How to Make Bulk Editing Items in Zotero Easy

Zotero is a fabulous tool for managing research material.1 The word processor integration makes it easy to insert citations on the fly as you write.

But the citations you insert will only be as good as the information in your Zotero library. So, if some of that’s incorrect or mis-formatted, Zotero will reflect those problems in the citations it creates.

Zotero makes it easy to correct information about any item in your library. But what happens if you need to change many items?

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to change many items all at once. So, there’s no need to make the same change to each of them individually.

1. Set up Zutilo.

To bulk edit multiple items in Zotero, you’ll need to install the latest version of the Zutilo extension.2 Once you have Zutilo installed in Zotero, go to Tools > Zutilo Preferences ….

From there, you’ll notice Zutilo can do a number of things and make several changes to your Zotero interface. To start bulk editing Zotero items, however, it might be simplest to disable all the options on the Zutilo User Interface tab except for

  • Copy item fields,
  • Paste into empty item fields, and
  • Paste into non-empty item fields.

For these items, choose to display them either in the Zotero context menu (i.e., the right- or command-click menu) or in a Zutilo-specific flyout from that menu.

Click OK, and you’ll have Zutilo ready to go.

2. Collect the items you need to edit.

Next, if you haven’t done so already, collect into one place all of the items you need to edit. You can do this by creating a saved search in Zotero based on the item metadata that you want to edit.3

For instance, if you’re using SBL style, “Grand Rapids” is a “well known” place of publication.4 Consequently, it shouldn’t be accompanied by a state name or abbreviation.

So, if you had some entries in your library with this additional information, you might create a saved search to group them all together for easy editing.

3. Use information from an existing item as a template.

For one of the items in this saved search, you’d open the context menu, and use Zutilo to copy the fields for that item.

Then, open a plain text file, and paste in the item fields that you copied. This will give you a long string of what might, at first, look like unreadable code gobbledygook. But if you look closely, especially at the beginning of what you pasted, you should notice how some of what shows up in that item’s record as you look at in Zotero appears pretty transparently in what you’ve pasted into your text editor.

In the text editor, be sure to leave

  • the opening {,
  • the line with "itemType":,
  • any other lines for fields you want to use in your bulk edit,
  • and the closing }.

But delete the other lines. In this example, I’m bulk editing only the place of publication. So, the code gobbledygook above simplifies down to just the following:

{
  "itemType": "book",
  "place": "Grand Rapids, Michigan",
}

From this point, you need to make two changes. These are to

  1. change Grand Rapids, Michigan to just Grand Rapids, which is what you want the place name to be for all the relevant items in Zotero, and
  2. delete the comma before the closing }.

Your text file will then look as follows:

{
  "itemType": "book",
  "place": "Grand Rapids"
}

4. Bulk edit the items in your saved search.

From this point, copy this content from your text file back onto your clipboard, and return to Zotero. Select all the records you want to update (i.e., all the records in your saved search), and open the context menu.

In this example, there aren’t any empty fields to fill. So, you’ll select “Paste non-empty item fields.”

It may take Zotero a few seconds to process the changes depending on how many you’re making and how many records are involved. But once Zotero finishes, you should see an empty saved search folder.

The folder will be empty because you’ve updated all the records it contained. Now, none of those records matches the search criteria. All of them now have “Grand Rapids” and not “Grand Rapids, MI” or “Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

You can then delete your saved search folder and enjoy the benefits of cleaner citations from a tidier Zotero database without the time and tedium of having needed to edit each record manually.

Conclusion

Zotero’s a wonderful tool. And the various ways of getting bibliographic data into it make entering new items into your library incredibly easy.

But there’s also no accounting for the quality of the data that you’ll initially import into Zotero from whatever sources. And as the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage out.”

Fortunately, Zutilo makes it very easy to quickly correct data in multiple Zotero records, leaving you with less work to do in managing your materials and more time to focus on your research and writing.


  1. Header image provided by NordWood Themes

  2. For this resource and the fundamentals of the process described here, see “Editing Multiple Items at Once,” Zotero Forums, n.d. 

  3. For information about searching and saving searches in Zotero, see Zotero, “Searching,” Zotero, 30 January 2022. 

  4. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §6.1.4.1. 

How to Extract Text from Image-only PDFs with Zotero

If you have a PDF of a book chapter or journal article, it’ll be one of two basic types.1

On the one hand, it might have real text inside it. If so, you’ll be able to select specific letters or words inside the PDF.

On the other hand, it might just be a series of page images. If this is what you have, you can click on it all you want, but all you’ll select is the whole page image.

Even when you have real text in a PDF, you’ll have various issues if you try to copy and paste from it. And you probably shouldn’t be doing a lot of that anyhow. Strings of quotations generally isn’t the most effective way to make an argument.

But having real text inside your PDF chapter or article will make that PDF searchable and easier to annotate if you intend to read it electronically, underline or highlight text, or otherwise use your PDF like electronic paper.

If your PDF doesn’t have real text inside it, however, you can use Zotero to add it through “optical character recognition” (OCR). That is, you can have Zotero

  • “look” at an image-only PDF,
  • give a best guess about what text is on the page, and
  • save that text back with the image into another, combined PDF.

The OCR may not be perfect. But it will make your PDFs more usable.

1. Get Zotero ready.

To get Zotero ready to add text to your image-only PDFs, you’ll first need to

Once you have these tools, install the Zotero OCR extension in Zotero.

After you restart Zotero,

  1. Go to Tools > Zotero OCR Preferences.
  2. For the path to your OCR engine, enter the path to tesseract.exe (e.g., C:\Program Files\Tesseract-OCR\tesseract.exe).
  3. For the path to pdftoppm, enter the path where you have Poppler’s pdftoppm.exe (e.g., C:\Users\[yourusername]\poppler-0.68.0\bin\pdftoppm.exe).
  4. Customize the other options according to your preferences, and click “OK.” If you want Zotero’s OCR text back in a PDF file, you should at least leave the “Save output as a PDF with text layer” box checked. But you may want to leave unchecked the option to overwrite the initial PDF, just in case something goes amiss with the conversion.

2. Create a PDF with real text.

At this point, Zotero is ready to

  • run OCR on any image-only PDF in your library and
  • create a new PDF that maps these page images to real text.

To do so, find an image-only PDF in Zotero, right click it, and choose to “OCR selected PDF(s).”

After you click this option, you’ll want to be patient. The process may take a while, even with a comparatively short PDF. And it can look like not much is happening.

But eventually, you should get a command line window that gives you some progress indicators as Tesseract works through your PDF.

When Tesseract finishes, you’ll see a new linked attachment in Zotero with a “.ocr.pdf” ending to the file name. You can use this file to interact with the real text that Tesseract worked out for your PDF’s page images. Zotero’s indexer and your PDF reader’s find function can do the same as well.

If you want to be able to search the new text in your PDF from Zotero, you might want to rebuild or update your Zotero index (Edit > Preferences > Search > Rebuild Index …).

3. Clean up the leftovers.

If you don’t care to keep the leftovers from the conversion process, you can clean them up at this stage. Just right-click either the new linked file attachment or the original one in your Zotero library, and choose to “Show File.”

You’ll then be shown the Zotero storage folder where your PDFs are stored. Be sure not to touch the .zotero-ft-cache or .zotero-ft-info files. But any leftover text (“.txt”) files you can delete.

And if you’re satisfied with the results of the conversion, you can also delete your original PDF from this folder and rename the “.ocr.pdf” file to omit the “.ocr” portion of its file name. It should then have the same name as your original PDF.

So, the original stored file link in Zotero (the one without the little chain icon) should work to open it. And you can delete also the Zotero link to the “.ocr.pdf” file (which you’ve now renamed).

Conclusion

Having real text in a PDF makes it possible to search that document. It also makes it easier to mark it up. Older PDFs or PDFs of older sources might not come with this real text already in them, and OCR is rarely perfect.

But you can use Zotero to add a good amount of accurate text to your image-only PDFs, which will make annotating and referencing these files that much easier.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

How to Increase Your Zotero Cloud Storage: 4 Ways

The Zotero “personal research assistant” comes with 300 MB of cloud storage free for attachments in each account.1 That’s a good amount, but it can go quickly, especially if you start storing larger PDFs in your Zotero library.

For instance, the Bavarian State Library has made available PDF scans of Gabriel Vasquez’s entire 4-volume Commentariorum ac disputationum in primam partem Sancti Tomæ. But if you download volume 4, the smallest, and want to store it in your Zotero library, you’ll need 372 MB of storage space.

So, what happens when you use all your Zotero cloud storage but still want to synchronize attachments between multiple computers or just back them up to the cloud?

Two options will require some new cloud storage or new configuration to your existing cloud storage. But another two will let you use the cloud storage you already have as is.

1. Subscribe to a paid Zotero storage plan.

For users who require additional cloud storage, Zotero offers three paid plans, ranging from 2 GB for $20 per year to unlimited for $120 per year.2 Zotero also offers special storage plans for laboratory and institution-wide deployments.3

This option is the most straightforward. It makes it easier for you to access your stored attachments via mobile applications the Zotero app that’s in beta for iOS.4 The downside is that this solution requires paying for an additional cloud storage service.

2. Use your own WebDAV service.

In addition to synchronizing attachment files to Zotero storage, Zotero also supports the WebDAV protocol.5 WebDAV stands for “Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning” and is

an extension to Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that defines how basic file functions such as copy, move, delete, and create are performed by using HTTP.6

If you want to explore this route you can explore setting up your own self-hosted WebDAV service. Or you can look into the Zotero documentation’s list of providers whose WebDAV service is known to work with Zotero.7

Each provider makes available 2–15 GB of free storage. But some also have lower limitations for individual attachment file sizes. In addition, as you’ll see from the notes on several services, you might encounter bugs, problems, or important limitations in trying to use these ready-made WebDAV options.

So, synchronizing attachments via an alternative WebDAV service may be more economical than doing so via Zotero storage. But it will still require some special configuration and perhaps also mean you’ll need to use additional cloud storage service.

A Sidebar on What to Sync and What Not to Sync in Generic Cloud Storage

There are, however, two ways you can use Zotero to store attachments in cloud storage that you already have. When doing so, it’s important to note that you should not allow a generic cloud storage service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive to touch your Zotero database.

If you try to sync your Zotero database with a cloud service, you’re setting yourself up for any number of headaches and may well lose data or corrupt your database file.8 (I’ve made this mistake before. It’s not pretty.)

So, when you sync your Zotero database, you should always use your Zotero account and Zotero’s servers. There’s no downside to this as there’s no limit to how many records you can have in your Zotero database. The only thing that counts against a storage limit are files you might want to attach to those records (e.g., PDFs, webpage snapshots).

3. Move your Zotero storage folder.

By default, Zotero stores attachment files in its storage folder. To find your storage folder, with Zotero open, go to Edit > Advanced > Files and Folders. From the “Files and Folders” tab of the Zotero Preferences dialog box, you can change the directory where Zotero saves all its files, including its main database.

Don’t do this. All you want here is the location of your Zotero profile folder. Once you’ve found this, you can change the storage folder’s location by using a “symbolic link” (or “symlink”).

A symlink isn’t the same as a “shortcut.” A shortcut simply bounces you from one location to another in your file system.

Instead, a symlink allows access to a file or folder via two different paths. So, it’s a bit like using two different email addresses to get messages into the same inbox.

For instance, if you’re on Windows, you can use a symlink to change the location of your Zotero storage directory by taking the following steps:

a. Open your Zotero directory.

By default in Windows 10, Zotero saves all its files under C:\Users\{username}\Zotero. Before proceeding to the other steps, you may want to back up this directory to a safe place, just in case something goes amiss.

b. Move the “storage” folder.

Inside the Zotero directory, you should find a folder named “storage.” Make sure Zotero is closed, and move this folder to the cloud storage folder of your choice. You can also rename the folder if you’d like for ease of reference.

So, for instance, I’ve created a directory D:\OneDrive\Research\Zotero. This directory contains all the sub-folders and files Zotero looks for in “storage.”

c. Create the symlink to your new Zotero storage location.

To create the symbolic link:

  1. Open the Windows menu.
  2. Search for “cmd” or “Command Prompt.”
  3. Right-click this program, and choose “Run as administrator.”
  4. If you are asked whether you want to allow this app to make changes to your device, choose “Yes.”
  5. Enter cd C:\Users\{username}\Zotero. You’ll need to replace {username} with your username as it appears in the file path under step (a) above.
  6. Type mklink /d "storage" {file path where you moved the Zotero "storage" folder}. You’ll need to replace {file path where you moved the Zotero "storage" folder} with the actual file path. This would be D:\OneDrive\Research\Zotero in my example above.
  7. Press Enter.

You should now be able to go back to C:\Users\{username}\Zotero (or wherever your main Zotero folder is) and find there a symbolic link named “storage.” If you click this link, it should open your Zotero storage folder.

The folder will be located in the cloud storage folder where you’ve moved it. But Zotero will be able to access the folder’s contents in the location it expects for the storage folder.

Next, reopen Zotero, and test opening a few attachments. If they open properly, everything went well. If the attachments don’t open, delete the “storage” symbolic link, and try creating it again via the steps indicated here.

Instead of moving Zotero’s storage folder, you can simply create a folder in a cloud storage service of your choice and have Zotero link to files found there.

To do so,

  1. Create the new folder where you want to store Zotero attachments.
  2. Open Zotero, and go to Edit > Preferences > Advanced > Files and Folders.
  3. In the section for Linked Attachment Base Directory, choose the directory you created in your cloud storage folder for housing your attachments. On other computers, you’ll then just need to find the equivalent directory once, tell Zotero where it is, and Zotero will be able to use this base directory without missing a beat.
  4. Click OK.

You’ll then just store in this directory any file you want to link to in Zotero. And to make things still a bit easier, you might consider installing the Zotfile extension.

Among other things, Zotfile can make it easier to rename attachments as you save them in your chosen directory or even to move files stored in Zotero’s storage folder into a different attachment directory.

Storing with or without Stores

Whether you use a paid or free option, these steps should give you some additional options to manage your Zotero storage. And as you continue using Zotero, you’re likely to find that this extra space proves extremely helpful for saving your research and avoiding the need to re-search for what you’ve previously found.9


  1. Zotero, “Zotero Storage,” n.d. Header image provided by Oscar Chevillard

  2. Zotero, “Storage.” 

  3. Zotero, “Zotero Lab and Zotero Institution,” n.d. 

  4. Zotero, “‎Zotero,” App Store, n.d. 

  5. Zotero, “Sync,” 20 January 2022. 

  6. Microsoft, “WebDAV,” 19 August 2020. 

  7. Zotero, “List of WebDAV Services,” 14 October 2020. 

  8. Zotero, “Sync.” 

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

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 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.