How to Customize Your Citations with Zotero

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Sometimes, you work with sources that involve some extra complexity if you’re going to cite them properly.1 Rather than making these changes one by one, however, Zotero allows you to make them automatically any time you cite a given source.

That way, you only have to work out once how to cite a source once. After that, it’s saved in your library, and you can focus on how you want to discuss that source rather than on how you need to cite it.

Custom Formatting Available in Zotero

To customize formatting in Zotero, you can use a very basic set of tags.2 If you’re at all familiar with HTML, you’ll readily see some similarities.

Zotero allows you to use

  • <i> and </i> to italicize text,
  • <b> and </b> to bold text,
  • <sub> and </sub> to superscript text, and
  • <sup> and </sup> to subscript text.

You can also use

  • <span style="font-variant:small-caps;"> and </span> to produce text in small capitals and
  • <span class="nocase"> and </span> to disable Zotero’s usual capitalization efforts.

Where You Might Use Custom Formatting

Most of the time, you won’t need to worry about these additional formatting options. But they will come in very handy when you need them. Below are just a few examples of citations where this kind of markup proves useful in SBL style.

Basic Tags

The basic tags for italics, bold, superscript, and subscript are fairly transparent and straightforward.

  • Jordan Henderson, “Josephus’s Life and Jewish War Compared to the Synoptic Gospels,” JGRChJ 16.5 (2014): 113–31. Journal article titles normally appear in roman font. But Life and Jewish War are both titles of works that would otherwise be italicized. You can italicize them inside a roman article title by placing the <i> and </i> tags around each place where you want italics (thus: Josephus's <i>Life<i/> and <i>Jewish War</i> compared to the Synoptic Gospels).
  • Frank Williams, The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book I (Sects 1–46), 2nd ed., NHMS 63 (Leiden: Brill, 2009). Within italic text, italics is represented by roman text. So, the title of Epiphanius’s book (Panarion) gets set in roman text (thus: Panarion) within the title of Williams’s book. You can generate the roman text by adding the <i> and </i> tags within text that Zotero italicizes (thus: The <i>Panarion</i> of Epiphanius of Salamis: Book I (Sects 1–46)).
  • Wilhelm C. Linss, “Exegesis of Telos in Romans 10:4,” BR 33 (1988): 5–12. It’s not often necessary to bold text. But where it is, you can do so with the <b> and </b> tags just as you would apply italics with the <i> and <i> tags (thus: Exegesis of <b>telos</b> in Romans 10:4).
  • H. Preisker, “Die Vikariatstaufe 1 Cor 1529 – ein eschatologischer, nicht sakramentaler Brauch,” ZNW 23 (1924): 298–304. It’s also not often necessary to subscript text. But you can do that when needed too with the <sub> and </sub> tags just as you would with the <b> and </b> tags (thus: Die Vikariatstaufe 1 Cor 15<sub>29</sub> – ein eschatologischer, nicht sakramentaler Brauch).
  • Joseph M. Baumgarten, “Damascus Document: 4Q271 (4QDf),” in Damascus Document II, Some Works of Torah, and Related Documents, ed. James H. Charlesworth, PTSDSSP/DSS 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 158–73. The need to superscript text is more common, particularly in citations of ancient manuscripts. It offsets text above the line with <sup> and </sup> just like subscripting offsets it below the line (thus: Damascus Document: 4Q271 (4QD<sup>f</sup>)).

Span Tags

The tags for producing small capitals or dropping capitals altogether might look a bit more intimidating. But all you need to do is copy and paste them from this post, from the Zotero knowledge base, or wherever you save reference material. That way, you don’t need to be a coding expert to take advantage of these additional options.

  • L. Feldman, “Josephus (ᴄᴇ 37–c. 100),” in The Early Roman Period, ed. William Horbury, W. D. Davies, and John Sturdy, CHJ 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 901–21. The first tag to produce small capitals is slightly longer, but otherwise, it follows the same pattern as the other tags (thus: Josephus (<span style="font-variant:small-caps;">ce</span> 37–<i>c.</i> 100).
  • Floyd O. Parker Jr., “Is the Subject of τετέλεσται in John 19,30 ‘It’ or ‘All Things’?,” Bib 96.2 (2015): 222–44. You can drop headline-style casing for a whole title by telling Zotero that the source is in a language other than English. But if you only want to drop headline-style casing for part of a title, you can do so with the <span class="nocase"> and </span> tags (thus: Is the subject of <span class="nocase">τετέλεσται</span> in John 19,30 'it' or 'all things'?).


All of these examples are with titles of sources. But Zotero’s custom formatting markup will work in other fields besides the title field too. Because it does, you can customize citations for your writing style in still more ways even if Zotero can’t automatically format references that way at present.

You may not often need to adjust the formatting Zotero gives you for specific sources. But if you do, Zotero offers an easy way to tweak things once so you can delegate remembering those tweaks back to Zotero. Then, you can continue focusing on your writing.

  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. For this material, I’m drawing primarily from “How Do I Use Rich Text Formatting, like Italics and Sub/Superscript in Titles?,” Zotero, n.d. 

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