Zotero Can Now Do Even More with Your Citations

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 use the styles for the

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 Zotero 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 style now also comes without a few bugs that it had previously. 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.4

Abbreviation-based Citations

I’ve previously discussed how you could modify the SBL style in order to store and cite by these abbreviations. That was pretty messy.

Or 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, abbreviation-based citations are supported in the SBL style that’s in the Zotero repository.5

Commas before Locators

SBL style consistently calls for a comma before the abbreviation for “sub verbo” when you cite a source like BDAG.6 But other types of locators don’t get commas before them (e.g., section numbers or page numbers when you’re citing a multivolume reference work).7

Consequently, the style supplies a comma after the abbreviation when you select a “sub verbo” locator in the Zotero citation dialog. But the style otherwise omits one.

If you need a comma, you can include the comma as part of the abbreviation in the annote variable (e.g., annote: <i>ANET</i>,).8

Similarly, when citing signed dictionary articles, the style had been producing a comma before the locator. But SBL style calls for no comma to appear there, and that’s now the case.

Section Locators

In addition, for some time, citations with section locators 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.

Quotation Marks with Sub Verbo Locators

When citing lexicon entries from sources like BDAG or HALOT, SBL style wants the head word to come in quotation marks. The Zotero style will automate this behavior if you select the “sub verbo” locator type in the citation dialog box.

Support for Identifying Sources as Physical

When you have an electronic source that’s identical to its print counterpart, SBL style generally treats the citations identically.9

In such cases, you give no DOI or URL in the citation because you’re citing a print-equivalent source. But in other styles—like that for the Tyndale Bulletin—you need to include a DOI or URL for a source whenever possible.

One solution is to add or remove DOIs or URLs from your Zotero library as needed for a given style. But that’s entirely unnecessary busywork.

Even if you have a DOI or URL stored for a given record, you can get the SBL style to suppress that information. To do so, just enter dimensions: yes in Zotero in that record’s Extra field.10

That way, you’re telling Zotero to treat the source as something that has physical dimensions. So, the SBL-style citation won’t include DOI or URL information.

Tyndale Bulletin

According to the Tyndale Bulletin style guide,

In most respects, Tyndale Bulletin follows the conventions described in the second edition of The SBL Handbook of Style.11

And of course, Zotero has long supported SBL style. But there are also important differences between the styles in some details. Some of these differences include Tyndale Bulletin’s preferences for

  • British-style punctuation for quotations and any punctuation appearing with them12 and
  • including a work’s Digital Object Identifier (DOI) whenever one is available.13

Quotations

You could spend quite a while accommodating these requirements by hand. But if you install Zotero’s Tyndale Bulletin style, Zotero will be able to handle the type of quotation marks required and the placement of punctuation with them. Just select the Tyndale Bulletin style as the one you want to use in a given document, and you’ll be good to go.

DOIs

Once you start using the Tyndale Bulletin style, Zotero will also start including any DOIs you’ve saved for the works you’re citing.

That said, if you don’t normally ensure you save a DOI when it’s available, you’ll have to add that information to Zotero. Otherwise, Zotero won’t know to include a DOI in a given citation.

It’s not hard to add DOIs where they’re available, however. And thankfully, there are some good tools you can use to help you streamline that process as well.

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 never changes. But it also 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 so that you can focus on the substance of your research and writing.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter. For more information or to download Zotero for yourself, see Corporation for Digital Scholarship, “Zotero: Your Personal Research Assistant,” Zotero, n.d. 

  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. 

  4. These comments pertain to the note-bibliography version of Zotero’s SBL style. If you use the parenthetical citation-reference list version, your needs and the behavior you observe may differ. 

  5. For some occasions where these abbreviations are relevant, see J. David Stark, “How to Cite Dictionaries with Zotero,” weblog, J. David Stark, 8 February 2021; J. David Stark, “How to Use Zotero to Properly Cite Grammars in SBL Style,” weblog, J. David Stark, 14 June 2021. 

  6. “Citing Reference Works 2: Lexica,” SBL Handbook of Style, 30 March 2017. 

  7. J. David Stark, “How to Use Zotero to Properly Cite Grammars in SBL Style,” weblog, J. David Stark, 14 June 2021; “Citing Text Collections 2: ANET,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 1 June 2017. 

  8. It should be possible to further automate the inclusion or suppression of this comma (e.g., based on the number of volumes specified in a given record). But it’ll take some work to confirm exactly where this comma should appear or not beyond the cases noted here and how best to trigger that. 

  9. E.g., SBL Press, “Migne’s Patrologia Latina,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 31 January 2017; Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §6.2.25. 

  10. You can actually follow dimensions: with anything you like. The property just has to have some value to trigger the suppression of DOIs and URLs for SBL style. 

  11. Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide” (Tyndale House, 2021), §4.1. 

  12. Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide,” §8.1. This preference means that commas or periods appear outside a closing single quotation mark in citations of book sections and journal articles. “Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide,” §§11.3.6–11.3.8. 

  13. Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide,” §§11.1, 11.3.2, 11.3.7 

How to Easily Change Text Directions after Hebrew Words with Zotero

Zotero does a wonderful job handling a lot of the research management work that would otherwise fall to you to do manually.1

With any tool, though, when it doesn’t work like you expected, you then have to take time to fix what’s amiss. And once you’ve found a fix, you can then get back to what you were trying to do that much faster the next time around.

One such case you might encounter with Zotero is some unexpected output when a source’s title ends in Hebrew text.

A Problem with Hebrew Text

If you’re primarily writing in a left-to-right language like English, you may come across this issue when citing a source with any right-to-left text (e.g., Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac) ending the title or another part of a citation (like the headword in a lexicon citation).

But let’s take the particular example of Hebrew text using Zotero’s SBL style.2 For instance, you might use Zotero to add the following citation to your document

  1. Mordechai Breuer, נוסח המקרא ב״כתר ירושלים״ ומקורותיו במסורה ובכתבי היד [The Biblical Text of the “Jerusalem Crown” Edition and Its Sources in the Masora and Manuscripts] (Jerusalem: Keren Ha-Masorah, 2003), 21.

So far, so good. But then, let’s say that

  • you want to cite this source again and
  • you’ve used נוסח המקרא ב״כתר ירושלים״ in Zotero’s short title field.

In that case, you might well get a citation like

  1. Breuer, נוסח המקרא ב״כתר ירושלים״, 42.

And this citation has several problems, including how

  • the page number appears after the author’s name rather than after the title of the work,
  • a space gets interposed between the page number and the next comma, and
  • the title of the work (rather than the page number) ends the citation.

These problems arise because, in this citation, Zotero has output more than just the title in right-to-left text. That is, the space and comma “after” the page number aren’t really after the page number but are after the title, if you are still, at that point, reading the note text from right to left.

But in SBL style, the page number should follow the title as usual in a note like

  1. Breuer, נוסח המקרא ב״כתר ירושלים״‎, 42.

How to Change Text Directions with Zotero

Thankfully, the solution to this difficulty is actually quite easy, and it doesn’t require editing individual notes.

Among the various characters that Unicode supports is the left-to-right mark (U+200E). This character doesn’t display any text. It simply applies a left-to-right direction to the text that follows it.

If you have right-to-left text in a citation from Zotero, as in the example above, that text may cause other text to flow right-to-left as well—maybe too much text.

If it does, all you need to do is to insert in your Zotero record (or the citation dialog if the right-to-left text is a locator) a left-to-right mark on the far-right end of the left-to-right text.

Once that mark is at the beginning of the right-to-left text (which is also the end of that unit of the citation before you want text to start flowing left-to-right again), Zotero will order the following text left-to-right.

You can insert a left-to-right mark in a few different ways. Some are

  • On Windows, to open the Character Map app, find the Unicode character code, and copy-and-paste the character where you need it to go. This process is regrettably rather cumbersome. So, if you find yourself needing to do it often enough, you might consider using a tool like PhraseExpress to streamline it and any number of other repetitive actions. For instance, in PhraseExpress, I’ve specified “;ltr” as a sequence that, whenever I type it, PhraseExpress automatically replaces it with the Unicode left-to-right mark.
  • On MacOS, to hold down the option key, type the Unicode character code (200E), and release the option key.

Conclusion

If you need to chop down a tree, you can spend just about any amount of time preparing your axe and still beat how quickly you’d finish the job using your bare hands. Though, at the same time, the more efficiently you can prepare your axe, the faster you can get the tree down.

By the same token, the details of how to get what you need out of a reference manager like Zotero takes some learning. And in principle, that’s learning you otherwise wouldn’t have to do. But over the long haul, this learning will pay significant dividends in the time that you save wrangling minutiae.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. Ordinarily, SBL style uses translated titles. But on scenarios like those addressed here, see SBL Press, “Titles in Non-Latin Alphabets,” SBL Handbook of Style, 22 February 2018. 

How to Control Citation Title Casing with Zotero

Many styles call for you to capitalize English titles in “headline style.”1 Zotero can handle this capitalization for you. And it can even handle the different capitalization conventions of other languages as well.

Capitalization Style Overview

“Sentence-style” capitalization is, as its name suggests, the kind of capitalization you use in a sentence. You capitalize the first word, any proper names, and that’s pretty much it.2 You lower case everything else.

“Headline-style” capitalization is the capitalization style you learned for titles in elementary school. You capitalize the title’s

  • first and last words,
  • prepositions, if used adverbially or adjectivally, and
  • major words.3

And unless they appear first or last in the title, you don’t capitalize any

  • articles,
  • prepositions that aren’t used adverbially or adjectivally,
  • common conjunctions, or
  • words like “as” or parts of proper names that would be lowercased in a sentence.4

Capitalization in Zotero

Zotero can convert titles from sentence to headline style, but not the other way around. So, it’s generally best practice to enter your titles with sentence-style capitalization. Whether Zotero converts that sentence-style capitalization to headline-style will then depend on the style you’re using.

English Titles

For sources with English titles then, you’re pretty much done. If a citation style that calls for sentence-style title capitalization, Zotero will output the title capitalized exactly as you have it in your database.

Or you might be using a style that requires headline-style capitalization, like SBL, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, or Tyndale Bulletin. If so, Zotero will convert titles to headline-style capitalization without you having to continually look up its rules.

Non-English Titles

For sources with non-English titles, however, Zotero’s capitalization engine will run a bit amok. For instance, for a source with a French title, you should capitalize the title according to French conventions. So, you should have something like

Steeve Bélanger, “L’Épître aux Hébreux dans le contexte spéculatif sur la figure de Melchisédech durant la période du Second Temple de Jérusalem (IIe siècle avant notre ère – Ier siècle de notre ère),” ASEs 33.1 (2016): 31–77.

But Zotero will naturally give you

Steeve Bélanger, “L’Épître Aux Hébreux Dans Le Contexte Spéculatif Sur La Figure de Melchisédech Durant La Période Du Second Temple de Jérusalem (IIe Siècle Avant Notre Ère – Ier Siècle de Notre Ère),” ASEs 33.1 (2016): 31–77.

So, in cases like these, you need to turn off Zotero’s capitalization engine. You do that with the Language field for your source.

In the Language field, it’s best to enter the specific locale code for the source.5 For the Bélanger’s article, this might be “fr” (French in general) or “fr-CN” (Canadian French in particular).6

But really entering anything in the Language field besides “en”, “en-GB”, “en-US” or some other English designator (e.g., “Eng”, “English”) will stop Zotero from applying headline-style capitalization to the article title.

Conclusion

Headline-style capitalization rules aren’t always the easiest to remember and apply completely. But Zotero can handle this capitalization for you for sources with English titles. And it’s straightforward to turn off this capitalization when you cite non-English sources as well.

In either case (if you’ll forgive the pun 🙂), it’s work Zotero can perform while you concentrate on writing rather than managing capital letters.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), §8.158. 

  3. Chicago Manual of Style, §8.159. 

  4. Chicago Manual of Style, §8.159. 

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

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

Zotero Can Easily Support Your Students’ Research

Could Zotero be useful for your students?1 And as it helps them, could it help you as well?

Upsides and Downsides

There are upsides and downsides to recommending Zotero to your students. On the one hand, it’s specifically designed to manage sources and repeatedly cite them appropriately. So, it takes a lot of the grunt work out of other ways of managing sources and producing documentation for them.

On the other hand, it is another piece of software to learn. Are your students going to be in your classes, or others like them, enough to see the kinds of returns Zotero can provide? And of course, if your students put garbage into Zotero—just like any other piece of software—they’ll only get garbage out.

That said, Zotero supports several citation styles that students often use. These styles include APA, MLA, and Turabian. So, it definitely has the resources they need. And if they use Zotero reasonably well, you might get the benefit of looking at a lot less mangled citations when it comes time to read their essays.

An Example

In the College of Biblical Studies at Faulkner University, we’ve put some careful thought into what we want to ask of students when it comes to citing sources.

For undergraduates, we ask for the author-date style from Turabian. This style already focuses on the bare essentials. Things can still go wrong, of course. But there’s much less to do and so much less that can go wrong than in a more complex style like SBL.

So, from perspective of grading, the choice of Turabian’s author-date style leaves much less to grade in the first place. And what’s left is quite straightforward in the main text and only gets bit more complex in the bibliography.

At the same time, Zotero fully supports Turabian’s author-date style. So, for any students who want to use Zotero, it’s ready and waiting for them. And it might just make the research process that much easier for them and their bibliographies that much cleaner for you.

To get a copy of the Turabian author-date style to try it out for yourself or send along to your students, you can install it from the Zotero repository. Or drop your email in the form below, and I’ll send it straight to your inbox.

Conclusion

Only you can weigh up the pros and cons of recommending Zotero to your students. But whatever you decide, it’s definitely worth thinking about what you can do to help them focus on the core things you’re asking them to do. If you do that, you’re liable to find that, over time, their doing better at their core work helps you do better at yours too.


Starting fall 2022, Faulkner will offer full-tuition scholarships to all traditional, undergraduate Bible majors. If you know an upcoming undergraduate who wants to get into biblical studies but has concerns about funding, please consider pointing them to Faulkner. We’d be delighted to serve them in this way.


  1. Header image provided by Marvin Meyer

How to Find a Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Some citation styles, like that of the Tyndale Bulletin, require you to use Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs).1 According to DOI.org,

The digital object identifier [DOI®] system provides an infrastructure for persistent unique identification of objects of any type.2

So, DOIs serve much the same function as do ISBNs for books. But any type of material can have a DOI, whether that material is a book, an article, or something else.

For styles that include them, DOIs provide one more way to ensure you’re pointing your readers to exactly the material you’re intending to cite.

How to Look Up DOIs without Zotero

You can, of course, include a DOI when you cite a source. But if you don’t routinely capture DOIs, you might have a whole list of sources that are missing DOIs.

You could look up the DOI for each sources one by one. But you can also look them up all in one batch by using Crossref’s DOI lookup tool.3

Just copy your bibliography, and paste it into the lookup tool’s search box. After you click Submit, you’ll be shown your bibliography and any DOIs that the lookup tool found for the individual sources in it. You can then add these DOIs to your citations or to your bibliography manager’s DOI field.

Looking up DOIs with a bulk text search is a great way to significantly shrink the labor that goes into finding them. The downside of this approach is that you still need to manually add the DOIs, one by one, to your citations or your bibliography manager.

How to Look Up DOIs with Zotero

If you use Zotero, however, you can condense the process of finding and saving DOIs still further. To do so, you’ll just need

  • the Zotero DOI Manager plugin and possibly
  • the Reference Extractor tool.

Before moving ahead to the first step of this process, though, go ahead and install the Zotero DOI Manager plugin if you don’t have it already.

1. Use Reference Extractor to collect the sources you’ve cited.

Whether you’ll find Reference Extractor helpful will depend on how you manage your Zotero database as you cite sources. For instance, if you cite a source in a project and then immediately put that source into a project-specific folder, you can consider skipping Reference Extractor.

That said, Reference Extractor is very easy to use. And running through it means you can base your DOI search on exactly and only the sources you cite in a given document. You won’t run the risk of having a Zotero folder that should contain what you cite in a given project but that isn’t actually current because you forgot to add or remove a given source.

So, to use Reference Extractor to identify all the sources you cite in a given document,

  1. Create a folder for those sources in Zotero. You can delete this when you’re done, but it’ll be a good place to keep everything while you’re adding DOI information.
  2. Open Reference Extractor.
  3. Choose your project file (DOCX, ODT) as the input file.
  4. Click the button to “Select in Zotero.”
  5. Click the link to “Select x item(s) for user library y.” You’ll then be sent to Zotero where you’ll see at least one of the items from your document already selected. The other items will be selected also, but you might not see them if your library is large.
  6. Click and drag the item you can see into the folder you created in step 1 above.

2. Use Zotero’s DOI Manager to find and attach available DOIs.

Once you have your project’s sources in their own folder,

  1. Open that folder.
  2. Select all the items in that folder.
  3. Right click your selection, point to Manage DOIs, and then choose to get either short or long DOIs, depending on which you need.4

Zotero will then search for the relevant DOIs. If it finds any, Zotero will automatically save the DOIs to their respective resource records—no manual entry required. 🙂

Conclusion

DOIs are becoming increasingly common parts of citations. So, as you cite new sources, it may be prudent to ensure you have their DOIs saved. But even if you skip this step, Zotero especially makes it quite easy to add DOIs on the fly so you can get back to writing.


  1. Header image provided by Markus Spiske

  2. Introduction,” in DOI Handbook, 2019, §1.5. 

  3. For pointing out this tool, I’m grateful to the “Tyndale Bulletin Style Guide” (Tyndale House, 2021), 12n12. 

  4. SBL and Tyndale Bulletin style seem to prefer the long form. 

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