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 Customize Your Citations with Zotero

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'?).

Conclusion

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. 

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. 

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. 

You Can Now Use Zotero with the Tyndale Bulletin Style

Bibliography managers like Zotero can take a lot of busywork off your plate.1 One huge advantage is Zotero’s ability to install multiple citation styles.

You might normally write in one style. But you occasionally might need to use a different style for specific projects. Without a bibliography manager, though, you’re left to make changes between styles by hand.

However, Zotero can “automagically” reformat references among any of the styles available. And the styles available now include that for the Tyndale Bulletin.

How to Install the Tyndale Bulletin Style

You can install the Tyndale Bulletin style from the Zotero repository. Or drop your email in the form below, and I’ll send you a direct link to it.

From that link, just click OK when the Zotero Connector dialog asks you if you want to add the style to Zotero. Then, you’ll be good to go.

Differences between Tyndale Bulletin and SBL Style

According to the Tyndale Bulletin’s style guide,

In most respects, Tyndale Bulletin follows the conventions described in the second edition of The SBL Handbook of Style.2

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 them3 and
  • including a work’s Digital Object Identifier (DOI) whenever one is available.4

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

Just like any other tool, it can take some effort to learn how to get the most out of Zotero. But a good, sharp chisel will beat a toothpick for carving stone any day. Similarly, using a tool like Zotero to support your writing work will vastly streamline the minutiae of that work and let you focus on the writing only you can do.


  1. Header image provided by Magnus Manske

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

  3. 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. 

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

You Need to Consider to Whom Something Is Important

Discerning whether something is important can be tricky.1 You can start with 3 questions:

  1. How much does something matter?
  2. For how long does something matter?
  3. In what context does something matter?

In addition to these questions, you also need to ask “For whom does something matter?”2 This question of for whom something matters contains two distinct senses.

Interest

The first is interest and highlights who benefits from whatever activity you’re considering.

It can be an odd thought to consider, but not everyone has the same level of claim on your involvement. The command to love your neighbor excludes no one. So, as a good (next door) neighbor, you might watch out for your neighbor’s children when you see them playing too close to a busy street. But you won’t invest in them in the same ways and to the same degree as you do your own children. (And your neighbor would have good grounds to find you a bit creepy if you tried.)

As Paul says, “Let us do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”3 The doing of good especially to one class of people doesn’t by any means imply that others are excluded. But it does direct specific attention to the priority of the claims that certain others have on benefitting from your doing good.

Paul considers this principle particularly as it applies in the Christian community. But it helpfully extends elsewhere too. You wouldn’t want to do good to a casual acquaintance in a way that means you’ll fail to do good to those who are closest to you.

So, the closer to the center someone is in your “circle of concern,” the more important an activity associated with that person will be.4

Agency

The second sense of the question “For whom does something matter?” has to do with agency. In this sense, the question highlights who performs the activity you’re considering.

In some cases, an activity might matter, so it’s important and needs to be addressed. But it might not matter that you’re the one who does it.

There might be an equally good outcome if the activity is addressed without your involvement. That might happen by someone else doing it (delegation) or by creating a system so that no one has to do it (automation).

In some cases, the outcome might even be better if you’re not involved because you’re not the best person to produce that outcome. Someone else might have more expertise, speed, bandwidth, or any number of other resources that will allow them to produce a better outcome than you could.

Or setting up a system that runs without input from anyone could do the same. Automated systems are excellent for ensuring consistency, since they circumvent human error. And they keep work from trading hands. It just moves off everyone’s plate altogether.

Consequently, the more something can be handled automatically or the more someone else is better able to handle it, the less important it is for you to be the one to do it.

Life’s too short for you to spend it on what’s not important for you to be doing. And discerning that isn’t about selfishness. It’s about personal responsibility and self-discipline.

It’s about intentionally devoting yourself to what you honestly believe is best because, in the end, the person you’ll have to give an account for is you.

Conclusion

It can feel a bit odd to reckon squarely with a difference in levels of different people’s claims on you or need for your involvement.

As Greg McKeown summarizes,

When we try to do it all and have it all, we find ourselves making trade-offs at the margins that we would never take on as our intentional strategy. When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose where to focus our energies and time, other people … will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important. We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives.5

By all means, yes, you should extend to others the kindness of being of service to them. But both kindness and self-discipline are fruits of the same Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22–23).

And it’s sometimes necessary to exercise the discipline of incurring unpopularity with some in order to prioritize what matters to others as fully as they deserve.


  1. Header image provided by Jimmy Dean

  2. Particularly helpful in assembling this list have been David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin, 2003); Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013); Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2019); and Rory Vaden, Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time (New York: Perigee, 2015). 

  3. Gal 6:10; my translation. 

  4. For helpful discussion of the relationships between a “circle of concern” and a “circle of influence,” see Covey, Habits, 88–100. 

  5. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 16.