How to Make Untitled Book Review Citations Easy with Zotero

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Zotero is a fabulous tool for academic biblical studies.1 It does a lot of things well. And over time, it’s doing more things better than it has in the past.

A case in point is handling citations of untitled book reviews, which Zotero can now handle quite nicely.2

What SBL Style Requires

You don’t often need to cite book reviews. But sometimes they’ll be the best sources for the job. And when they are, SBL style distinguishes three different types.3

These types are

  • untitled reviews,
  • titled reviews, and
  • review articles.

Review articles use the same citation pattern as a regular journal article.4 But the second edition of the SBL Handbook doesn’t include the same explanations as does the first edition about the distinction between “titled reviews” and “review articles.”

What that omission means for what the second edition requires isn’t entirely clear. So, I’ve written the kind folks at SBL Press to inquire and will focus, for the moment, solely on untitled reviews.

For these, the SBL Handbook gives the following examples

8. Howard M. Teeple, review of Introduction to the New Testament, by André Robert and André Feuillet, JBR 34 (1966): 368–70.

21. Teeple, review of Introduction to the New Testament (by Robert and Feuillet), 369.

Teeple, Howard M. Review of Introduction to the New Testament, by André Robert and André Feuillet. JBR 34 (1966): 368–70.

This pattern of citation has some clear similarities to citations for journal articles. But it also has some clear differences like

  • a lack of quotation marks around the title element,
  • the lowercasing of the word “review” in notes, and
  • specification of the reviewed title’s authors after the title in commas initially and then parentheses.

How to Get What SBL Style Requires from Zotero

Despite these differences, you Zotero can now format book review citations for SBL style. To do so, take the few following steps.

1. Install the latest version of Zotero’s SBL style.

You can search through to get this style directly from Zotero’s repository. Or you can click the button below, drop in your email, and I’ll send it straight to you.

2. Format the review’s Zotero record.

To get the proper citation output, you’ll want to use the “journal article” item type in Zotero. Then,

  • In the Title field, put the book’s title. Don’t include “review of.”
  • In the Author field, put the the review’s author.
  • In the Reviewed Author field, put the book’s author. And
  • Complete the other fields as usual for a journal article.

So, for example, your Zotero record might look as follows:

3. Insert a citation for the book review as usual and edit as needed.

From this point, you can easily drop citations of this review into a document through Zotero’s word processor integration.

Zotero will manage the full and shortened form of the review citation(s) as appropriate. And you can generate a bibliography in that document that includes a properly formatted entry for the review you’ve cited.

One limitation, however, will arise if you’re citing a review of an edited volume. In that case, the deference of SBL style to the Chicago Manual would kick in. So, instead of “by ” followed by the name of the volume’s author, you’d have “ed. ” followed by the name of the editor.5

But neither Zotero nor the specification for the “Citation Style Language” that Zotero uses can currently accommodate a “reviewed editor” in the same way that it does a “reviewed author.” So, in this scenario, part of your final document editing would need to involve changing “by ” to “ed. ” in your footnotes and “edited by ” in your bibliography.

Conclusion

Citations are critical to the work of biblical scholarship. They can be a chore to manage, but with a tool like Zotero, that management becomes much easier and more accurate. And it leaves you freer to concentrate on what Zotero can’t do—write more original research.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. For these updates, we can be particularly grateful to John Percival and Sebastian Karcher

  3. For this discussion, I’m addressing only SBL’s notes-bibliography style and drawing from Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §6.3.4. 

  4. SBL Handbook of Style, §§6.3.1, 6.3.4. 

  5. University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), §14.202. 

4 comments

  1. Thanks for this, David. This is really helpful, as I’ve asked in Zotero’s discussion forum for help with this and not gotten a useful reply (which is unusual with Zotero). One question: I have formerly put in HTML coding to italicize the title of the reviewed book (“Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles: Beyond the New Perspective“) in the title field. If I delete these, will Zotero still italicize the book’s title?

    PS I hope to see you at the SCJ!!

    1. Ha! I tried to include the HTML tags in my reply, but they’ve just done their job and italicized [let me try this again] Paul, Judaism, and the Gentiles.

      1. That’s correct, and my apologies I’m just now seeing these comments. Apparently, I got the Gmail filtering going a little too aggressively. 😉 I won’t make it to SCJ this year as it conflicts with my Romans seminar. But see you at the CSC or SBL?

        In other news, a version of my 2020 SCJC paper (on Rom 1:13–14) just got accepted to Tyndale Bulletin. Appreciate your feedback on that piece and not to mention your interaction over the years as I’ve re-thought-through the question of Romans’s audience.

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