your automated table of contents will make its first entry “Contents.” 😛

To avoid this issue, however, you can format the “Contents” heading with the “TOC Heading” style. And just like any other style, you can adjust this style’s formatting to meet the requirements of SBL style. That way, it’ll be ready and waiting for you when you need to use it in a new project.

After you’ve typed and formatted this heading, place your cursor on the next line available for text below the heading.

Contents Page Header

2.2. Start inserting your table of contents.

Go to the “References” tab, find the “Table of Contents” section, and click the “Table of Contents” button.

Word has a few different tables of contents predefined. But it’ll probably be easiest for you to use the “Custom Table of Contents…” option at the bottom of the “Table of Contents” button menu.

This will open the “Table of Contents” tab in the “Table of Contents” dialog box. (The names are quite creative, aren’t they?)

2.3. Set the basic formatting for your table of contents.

Where you see “Tab leader,” change the option from “……” to “none.”

(If you’re following the Student Supplement, you’ll have the dotted leader only for your primary headings.6 So it’s easiest just to add them there rather than remove them everywhere else.)

Still on the “Table of Contents” tab in the “Table of Contents” dialog box, also find the “Show levels” option. Increase this number to “9.”

You may not have that many heading levels (and probably shouldn’t). But per the Student Supplement, the table of contents should include “every element of the paper that follows.”7

Increasing this number to the maximum now should prevent you from having to change it later or miss headings out of your table of contents.

Click “OK” to create your table of contents.

2.4 Review your initial table of contents.

At this point, you should see a table of contents in your document that looks something like the sample below.

Of course, what the table actually shows will depend on the headings you’ve included in your document.

If you don’t see what you were expecting, double check that you’ve used heading styles in the appropriate places and at the appropriate levels in the body of your document.

Add or change these where necessary (e.g., from “Heading 3” to “Heading 2”).

Also note that the casing for each line in the table of contents will be as it is in that heading, even though the heading might be formatted in all caps.

If you see capitals or lowercase where you were expecting the other, retype that heading in the body of your document, with the proper casing.

Your table of contents will update automatically at different times. But to force an update at any point, right click inside the table, and choose “Update Field,” then “Update entire table,” and click “OK.”

The individual lines of the table of contents are also linked to the corresponding places in your document. So to jump there, just Ctrl + click on a given line in the table.


At this point, you’re saving yourself a huge amount of time and effort managing your table of contents. You’re also able to use the table in Word to skip easily to different parts of your document.

But you may notice that the formatting of the table of contents isn’t yet quite what the Student Supplement is asking for.8 So you’ll want to take careful stock of how the formatting needs to be adjusted, which can be done with styles as well.

Tired of fighting with Word? Want to be done with frustrated hours fussing over how to get the formatting you need?

My new guide shows you how to bypass all of this so you can let Word work for you while you focus on your research.

Garrett Thompson (PhD)

For students in any graduate program, mastering the full range of available research tools is crucial for efficient and consistent productivity. Dr. Stark has mastered these tools—the most important of which is Microsoft Word…. Students eager to take their work to the next level would do well to follow Dr. Stark’s in-depth guidance.

  1. Header image provided by Kaitlyn Baker

  2. I’m also assuming you have a current version of Word via Office 365. These instructions are based on v16.0.12430.20046. They should work on other recent versions as well. But you’ll notice greater differences in the process if you have an older version of Word. 

  3. If you need to paginate your table of contents differently, however, simply substitute your requirements in the appropriate steps below. 

  4. The first three requirements are clear from Melanie Greer Nogalski et al., Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Brennan W. Breed, rev. ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2015), §3.2. The fourth isn’t explicitly specified in the student supplement. So, in this case, SBL style defers to the authorities for Chicago style. And the spacing between the table of contents heading and the table itself is specified in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, ed. Wayne C. Booth et al., 9th ed., Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), §A.2.1.7. 

  5. Cf. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §2.6. 

  6. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.2. 

  7. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.2. 

  8. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.2.