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How to Easily Handle Non-English Citation Information in Zotero

If you do any amount of writing, having a bibliography manager like Zotero can take a huge amount of work off your plate.1 Zotero’s also free—both in the sense of “free books” and in the sense of “free speech”—and available on various platforms.

So, it’s a great tool to begin with, even if you eventually find it best to move to something else. But in the 15 years I’ve been using Zotero, I’ve yet to find anything that does as much as well as it does.

Among the work Zotero can do is to properly apply “headline-style” casing.2 All you need to do is enter titles of works in “sentence case,” and Zotero can automatically convert them to headline casing if required by the style you’re writing with.3

Problems with Automatic Capitalization

That’s all well and good. But what happens when you cite a source that isn’t in English? Different languages have different capitalization conventions. So, you definitely want a title like

Pauluskommentare aus der griechischen Kirche: aus Katenenhandschriften gesammelt und herausgegeben

and not like

Pauluskommentare Aus Der Griechischen Kirche: Aus Katenenhandschriften Gesammelt Und Herausgegeben.4

But Zotero only supports automatic capitalization based on English rules.

Or what happens if your source is mostly in English but includes some wording from another language in its title? You should, for instance, have

Is the Subject of τετέλεσται in John 19,30 ‘It’ or ‘All Things’?

and not

Is the Subject of Τετέλεσται in John 19,30 ‘It’ or ‘All Things’?5

Fortunately, Zotero has two ways you can control its automatic capitalization work. One you can use for whole individual records. The other you can use for individual portions of a text within a given record.

How to Disable Automatic Capitalization for a Whole Record

When you cite a source that’s entirely in a language other than English, you want Zotero to simply disregard any capitalization rules as it forms your citation.

To do so, you’ll use that source’s “Language” field. When you use this method, Zotero won’t perform any automatic capitalization for any field associated with that source (e.g., title, series name).

In the Language field, you ideally want to enter the particular locale code for that source’s language.6 For Staab’s volume in the example above, this code would be de-DE.7

Entering locale codes in the Language field will mean you have useful information in that field. If you ever want to search your Zotero library for, say, all sources in German, you could search for records that contain “de” in the language field. That search would then pull records you’d tagged as

  • de-AT: German (Austria),
  • de-CH: German (Switzerland), or
  • de-DE: German (general).

But maybe you don’t foresee using information from the Language field. Maybe you just want to stop Zotero’s automatic capitalization for a given source, and that’s all.

In that case, you can really enter anything in the Language field besides en, en-GB, en-US or some other English designator (e.g., Eng, English). Zotero will then see what you entered in that field and stop applying headline-style capitalization to citations of that source.

How to Disable Automatic Capitalization for Part of a Record

On the other hand, maybe you want Zotero to handle capitalization automatically for at least part of a record (e.g., a series title). Or maybe it’s really only one or two words in a whole record whose capitalization needs to be left alone.

For cases like these, you’ll use the tags <span class="nocase"> and </span>. Zotero will then bypass automatic capitalization for whatever you put inside those tags.

For instance, for the example above from Parker’s article, you would enter the title as Is the subject of <span class="nocase">τετέλεσται</span> in John 19,30 "it" or "all things"?. Doing so tells Zotero to apply its capitalization rules to everything except the Greek term τετέλεσται, since that’s all that’s enclosed between the tags.

In this example, it’s just one word, but there’s no limit how much text you can enclose in these tags. You could even use this technique if, for instance, you wanted to cite a monograph written in German but published in a series with an English name.

You could allow Zotero to capitalize the series name automatically. But you could start the title field with <span class="nocase"> and end it with </span>. Doing so would then make Zotero skip capitalizing the whole title, which is what you would want in that scenario.


How you choose to manage bibliography for your writing is a very personal choice. But because bibliography is so central to the task of writing, it’s well worth adopting a system that helps you with that task as much as possible. So, if you want some extra help with your bibliographic work, Zotero is an excellent partner to consider.

Would you like help getting started with Zotero? Or would you like to start getting it to do even more work for you? If so, drop your email address in this form to get a copy of my Zotero resource pack. The pack includes 6 of my most important and popular guides for using Zotero and several widely-used citation styles that you can immediately begin working with.

  1. For more information about Zotero, or to download the software for yourself, see the software’s website

  2. On this casing style, see Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (affiliate disclosure; Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §§–8; Kate L. Turabian et al., A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, 8th ed., Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing (affiliate disclosure; University of Chicago Press, 2013), §22.3.1; University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (affiliate disclosure; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), §§8.159–60. 

  3. “How Do I Get Titles to Show up in Sentence Case in Bibliographies?,” Zotero, 13 July 2022. 

  4. See K. Staab, Pauluskommentare aus der griechischen Kirche: aus Katenenhandschriften gesammelt und herausgegeben, NTAbh 15 (Münster: Aschendorff, 1933). 

  5. See Floyd O. Parker Jr., “Is the Subject of τετέλεσται in John 19,30 ‘It’ or ‘All Things’?,” Bib 96.2 (2015): 222–44. 

  6. “How Do I Prevent Title Casing of Non-English Titles in Bibliographies?,” Zotero, n.d. 

  7. “Home: Citation Style Language Locales Wiki,” Github, n.d. 

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