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'?).


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.


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

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

  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

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

  3. Chicago Manual of Style, §8.159. 

  4. Chicago Manual of Style, §8.159. 

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

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

Zotero Can Easily Support Your Students’ Research

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

Upsides and Downsides

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

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

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

An Example

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

  1. Header image provided by Marvin Meyer

How to Find a Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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

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. 🙂


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 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.


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


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.


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. 

3 Questions to Help You Know Whether Something Is Important

Deciding what gets priority can prove challenging.1

The Eisenhower Matrix is an incredibly useful tool to clarify your activities and basic responses to them.2

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant 1
Characteristics: Urgent, Important
Response: Abbreviate
Quadrant 2
Characteristics: Not Urgent, Important
Response: Concentrate
Not ImportantQuadrant 3
Characteristics: Urgent, Not Important
Response: Separate
Quadrant 4
Characteristics: Not Urgent, Not Important
Response: Eliminate

Even so, urgent activities can easily squeeze out those that are important. That danger is particularly acute because importance can be more difficult to ascertain than urgency.

So, the two can easily be confused by a kind of mental substitution. When asking the harder question “What’s most important?” it’s tempting to substitute the easier question “What’s pressing on me the most?”3

But pressure is more a signal of urgency than importance. Thus, the question of criteria becomes particularly acute when considering whether an activity is important and, if so, to what degree.

Criteria for Importance

Although there’s no mathematical formula for determining importance, you can ask four questions to help clarify whether something fits the bill.4

I’ll discuss the first three below. The fourth requires more comment, so I’ll address that one separately.

How Much Does Something Matter?

This question correlates with importance probably most directly and clearly. So, it’s probably also the least helpful (since its most likely to be most synonymous).

But it’s still worth asking explicitly. Sometimes, simply asking the question can start helping you realize that whatever you’re considering actually does (or doesn’t) matter all that much. You can then rate its importance accordingly.

For How Long Does Something Matter?

When considering urgency, you’re interested in when something matters, specifically how soon it matters. Importance is also concerned with time, but things that are important often matter for longer.

For instance, you might feel that it matters to be current with the news. But if you are current, you’ll have to get current again tomorrow.

By contrast, when you invest your time in durable relationships or projects, those can matter for a great deal longer than nearer-term aims. So, you should tend to weigh those things that matter for longer as more important and vice versa.

In What Context Does Something Matter?

Not infrequently, a given activity might appear to matter a great deal in one context. But if you reframe the context—especially by taking a bigger-picture perspective—you might find that it matters less or not at all.

For instance, if you’re invited to a meeting, you might earn a kind of good will by going, even if you have nothing particular to contribute. But if you’re in the meeting, you won’t be working on a research project that will have a much longer-term significance.

So, that wider perspective would lead you to weight working on your research as more important than warming a chair in a conference room.


Ultimately, importance is weightier than urgency. But amid the loud clamor and heavy pressure from the urgent, it can be hard to tell what’s actually important.

To start discerning, ask how much, for how long, and in what context something matters. You’ll still have to integrate and evaluate the answers. But you’ll have ready at hand some of the key building blocks for determining whether something is important and, if so, to what degree.

  1. Header image provided by Oliver Roos

  2. On this matrix, see especially Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 159–64. 

  3. This kind of substitution is copiously documented in Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011). 

  4. Cf. David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin, 2003), 48. In deriving the questions I discuss below, I’ve particularly benefitted from Allen, Things; Covey, Habits; 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).