How to Cite Individually Paginated Journal Articles with Zotero

Several good online journals that publish articles electronically only.1 And sometimes such journals paginate their articles separately from each other (i.e., each numbering their first page as “1”), rather than running the pagination continuously through a given issue (or volume).

What SBL Style Requires

A couple examples are HTS Teologiese Studies and Scriptura (at least in recent volumes). And SBL Press has clarified that their preferred way to have these kinds of articles cited is as follows

[Author name], “[Title],” [Journal] [Journal volume] ([Journal volume year]): art. [Article number in the journal volume], [“p.” or “pp.” according to whether one or multiple pages is cited] [Page number], [Full DOI URL as a live link].2

The bibliography format then makes the usual changes for a journal article and includes “pp.” with the total page range for the article. Thus, one example of an initial footnote would be

1. Ntozakhe Simon Cezula, “Waiting for the Lord: The Fulfilment of the Promise of Land in the Old Testament as a Source of Hope,” Scr.(S) 116 (2017): art. 3, p. 13, http://dx.doi.org/10.7833/116-1-1304.

Subsequent references are constructed in the same way as they would be for any other journal article. Thus, you would have

3. Cezula, “Waiting for the Lord,” 10–11.

And the corresponding bibliography entry would be

Cezula, Ntozakhe Simon. “Waiting for the Lord: The Fulfilment of the Promise of Land in the Old Testament as a Source of Hope.” Scr.(S) 116 (2017): art. 3, pp. 1–15. http://dx.doi.org/10.7833/116-1-1304.

An Open Question about What SBL Style Requires

In the process of reviewing how best to accommodate this citation pattern with software like Zotero, Denis Maier noted some inconsistency between SBL Press’s two posts on the topic.3

In particular, SBL Press’s discussion of HTS

  • gives “doi: ” rather than “https://doi.org/” and
  • omits the full page range from its sample bibliography entry for Christo Lombaard’s essay on theological education.4

I’ve posted a comment to SBL Press on their HTS post to ask for clarification about the page range omission in the bibliography. But in the meantime, there are three reasons it seems best to with the citation pattern described in the more general “Electronic Journals” post—namely, that this post

  1. Is more general than the HTS-specific post and describes a pattern of citation for sources that would include HTS and others.
  2. Appeared after the HTS-specific post (3 May 2018 versus 9 August 2016). It, therefore, represents more current guidance about the press’s style. This situation then becomes similar to the relationship that the SBL Handbook of Style blog overall has toward the SBL Handbook of Style itself.
  3. Explicitly says that “to bring SBLHS into greater conformity with CMS in the formatting of DOIs, SBL Press now prefers including the full URL (i.e., with https://), not just the DOI proper.”5

This last comment explicitly settles the DOI format issue question over against the recommendation of the HTS-specific post. This explicit relationship between the two posts on this issue suggests that it’s most likely they have the same relationship, albeit implicitly, on the issue of whether or not to include a full article page range in the bibliography entry. But that question does remain somewhat open pending the press’s further confirmation.

How to Get What SBL Style Requires

Assuming that this is a proper reading of what SBL style requires for individually paginated electronic journal articles, this citation format has some notable oddities and departures from what’s otherwise typical for journal articles.

Even so, Zotero can still produce the correct citation format if you have the current version of the SBL style (2nd ed.) installed from the repository. And once you have the style installed from there, you’ll automatically get future updates as they become available.

(If you haven’t already installed the style from the repository, click here to drop in your email. And I’ll send you the direct link to the repository’s entry for this style, along with several others you might find useful.)

When you come to correcting the Zotero record for this kind of article, the key point is to drop the number variable in the Extra field along with the article’s placement in the sequence of its issue or volume. Everything else, you’d enter as you usually would, being careful to include the DOI (or, if that’s not available, a URL) since you’re dealing with a specifically electronic source.6

So, for instance, if the article you’re citing is the third in its sequence, you’d enter into the Extra field number: 3. That variable will allow the SBL style for Zotero to trigger the proper citation format for your article.

You can also use the same process to set Zotero up to cite articles that aren’t segmented by pages. For example, articles from early issues of TC were released and are still only available as webpages.

With these articles, however, you’d obviously need to leave blank the “Pages” field in your Zotero record. But you can choose the paragraph locator type in the citation dialog to get ¶ or ¶¶ as appropriate. Thus, you might have

1. Richard D. Weis, “Biblia Hebraica Quinta and the Making of Critical Editions of the Hebrew Bible,” TC 7 (2002): art. 6, ¶45, http://jbtc.org/v07/Weis2002.html.

3. Weis, “Critical Editions,” ¶¶37–40.

And in your bibliography, you would have

Weis, Richard D. “Biblia Hebraica Quinta and the Making of Critical Editions of the Hebrew Bible.” TC 7 (2002): art. 6, n.p. http://jbtc.org/v07/Weis2002.html.

Conclusion

SBL style is reasonably complex anyway. And it involves still more variation if you’re using individually paginated articles from electronic journals. But even in this case, Zotero can handle the citation work and, by taking that of your plate, free you up to focus on writing new material.


  1. Header image provided by Pereanu Sebastian

  2. SBL Press, “Electronic Journals with Individually Paginated Articles,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 3 May 2018. 

  3. “Update Society-of-Biblical-Literature-Fullnote-Bibliography.Csl by Dstark · Pull Request #6157 · Citation-Style-Language/Styles,” GitHub, n.d. 

  4. SBL Press, “HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 9 August 2016. 

  5. SBL Press, “Electronic Journals.” 

  6. Thanks are due to Brenton Wiernik for this idea. 

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.

Updated Citation Type Support

The SBL style for Zotero now includes updates to help it provide the proper output for two further kinds of citations—conference papers and individually paginated electronic journal articles. I’ll provide a detailed how-to on each of these citation types in the coming weeks.

Conference Paper Citations

The style has had some persistent errors when it came to citing conference presentations (e.g., missing out the conference name). But these errors are now corrected. So, Zotero can produce the citation format described in the SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed., §6.3.8.

Individually Paginated Electronic Journal Articles

Since releasing the second edition of the SBL Handbook of Style, SBL Press has come out with some special guidance for citing journal articles that are published electronically and paginated individually (i.e., each article starts with page number 1).11 Zotero can now produce departures that this citation type requires by comparison with “normal” journal articles.

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.12

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 them13 and
  • including a work’s Digital Object Identifier (DOI) whenever one is available.14

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. SBL Press, “Electronic Journals with Individually Paginated Articles,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 3 May 2018; SBL Press, “HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 9 August 2016. 

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

  13. 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. 

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

How to Easily Cite ANF and NPNF with Zotero

The Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF) and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF) series are now well over a century old.1 But they continue to prove useful resources. And when you need to cite them, Zotero can easily handle SBL style’s special requirements for these works.

Use a Critical Text First

Useful as they are however, the translations in ANF and NPNF aren’t based on critical texts of the fathers. And the manuscripts of the fathers’ works sometimes evidence different readings, just as do manuscripts of biblical literature.

So, before you rely on ANF or NPNF, you should typically ask yourself if there’s a better text available. Often, there will be.

The Fathers of the Church (FC) series published by Catholic University of America Press can often be a good alternative. The introduction to each volume typically tells you what text the translation is based on. So, you can double check before opting to work with that text.

What SBL Style Requires

But let’s say you look around for a better option than ANF or NPNF and, for whatever reason, you don’t find one. In that case, the general citation pattern SBL style requires is as follows

  1. Tertullian, On Baptism 1 (ANF 3:669).

If you’re citing NPNF, however, there’s an additional wrinkle that you need to distinguish between the first or second series. SBL Press’s guidance on this question has changed over the years. But according to the SBL Handbook of Style blog, the example given for citing NPNF in the SBL Handbook of Style’s second edition isn’t the most consistent with what the style does in similar cases elsewhere.2 So,

Contra the example given in SBLHS, the series number is best indicated by a 1 or 2 plus a solidus preceding the volume number (not a superscripted 1 or 2). Thus volume 12 of the second series would be cited as follows:

NPNF 2/12:85–963

Consequently, as SBL Press explains, you’d generally have a fuller have a citation like

44. Augustine, Letters of St. Augustin 28.3.5 (NPNF 1/1:252).4

How to Use Zotero to Cite ANF and NPNF

To cite ANF and NPNF as SBL style requires with Zotero, you’ll first want to have the current style installed.

How to Set up Your Zotero Records

Once you do, you’ll generally want one record for ANF, one for NPNF 1, and one for NPNF 2. You’ll then add to the Extra field for each of these records

  • annote: <i>ANF</i> for ANF and
  • annote: <i>NPNF</i> for both NPNF 1 and NPNF 2.

These entries will tell Zotero to bypass its normal process of composing citations and instead use the abbreviations you’ve specified.5

How to Create a Citation

So, if you wanted to recreate quoted above from the SBL Press blog, you’d

  • create a citation with your NPNF 1 resource,
  • leave the locator field set at “Page,” and if you’re citing NPNF 1 or NPNF 2, enter the corresponding series number and a forward slash (thus: “1/” or “2/”),
  • in the locator field, enter (also) your citation’s volume and page number or range (thus: 1:252 or 1:252–53),6
  • in the prefix field, enter everything you want Zotero to include before the series abbreviation (e.g., “Augustine, <i>Letters of St. Augustin</i> 28.3.5 (“), and
  • in the suffix field, enter the closing parenthesis that should follow the page number (thus: “)”).

Conclusion

If you look carefully enough, you’ll probably often find you’re often able to find better translations of the fathers than what are included in ANF and NPNF. But when you can’t, these series can be incredibly helpful standbys that Zotero can help you manage your citations for, despite SBL style’s special requirements.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF,” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 13 July 2017; Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), 101. 

  3. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF.” 

  4. “Citing Text Collections 6: ANF and NPNF.” 

  5. Normally, you would want to specify separate abbreviations for separate sources. But in most cases an abbreviation-based citation in SBL style requires a space between the abbreviation and the locator. And there’s not currently a good way to tell Zotero to exclude this space if the citation is for NPNF 1 or NPNF 2. Something like this is what would be required to use an abbreviation like <i>NPNF</i> 1, <i>NPNF</i> 1/, <i>NPNF</i> 2, or <i>NPNF</i> 2/ successfully. So, for the time being the user needs to supply the series information in the abbreviated citation. 

  6. Zotero will only automatically convert hyphens to en dashes and truncate page number ranges if page numbers, commas, and hyphens are the only things in the locator field. Having the colon for the volume number disrupts this flow. So, you’ll need to enter in the locator field exactly what you want Zotero to output. In the future, we may be able to adjust the style to provide the volume number directly. In this scenario, you would want to have one record in Zotero for each volume number in ANF, NPNF 1, or NPNF 2. If your piece has a bibliography, you would then also need to condense the references so that you listed a full reference to ANF, NPNF 1, or NPNF 2 just once in your bibliography or in an abbreviations section at the front of your piece. 

9 Reasons to Use Zotero in Your Research

A good reference manager can be incredibly helpful for your research. Many different options are available, but you should at least seriously consider Zotero.

Zotero launched its first public beta in the fall of 2006 as a Firefox extension.1 I started using it in the fall of 2007, thanks to some helpful input from Westminster Seminary’s writing center.

At that time, Zotero was useful, but in the years since, ongoing development has made it an even more robust and helpful tool. So, if you’re frustrated with your current system for managing your research, there are 8 reasons Zotero might be an excellent tool for you. Namely, Zotero

  1. is free;
  2. supports SBL, Chicago, and many other styles;
  3. is actively developed and provides exceptional help in the forums;
  4. integrates with Microsoft Word—and LibreOffice Writer;
  5. allows you to “set it and forget it”;
  6. allows you to store files with citation records;
  7. gives you easy ways to customize individual citations;
  8. makes it easy to switch citation styles; and
  9. allows you to improve your citation style.

1. Zotero is free.

Zotero happens to be free, as in zero cost to end users (e.g., “free books”). But it’s also free, as in Zotero doesn’t lock you into a proprietary system that limits what you can do with your own data (e.g., “free speech”):

Zotero has always guaranteed users complete access to their own data, but open source [= free as in “free speech”] means you don’t need to take our word for it. If the organization that runs Zotero disappeared tomorrow, or if we made a decision that didn’t put users’ interests first, others would be free to take Zotero’s source code and continue to maintain and improve it.2

These two types of freedom mean that Zotero has a low barrier to entry. You can give it a try and then get your data back out if you decide Zotero doesn’t work (or stops working) for you for whatever reason.

2. Zotero supports SBL, Chicago, and many other styles.

When you download Zotero, it comes with support for Chicago style built in. Adding support for SBL style is as easy as installing the style from the repository.3

(Or if you want to drop your email into this form while you’re reading this post, skip searching the repository, I’ll send the style straight to your inbox.)

Zotero also supports other biblical studies styles like those from Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Currents in Biblical Research, Tyndale Bulletin, and Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche. And the list keeps growing.

So, even if you need something a bit different from these, you can likely get close enough to make fairly few manual tweaks necessary at the end of your editing to get things just right.

3. Zotero is actively developed and provides exceptional help in the forums.

The Zotero forums are fabulous places to search for help on technical issues that you can’t find guidance about in the regular documentation.

When I come upon something I can’t get right, I routinely find someone has asked a similar question that’s helpful in clarifying what I need to do differently.

Even when I can’t immediately find what I’m looking for in the forums though, very seldom have I posted another question and not pretty promptly gotten a helpful response.

(Of course, when posting questions, you do have to try to state the issue as clearly and completely as possible. “I can’t get Zotero to work” isn’t going to be a great way of helping others in the forum help you with your issue.)

Going along with all of this, Zotero’s developers are active in the forums as well. In several cases, they’ve identified a question I’ve posted as related to a bug or need for additional nuance in the software or SBL style. And sure enough, a subsequent release of Zotero or the SBL style has cleared up the issue.

4. Zotero integrates with Microsoft Word—and LibreOffice Writer.

Remember when I mentioned “free books” and “free speech” above? Well, part of me would really like to use LibreOffice Writer rather than Microsoft Word for exactly this reason.

But there are several reasons—for another post—that I continue using Word for now. And Zotero integrates very nicely with both Word and Writer.

5. Zotero allows you to “set it and forget it.”

Especially with SBL style, it takes some time to learn the nuances of how to put information into Zotero so that you can get the proper output.

But the nice thing is that, once you’ve got a book or article input properly, you don’t have to worry about re-searching for how to compose that citation. You can simply research and write and let Zotero handle the jots and tittles of the citations.4

This doesn’t mean you can offload deep knowledge of SBL style to Zotero or any other platform. You still have to know what you need out of the software so that you can meet your style requirements.

But it does mean that you can focus on noticing and fixing anything that’s amiss. You don’t need to bother with everything that goes right—which the vast majority usually does.

6. Zotero allows you to store files with citation records.

Let’s say you add a journal article to your database. But you have a PDF copy of the article as well.

Where do you keep that copy? In Zotero, you can attach that PDF directly to the citation and so save everything in one place.5

Zotero also provides some cloud storage so that you can sync a minimal number of files among multiple devices. But it’s also pretty straight forward to extend this storage by one method or another. In some cases, you may even be able to do so for no additional cost to you.

7. Zotero gives you easy ways to customize individual citations.

SBL and other styles common to biblical studies aren’t known for being the simplest. And sometimes, they require citations of specific sources that are unique to those sources.

No software could possibly account for all the variables that might come up with such unique citations. But Zotero does provide a useful set of tags that allow you to customize the citations of individual resources or even individual notes. These tags allow you to make text

  • italic or (if it’s already italic) roman,
  • bold,
  • subscript, and
  • superscript.

You can also turn text into small capitals or suppress Zotero’s default capitalization rules. And you can add these tags in your Zotero database—if you want them to apply to all citations of a given source. Or you can use the same tags in the citation dialog to format individual citations.

8. Zotero makes it easy to switch citation styles.

If you do any amount of academic writing for publication, it will eventually happen. You will get a piece turned down by a given journal or publisher. You’ll then need to decide whether to let the piece die on your computer or to revise it and send it elsewhere.

And if you decide to send it elsewhere, a different journal or publisher may well require you to use a different citation style. If Zotero already supports that style, Zotero can do a lot of the reformatting work “automagically” once you install the additional citation style.

Of course, you’ll still need to proofread what Zotero has done and correct any remaining issues. But some careful proofreading and corrections here and there definitely beat the chances you run with “find and replace” or the time you would spend manipulating your citations manually.

9. Zotero allows you to improve your citation style.

Zotero knows how to format citations because of what’s in a given citation style sheet. That style sheet is written in a language called, appropriately enough, “Citation Style Language” (CSL).6

If you’re not the type to tinker with such things, that’s perfectly fine. I wasn’t for a long time. But if you do run into something consistently that’s a bit amiss in a given style, you can definitely update the style so its output is more precise.7

CSL isn’t necessarily “easy” to pick up. But especially if you’re just needing to modify an existing style (rather than create one from scratch), it’s also not too difficult.

And with some persistence, you might find that a little time learning CSL is well spent. It may eliminate a good amount of editing work that you and others had been having to do manually.

Conclusion

A student of mine once observed that citation managers don’t substitute for knowing SBL or whatever other style well. But they can take a lot of the grunt work out of following those styles.

That’s about right. Following a given style guide is a good and necessary part of what writing involves in biblical studies. But then, none of us got into biblical studies so that we could follow the SBL Handbook of Style. 🙂

So it makes sense to consider how you can address your style requirements more efficiently and free yourself up to do the reading, research, and writing that only you can do.

And Zotero is an excellent option for a tool to help you do just this.


  1. Zotero, “Zotero 1.0 Public Beta Launch,” weblog, Zotero Blog, 5 October 2006. 

  2. Zotero, “Why Zotero?,” Zotero, n.d. 

  3. See Zotero, “Citation Styles,” Zotero, 18 December 2017

  4. Cf. “Winning Tagline: Research, Not Re-Search,” weblog, Zotero Blog, 26 November 2007. 

  5. See Zotero, “Adding Files to Your Zotero Library,” Zotero, 7 July 2021. 

  6. See Rintze M. Zelle, “Citation Style Language,” Citation Style Language, 2015. 

  7. See Zotero, “Citation Styles,” Zotero, 18 December 2017. 

How to Quickly Create a Dynamic Table of Contents

Creating a table of contents manually can be a pain and consume much more time and attention than it should.1

Fortunately, you can let Word do the heavy lifting by creating a dynamic table of contents that updates automatically with your document.

1. Prepare your document.

Word can manage a table of contents multiple ways. Rather than discussing all of these, I’m going to describe what seems the simplest method.

So for the purposes of this tutorial, I’m going to assume two things:2

  1. You’re using heading styles to format the headings within your document.
  2. You’ve set up the page numbers for your table of contents in Word as described in the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style.

If either of these isn’t true, update your document accordingly.3 Then come back here, and go through the steps in the next section to add your table of contents.

2. Add your table of contents.

Once you have your document prepared:

2.1. Create your contents page header.

Place your cursor at the start of the page in your document where you want to insert your table of contents (e.g., the page numbered “ii”).

2.1.1. What SBL Style Requires

Then, type “Contents” at the top of this page. SBL style wants you to

  1. place this term one inch from the top edge of the page,
  2. center this heading across the page,
  3. have the word “Contents” in all uppercase letters, and
  4. have two blank lines between this heading and the start of your table of contents.4

2.1.2. How to Produce What SBL Style Requires

From this list, especially items 2–4 follow what SBL style asks for with your document’s primary headings (e.g., “Heading 1”).5 But you shouldn’t use your primary heading style to format the “Contents” heading. If you do, your automated table of contents will make its first entry “Contents.” 😛

To avoid this issue, however, you can format the “Contents” heading with the “TOC Heading” style. And just like any other style, you can adjust this style’s formatting to meet the requirements of SBL style. That way, it’ll be ready and waiting for you when you need to use it in a new project.

After you’ve typed and formatted this heading, place your cursor on the next line available for text below the heading.

Contents Page Header

2.2. Start inserting your table of contents.

Go to the “References” tab, find the “Table of Contents” section, and click the “Table of Contents” button.

Word has a few different tables of contents predefined. But it’ll probably be easiest for you to use the “Custom Table of Contents…” option at the bottom of the “Table of Contents” button menu.

This will open the “Table of Contents” tab in the “Table of Contents” dialog box. (The names are quite creative, aren’t they?)

2.3. Set the basic formatting for your table of contents.

Where you see “Tab leader,” change the option from “……” to “none.”

(If you’re following the Student Supplement, you’ll have the dotted leader only for your primary headings.6 So it’s easiest just to add them there rather than remove them everywhere else.)

Still on the “Table of Contents” tab in the “Table of Contents” dialog box, also find the “Show levels” option. Increase this number to “9.”

You may not have that many heading levels (and probably shouldn’t). But per the Student Supplement, the table of contents should include “every element of the paper that follows.”7

Increasing this number to the maximum now should prevent you from having to change it later or miss headings out of your table of contents.

Click “OK” to create your table of contents.

2.4 Review your initial table of contents.

At this point, you should see a table of contents in your document that looks something like the sample below.

Of course, what the table actually shows will depend on the headings you’ve included in your document.

If you don’t see what you were expecting, double check that you’ve used heading styles in the appropriate places and at the appropriate levels in the body of your document.

Add or change these where necessary (e.g., from “Heading 3” to “Heading 2”).

Also note that the casing for each line in the table of contents will be as it is in that heading, even though the heading might be formatted in all caps.

If you see capitals or lowercase where you were expecting the other, retype that heading in the body of your document, with the proper casing.

Your table of contents will update automatically at different times. But to force an update at any point, right click inside the table, and choose “Update Field,” then “Update entire table,” and click “OK.”

The individual lines of the table of contents are also linked to the corresponding places in your document. So to jump there, just Ctrl + click on a given line in the table.

Conclusion

At this point, you’re saving yourself a huge amount of time and effort managing your table of contents. You’re also able to use the table in Word to skip easily to different parts of your document.

But you may notice that the formatting of the table of contents isn’t yet quite what the Student Supplement is asking for.8 So you’ll want to take careful stock of how the formatting needs to be adjusted, which can be done with styles as well.


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  1. Header image provided by Kaitlyn Baker

  2. I’m also assuming you have a current version of Word via Office 365. These instructions are based on v16.0.12430.20046. They should work on other recent versions as well. But you’ll notice greater differences in the process if you have an older version of Word. 

  3. If you need to paginate your table of contents differently, however, simply substitute your requirements in the appropriate steps below. 

  4. The first three requirements are clear from Melanie Greer Nogalski et al., Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Brennan W. Breed, rev. ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2015), §3.2. The fourth isn’t explicitly specified in the student supplement. So, in this case, SBL style defers to the authorities for Chicago style. And the spacing between the table of contents heading and the table itself is specified in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, ed. Wayne C. Booth et al., 9th ed., Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), §A.2.1.7. 

  5. Cf. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §2.6. 

  6. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.2. 

  7. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.2. 

  8. Nogalski et al., Student Supplement, §3.2. 

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.