Generation Designations (Jr., III, etc.) in Zotero for the SBL Handbook of Style

Per the SBL Handbook of Style (§, generation designations in names should be handled as follows:

First note: Tremper Longman III, “Form Criticism, Recent Developments in Genre Theory, and the Evangelical,” WTJ 47.1 (1985): 46–67.

Subsequent note: Longman, “Form Criticism,” 58.

Bibliography: Longman, Tremper, III. “Form Criticism, Recent Developments in Genre Theory, and the Evangelical.” WTJ 47.1 (1985): 46–67.

But, how do you get this output when using Zotero to insert and update your references in Microsoft Word or one of the open office suites?

AltThought Catalog via Unsplash

For the longest time, the best thing I could come up with was to include the generation (e.g., “III”) in the surname field after a space following the surname. But, then this will repeat in subsequent notes after the surname. So, even in short-format notes, this would get you “Longman III” rather than just “Longman”.

Similarly, in the bibliography, this method will list the generation immediately after the surname rather than, as it should be, after the given name. Thus, you’d get “Longman III, Tremper” rather than “Longman, Tremper, III”.

This is all workable, of course. And it’s a far cry easier from the way things worked in the days of typing out footnotes and bibliographies with a typewriter.

But, there’s still a good bit of manual editing required to bring things fully into line at the end of the process. And, where there’s one-off manual editing, there’s the potential for missing something.

Is there a better way? Indeed, there is.

Instead of inserting the generation after the surname, the generation needs to be included in the format “, [generation]” after the given name in its field.1 Thus, for Zotero, the proper entry isn’t “Longman III” and “Tremper” but “Longman” and “Tremper, III”.

This small adjustment allows Zotero to identify the generation suffix (e.g., “, III”) and manipulate it appropriately according to what SBL style requires for a given kind of footnote or for the bibliography.

What reference manager do you use? How does it handle generation information?

  1. For this insight, I’m grateful to Adam Smith and Brenton Wiernik in the Zotero forums

Citing Grammars with the SBL Handbook and Zotero

You might think that citing a grammar according to the SBL Handbook of Style would be pretty straightforward. And you’d be right, but there are several special cases to account for.

AltPage 1 of Herbert Smyth’s “Greek Grammar,” scan courtesy of Textkit

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). For other works cited by abbreviation, also be sure to check IATG3.

For instance, Gesenius-Kautzch-Cowley is cited simply by the abbreviation “GKC”. Blass-Debrunner-Funk is cited simply as “BDF”.1

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. Edit your reference manager’s SBL style in CSL.

Other ways of getting this output automatically from Zotero are on the horizon. But, for the present, a bit of manual editing is required. Thankfully though, it mostly just requires some copying and pasting.2

If you’d rather not go through this process, you can download a version of this style, unzip it, and skip to step 4 below. Just bear in mind that this version might not be based on the most current the SBL style version in the Zotero repository. If you want to be sure you’re using the most updated version of the SBL style with this adjustment, you’ll want to go through the process below.

  1. Download a new copy of the SBL Handbook of Style citation style from the Zotero style repository. If you’re asked to add the citation style to Zotero, click “Cancel.”
  2. Open the folder where you downloaded this file, and rename it. For instance, I added “-with-abbr” to the end of the file name before the extension.
  3. Open the file in WordPad or a similar application.

a. Find and replace the text <title>Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note)</title> with <title>Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note with abbreviations)</title> or something similar.
b. Find and replace the text <id></id> with <id></id> or something similar. You won’t actually upload the style to the Zotero repository. I assume this change simply keeps the style from getting overwritten if the main SBL style is updated automatically.
c. Find <!-- Lexicon/Dictionary/Encyclopedia -->. The immediately following line should read <if type="entry-dictionary entry-encyclopedia" match="any">. Replace this following line with

<if variable="annote">
  <group delimiter=" ">
    <text variable="annote"/>
    <text macro="point-locators-subsequent"/>
<else-if type="entry-dictionary entry-encyclopedia" match="any">

d. Find <!-- Not Lexicon/Dictionary/Encyclopedia -->. The line immediately preceding should read </if>. Replace this preceding line with </else-if>.
e. Save the file as you’ve edited it with a “.csl” extension, and close WordPad.

  1. Double-click your custom CSL file. When prompted, choose to install the style in Zotero.
  2. To use this style, be sure to select the “Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note with abbreviations)” style in your document rather than the “Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note)” style from the repository.
  3. For any source you need to cite by abbreviation, add “Annote: [abbreviation]” at the top of 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 it will allow you to cite grammars by abbreviation while also using the Zotero add citation dialog. The downside is that you might still need to edit your bibliography manually to remove these sources and move them to an abbreviation list (per SBL Press’s requirement). But, you will probably know pretty well which few sources are cited by abbreviations and can edit the bibliography as needed to relocate these sources largely just by scanning through it.


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.

What tips do you have for handling grammars or other specialized types of citations in your reference manager?

  1. Also important is SBL Press’s discussion of citing Herbert Smyth’s Greek Grammar
  2. For providing the base instructions for this portion of the post, I’m grateful to Brenton Wiernik via the Zotero forums