Focus on Writing While Zotero Does Even More Formatting

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’re using the styles for either the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA) or the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).

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 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 updated style now also corrects a few bugs in the prior version. 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.

I’ve previously discussed how you could modify the SBL style in order to store and cite by these abbreviations. That was pretty messy, but 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, annote-based citations are supported in the SBL style that’s in the Zotero repository.

In addition, for some time, citations with section locators have 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.((These comments pertain to the note-bibliography version of Zotero’s SBL style. If you use the parenthetical citation-reference list version, the behavior may differ.)

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 doesn’t shift when it’s challenging. But that 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 to focus on the substance of your research and writing.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  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. 

How to Cite Dictionaries with Zotero

The SBL Handbook of Style prescribes different citation conventions for Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries than it does for theological lexicons and dictionaries.1

Zotero can handle both citation types. To get the proper output, you just need to:

  1. Install an updated version of the SBL citation style and
  2. Input information into your Zotero database properly.

1. Install an Updated Version of Zotero’s SBL Citation Style

From Zotero’s style repository, you can install the “Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note)” style.

This style, like all others, depends on the quality of the records you have stored in your Zotero database.

But if you make get information into the database correctly, this style will do a wonderful job. Your citations and bibliographies will very closely match the requirements of the SBL Handbook of Style.

Why You Need an Updated Citation Style

There’s one particular area, though, where Zotero’s default SBL style doesn’t get things quite right.

That is, for a number of specific resources, the SBL Handbook of Style specifies completely custom citations.

These formats work well enough for us in biblical studies who know what they represent (e.g., BDAG, HALOT).

But there’s not a good way for Zotero’s default SBL style to handle these custom citation requirements programmatically. After all, Zotero is software—not a biblical scholar. 😉

For this reason, you’ll want to install an updated version of Zotero’s SBL citation style. If you do this especially before citing theological lexicons and dictionaries, you’ll find it easier to get the correct output.

How to Get an Updated Citation Style

You can read more about how to update Zotero’s base SBL style for yourself. Or just drop your name and email in the form below, and I’ll email you a copy of the updated style.

2. Input Information into Your Zotero Database Properly

Encyclopedias and Bible Dictionaries (§6.3.6)

What SBL Style Requires

When you cite Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries, SBL style wants an initial footnote to look like

1. Krister Stendahl, “Biblical Theology, Contemporary,” IDB 1:418.

Subsequent references should use only the author’s surname, a shortened article title, and drop the dictionary title abbreviation. Thus, you’ll have a citation like

3. Stendahl, “Biblical Theology,” 1:419.

Then in the bibliography, you should have an entry for each individual encyclopedia or dictionary article like

Stendahl, Krister. “Biblical Theology, Contemporary.” IDB 1:418–32.

How to Get What SBL Style Requires

To get this output from Zotero, use the “Dictionary Entry” resource type for each entry you want to cite. You can then fill out the resource metadata as usual.

The one exception is that, in the “Dictionary Title” field, you often won’t put the full dictionary title.

Instead, if one exists, you’ll want to use the standard abbreviation for that dictionary’s title.

Some of these abbreviations are available in the SBL Handbook of Style. For others, you may need to consult the third edition of Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete (IATG).

(For more about using IATG alongside the SBL Handbook of Style, see my e-book on SBL style.)

Lexicons and Theological Dictionaries (§6.3.7)

For lexicons and theological dictionaries, things are a bit trickier. And it’s here that you’ll be thankful you’ve installed an update to Zotero’s default SBL citation style.

First, however, note that the SBL Handbook of Style heads §6.3.7 as discussing citation of “An Article in a Lexicon or a Theological Dictionary.”

But apparently, the section is intended to address only signed articles in lexicons and theological dictionaries. For unsigned articles, you’ll follow a different citation method.2

Some works include only unsigned entries (e.g., BDAG, HALOT). Others include both signed and unsigned entries (e.g., EDNT). So, you’ll want to carefully use the citation method appropriate for the specific entry type that you’re citing.

What SBL Style Requires

With that distinction made, note that, for theological lexicons and dictionaries, the SBL Handbook of Style wants initial footnotes like

1. Hermann W. Beyer, “διακονέω, διακονία, κτλ,” TDNT 2:93.

Or if you’re citing only the article on one particular word in a larger group, you’ll have something like

1. Hermann W. Beyer, “διακονέω,” TDNT 2:81.

According to the Handbook, subsequent citations need to have the author’s surname and the lexicon or dictionary title but drop the article title. (This requirement is opposite of that for Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries.)

But SBL Press has now reversed this pattern so that signed lexicon or theological dictionary titles are cited in the same way as are encyclopedia and Bible dictionary articles.3

Thus, you’ll have a subsequent reference like

3. Beyer, “διακονέω,” 2:83.

Then, in the bibliography, you’ll give the individual article entry like

Beyer, Hermann W. “διακονέω, διακονία, κτλ.” TDNT 2:81–93.4

This method of reflecting lexicons and theological dictionaries in the bibliography again represents SBL Press adjusting the presentation of these types of sources to be more similar to encyclopedias and Bible dictionaries.5

Per the Handbook itself, you would only include only one entry in the bibliography for a whole theological lexicon or dictionary, no matter how many articles you cited from it.

By contrast, the full bibliography entry for the whole work (e.g., TDNT) should now only go in an abbreviation list, if you need to have one.6

How to Get What SBL Style Requires

There are a few different options for how to ask Zotero to produce this output. Different methods might work better in different situations, depending on whether the source has only unsigned entries, only signed entries, or some of both.

Only Unsigned Entries

If your source has only unsigned entries, you’ll probably be best off by having just the one Zotero record for the whole source.

Only Signed Entries or Both Signed and Unsigned Entries

If your source has only signed entries, you’ll probably be best off by having

  • One Zotero record for each entry you cite and
  • One Zotero record for the whole work, if you need this for the abbreviation list or for unsigned entries.

Setting up the Zotero records for signed entries is pretty straightforward. But setting up a record to cite unsigned entries requires some special steps.

Setting Up Zotero Records for Unsigned Entries

For unsigned entries, you won’t always need to cite the work with an abbreviation. But that will often be the case.

When it is, you can use the “Extra” field for that Zotero record to enter Annote: followed by how you want to cite the lexicon or dictionary overall.

For example, for the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, the corresponding abbreviation is EDNT. So in Zotero’s “Extra” field for that resource, can enter Annote: <i>EDNT</i>.

Zotero won’t do anything with what follows Annote: except use it exactly to cite your resource. So you have to include the <i> and </i> tags to tell Zotero you want the title abbreviation italicized, as SBL style requires.

When you initially cite an unsigned article, you can then choose the “sub verbo” locator type in the Zotero add citation dialog box so that you can enter the entry you’re citing from.

Using the Annote: variable to store the custom citation you need should then allow you to configure your footnotes one way while not affecting the formatting of the bibliography entry for that resource, should you need to include one there or in an abbreviation list.

Conclusion

As Zotero and SBL style continue evolving, the process for getting certain types of output will change as well.

But of all the bibliography managers available, Zotero continues to provide one of the easiest out-of-the-box experiences for managing and citing research in biblical studies.


  1. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §§6.3.6–6.3.7. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word),” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 4 April 2017. 

  3. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  4. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  5. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  6. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

4 Steps to Using IATG with the SBL Handbook of Style

In the second edition of the SBL Handbook of Style (SBLHS2), chapter 8 is entirely dedicated to abbreviations. According to the Handbook, “abbreviations for works not listed below should follow Siegfried M. Schwertner, Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete, 3rd ed. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014 [=IATG3]).” Here are four steps to make this process as seamless as possible.

1. Get IATG3 in Paperback

As of this writing, the hardcover printing of IATG3 currently sells for just over $280 on Amazon, although you can find it a bit cheaper by shopping around.

But, thankfully, de Gruyter has also released IATG3 in paperback. As of this writing, you can find this paperback printing on Amazon for under $60 and just over $50 elsewhere.

IATG3 isn’t an inexpensive text in either case. But, there is definitely enough in it that’s not also in SBLHS2 to make it something useful to have on hand. And the pricing for the paperback copy makes it much more feasible to have your own copy on hand if your library doesn’t have it, or if you just want to keep from having to jockey with others over who’s using the library copy.

2. Consult SBLHS2

Next, check SBLHS2 §8.4 for a corresponding abbreviation. This section has two abbreviation lists. The first is sorted by the name of the source (§8.4.1). According to this list, “Journal of Biblical Literature” becomes simply “JBL” (194).

The second abbreviation list sorts the same works and periodicals as in the first, except that the sort is done by alphabetical order of the abbreviation (§8.4.2). Generally, the order of this section follows closely the order of the first. But, there are exceptions.

So, for instance, in the first list “Journal of Biblical Literature” appears between “Journal of Bible and Religion” and “Journal of Christian Theological Research” (194). But, in the second list “Journal of Biblical Literature” appears between “Jerome Bible Commentary” and “Jewish Biblical Quarterly” since all three abbreviations begin with “JB” (238).

You will probably find the first list more useful when composing a citation or a bibliography entry and the second more useful if you come across a citation with an abbreviation and need to try to expand that abbreviation into the source it represents. But, the second list is also incredibly helpful in connection with step 4 below, and it’s practically necessary if you’re working with a print version of SBLHS2.

In any case, the main point to remember in this step is not to confuse the two lists. You don’t want to accidentally look at the second list (sorted by abbreviation) and miss something because that list isn’t alphabetized by source.

3. Consult IATG3

Like SBLHS2, IATG3 has two main abbreviation lists. The first is sorted alphabetically by abbreviation (3–191). The second is sorted alphabetically by the name of the source (195–726).

So, for instance, if you needed to cite an article from Scriptura, you would find that SBLHS2 doesn’t have a corresponding abbreviation (step 2).

On finding this, you’d then consult the second list in IATG3 (sorted by source name) and find four different sources with this name (632). If you were looking for the Scriptura produced in South Africa, you’d then find the corresponding abbreviation to be Scr.(S).

4. Double check SBLHS2 doesn’t already assign the abbreviation you found in IATG3 to some different source

For example, if you’re citing something from the “Herders biblische Studien” series, you’ll see that SBLHS2 doesn’t include an abbreviation for this source (step 2). You’d then consult IATG3 and find the abbreviation “HBS” (step 3; 424).

If you go back to SBLHS2 and look up this abbreviation, however, you find that it’s assigned to “History of Biblical Studies” (235).

What do you do in this case? If you’re writing strictly according to SBLHS2, then its abbreviations take precedence over those in IATG3 (SBLHS2 §8.4). So, “HBS” would mean “History of Biblical Studies” and not “Herders biblische Studien.”

In this case, you have basically two options. First, if you’re writing a longer-format piece (e.g., a thesis or dissertation) and can create your own abbreviation list, you can adopt your own custom abbreviations for each of these two sources. Or, if you only use one of the sources, you could define “HBS” explicitly as the source you use.

Failing this, second, your best option is not to abbreviate “Herders biblische Studien” and simply write it out in full in order to avoid ambiguity and confusion.

Conclusion

At first blush, the hundreds of pages of abbreviations in IATG3 can be a bit intimidating. But, by following these steps, it doesn’t take much to become accustomed to using IATG3 alongside SBLHS2 as you’re doing research and composing citations.

What other tips do you have for using IATG3 with SBLHS2?

Header image provided by Anastasia Zhenina

Citations in Footnotes in SBL’s Footnote-bibliography Style

The SBL Handbook of Style blog has a helpful post about the placement of citations in the footnote-bibliography, or traditional, style. Of particular interest is the section related to “Bibliographic Information inside Footnotes.”

According to the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.), when presenting a long citation to support material provided in a content or commentary footnote, the citation should typically be presented as its own sentence (§14.38; see also §§14.37, 14.39):

When a note includes a quotation, the source normally follows the terminal punctuation of the quotation. The entire source need not be put in parentheses, which involves changing parentheses to brackets (see 6.101) and creating unnecessary clutter.

Then, the Chicago Manual gives the following note as an example:

1. One estimate of the size of the reading public at this time was that of Sydney Smith: “Readers are fourfold in number compared with what they were before the beginning of the French war.… There are four or five hundred thousand readers more than there were thirty years ago, among the lower orders.” Letters, ed. Nowell C. Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), 1:341, 343.

This situation is exemplified in the SBL Handbook of Style blog post paragraph “When a quotation or a discussion inside a footnote is followed by a full reference….”

According to the Chicago Manual’s example above, the same format appears to occur when an element from the citation (e.g., the author’s name, “Sidney Smith,” in the example) is not repeated in the citation.

For the SBL Hansbook of Style, however, relocating the author’s name to the body of the sentence within the footnote requires that even an otherwise full footnote be included in parentheses.

Consequently, any parentheses in that footnote would need to shift to square brackets. Thus, SBL style prefers what the Chicago Manual deems “unnecessary clutter”:

Correct: 97. Cyrus H. Gordon argued that brh in Isa 27:1 should be translated “evil,” based on an Arabic cognate (“Near East Seals in Princeton and Philadelphia,” Or 22 [1953]: 243; see also Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, AnOr 38 [Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965], 376).

For SBL style, when a given source supports an intra-footnote comment and has previously been cited, then the citation for the intra-footnote comment is given in parentheses. Thus, in the post’s examples:

Correct: It is interesting to note that Richards also seems to anticipate Lakoff and Johnson’s basic definition of metaphor when he writes that metaphor includes “those processes in which we perceive or think of or feel about one thing in terms of another” (Richards, Philosophy of Rhetoric, 116–17).

Correct: 55. Entailments are “rich inferences” or knowledge (“sometimes quite detailed”) that we can infer from conceptual metaphors (Evans and Green, Cognitive Linguistics, 298–99).

By comparison, according to the Chicago Manual (§14.39),

Substantive, or discursive, notes may merely amplify the text and include no sources.… When a source is needed, it is treated as in the example in 14.38 [quoted above] or, if brief and already cited in full, may appear parenthetically…

The Chicago Manual then gives the following example note:

1. Ernst Cassirer takes important notice of this in Language and Myth (59–62) and offers a searching analysis of man’s regard for things on which his power of inspirited action may crucially depend.

These comments in the Chicago Manual could suggest that (a) notes of this type should have only page numbers included in parentheses and (b) other information necessary to the citation would need to be included in the prose of the footnote sentence itself.

So, for users of SBL style, the blog discussion helpfully clarifies how that style prefers to handle citations for content included within footnotes.