How to Use Zotero to Properly Cite Grammars in SBL Style

You might think that citing a grammar according to the SBL Handbook of Style would be pretty straightforward.1 And you’d be right, but there are several special cases to account for.

1. Cite section numbers wherever possible.

Instead of citing a grammar by page number, you should cite by section number wherever possible to give the most precise reference. You’ll designate a single section with “§” and a section range with “§§”.

2. Cite grammars by abbreviation where applicable.

For many common Hebrew and Greek grammars, the SBL Handbook specifies an abbreviation by which to cite a given grammar (§8.4). You may find others also when you check IATG3.

For instance, Gesenius-Kautzch-Cowley is cited simply by the abbreviation “GKC”. Blass-Debrunner-Funk is cited simply as “BDF”.2

The full bibliographic information for these sources then goes in an abbreviations list and should not appear in the bibliography.

3. Adjust your reference manager’s output accordingly.

If you use reference manager software, you’ll want to consider how best to get that software to produce the abbreviated references you need for cases like this. If you use Zotero, you have two main options.

a. Enter footnotes manually, or use the prefix and suffix fields.

If you need to cite only one or more grammars only by an abbreviation(s), you can simply add a footnote and type the appropriate text without going through Zotero’s “add citation” process.

If you are citing a grammar(s) and another source(s) in a Zotero footnote, you can simply add the appropriate grammar citation text to the prefix or suffix fields of your existing citation, depending on whether you want the grammar citation to come before or after the other source(s) you are citing.

So, for instance, when adding or editing a citation, you could type “BDF §458;” into the prefix field to add a citation to Blass-Debrunner-Funk §458. Zotero would then build this text into the footnote so that the footnote will look as it should.

The upside of this method is that it is quite straightforward. The downside is that any sources you cite in this way won’t appear in any bibliography Zotero generates for your document.

SBL Press doesn’t want sources cited by abbreviation in a bibliography anyhow, but in some cases, you might find that you want this (e.g., requirements from a professor, journal, or volume editor).

In that event, your best option will be to edit the bibliography that Zotero prepares to add any sources you’ve included in your footnotes simply by adding their abbreviations as text. Since you entered those citations simply as text, Zotero won’t “know” to add these sources to your bibliography unless you make those changes directly.

b. Install the current SBL style in your reference manager.

Other ways of getting this output automatically from Zotero may be on the horizon. But things are really quite easy if you have the current version of the SBL style installed.

Not long ago, you would have needed to install a custom variant of the main SBL style or edit the style yourself. That’s no longer necessary, however. The changes necessary to cite grammars and other sources by abbreviation are now part of the main SBL style.

You can get the style from the Zotero repository directly. Or if you drop your name and email in the form below, I’ll drop you an email about that style. I’ll also include the style for the Catholic Biblical Association, which uses many of the same abbreviations as SBL style.

Once you have the style installed, for any source you need to cite by an abbrevation, just add Annote: [abbreviation] in that Zotero resource’s “Extra” field. So, for instance, for Blass-Debrunner-Funk, you would add Annote: BDF.

The upside of this method is that you can cite grammars by abbreviation while using the Zotero add citation dialog.

The downside is that you might need to edit your bibliography, if you have one, to remove these sources and move them to an abbreviation list (per SBL style’s requirement).

But you will probably know pretty well which few sources are cited by abbreviations. So, you should be able to edit your bibliography as needed pretty quickly to relocate these sources.

Conclusion

In the end, citing grammars according to the SBL Handbook of Style is quite straightforward.

If you want to cite them while using a reference manager, the process may be a bit more detailed to set up since the manager may not have a mechanism for handling largely custom citation patterns like the abbreviations SBL Press specifies for common grammars.

But with some careful thought about how you want to approach citing these kinds of resources, you can certainly streamline them into your existing citation process.


  1. Header image provided by SBL Press

  2. Also important is SBL Press’s discussion of citing Herbert Smyth’s Greek Grammar

Focus on Writing While Zotero Does Even More Formatting

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’re using the styles for either the Catholic Biblical Association (CBA) or the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).

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 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 updated style now also corrects a few bugs in the prior version. 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.

I’ve previously discussed how you could modify the SBL style in order to store and cite by these abbreviations. That was pretty messy, but 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, annote-based citations are supported in the SBL style that’s in the Zotero repository.

In addition, for some time, citations with section locators have 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.((These comments pertain to the note-bibliography version of Zotero’s SBL style. If you use the parenthetical citation-reference list version, the behavior may differ.)

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 doesn’t shift when it’s challenging. But that 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 to focus on the substance of your research and writing.


  1. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  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. 

How to Cite Dictionaries with Zotero

The SBL Handbook of Style prescribes different citation conventions for Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries than it does for theological lexicons and dictionaries.1

Zotero can handle both citation types. To get the proper output, you just need to:

  1. Install an updated version of the SBL citation style and
  2. Input information into your Zotero database properly.

1. Install an Updated Version of Zotero’s SBL Citation Style

From Zotero’s style repository, you can install the “Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note)” style.

This style, like all others, depends on the quality of the records you have stored in your Zotero database.

But if you make get information into the database correctly, this style will do a wonderful job. Your citations and bibliographies will very closely match the requirements of the SBL Handbook of Style.

Why You Need an Updated Citation Style

There’s one particular area, though, where Zotero’s default SBL style doesn’t get things quite right.

That is, for a number of specific resources, the SBL Handbook of Style specifies completely custom citations.

These formats work well enough for us in biblical studies who know what they represent (e.g., BDAG, HALOT).

But there’s not a good way for Zotero’s default SBL style to handle these custom citation requirements programmatically. After all, Zotero is software—not a biblical scholar. 😉

For this reason, you’ll want to install an updated version of Zotero’s SBL citation style. If you do this especially before citing theological lexicons and dictionaries, you’ll find it easier to get the correct output.

How to Get an Updated Citation Style

You can read more about how to update Zotero’s base SBL style for yourself. Or just drop your name and email in the form below, and I’ll email you a copy of the updated style.

2. Input Information into Your Zotero Database Properly

Encyclopedias and Bible Dictionaries (§6.3.6)

What SBL Style Requires

When you cite Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries, SBL style wants an initial footnote to look like

1. Krister Stendahl, “Biblical Theology, Contemporary,” IDB 1:418.

Subsequent references should use only the author’s surname, a shortened article title, and drop the dictionary title abbreviation. Thus, you’ll have a citation like

3. Stendahl, “Biblical Theology,” 1:419.

Then in the bibliography, you should have an entry for each individual encyclopedia or dictionary article like

Stendahl, Krister. “Biblical Theology, Contemporary.” IDB 1:418–32.

How to Get What SBL Style Requires

To get this output from Zotero, use the “Dictionary Entry” resource type for each entry you want to cite. You can then fill out the resource metadata as usual.

The one exception is that, in the “Dictionary Title” field, you often won’t put the full dictionary title.

Instead, if one exists, you’ll want to use the standard abbreviation for that dictionary’s title.

Some of these abbreviations are available in the SBL Handbook of Style. For others, you may need to consult the third edition of Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete (IATG).

(For more about using IATG alongside the SBL Handbook of Style, see my e-book on SBL style.)

Lexicons and Theological Dictionaries (§6.3.7)

For lexicons and theological dictionaries, things are a bit trickier. And it’s here that you’ll be thankful you’ve installed an update to Zotero’s default SBL citation style.

First, however, note that the SBL Handbook of Style heads §6.3.7 as discussing citation of “An Article in a Lexicon or a Theological Dictionary.”

But apparently, the section is intended to address only signed articles in lexicons and theological dictionaries. For unsigned articles, you’ll follow a different citation method.2

Some works include only unsigned entries (e.g., BDAG, HALOT). Others include both signed and unsigned entries (e.g., EDNT). So, you’ll want to carefully use the citation method appropriate for the specific entry type that you’re citing.

What SBL Style Requires

With that distinction made, note that, for theological lexicons and dictionaries, the SBL Handbook of Style wants initial footnotes like

1. Hermann W. Beyer, “διακονέω, διακονία, κτλ,” TDNT 2:93.

Or if you’re citing only the article on one particular word in a larger group, you’ll have something like

1. Hermann W. Beyer, “διακονέω,” TDNT 2:81.

According to the Handbook, subsequent citations need to have the author’s surname and the lexicon or dictionary title but drop the article title. (This requirement is opposite of that for Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries.)

But SBL Press has now reversed this pattern so that signed lexicon or theological dictionary titles are cited in the same way as are encyclopedia and Bible dictionary articles.3

Thus, you’ll have a subsequent reference like

3. Beyer, “διακονέω,” 2:83.

Then, in the bibliography, you’ll give the individual article entry like

Beyer, Hermann W. “διακονέω, διακονία, κτλ.” TDNT 2:81–93.4

This method of reflecting lexicons and theological dictionaries in the bibliography again represents SBL Press adjusting the presentation of these types of sources to be more similar to encyclopedias and Bible dictionaries.5

Per the Handbook itself, you would only include only one entry in the bibliography for a whole theological lexicon or dictionary, no matter how many articles you cited from it.

By contrast, the full bibliography entry for the whole work (e.g., TDNT) should now only go in an abbreviation list, if you need to have one.6

How to Get What SBL Style Requires

There are a few different options for how to ask Zotero to produce this output. Different methods might work better in different situations, depending on whether the source has only unsigned entries, only signed entries, or some of both.

Only Unsigned Entries

If your source has only unsigned entries, you’ll probably be best off by having just the one Zotero record for the whole source.

Only Signed Entries or Both Signed and Unsigned Entries

If your source has only signed entries, you’ll probably be best off by having

  • One Zotero record for each entry you cite and
  • One Zotero record for the whole work, if you need this for the abbreviation list or for unsigned entries.

Setting up the Zotero records for signed entries is pretty straightforward. But setting up a record to cite unsigned entries requires some special steps.

Setting Up Zotero Records for Unsigned Entries

For unsigned entries, you won’t always need to cite the work with an abbreviation. But that will often be the case.

When it is, you can use the “Extra” field for that Zotero record to enter Annote: followed by how you want to cite the lexicon or dictionary overall.

For example, for the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, the corresponding abbreviation is EDNT. So in Zotero’s “Extra” field for that resource, can enter Annote: <i>EDNT</i>.

Zotero won’t do anything with what follows Annote: except use it exactly to cite your resource. So you have to include the <i> and </i> tags to tell Zotero you want the title abbreviation italicized, as SBL style requires.

When you initially cite an unsigned article, you can then choose the “sub verbo” locator type in the Zotero add citation dialog box so that you can enter the entry you’re citing from.

Using the Annote: variable to store the custom citation you need should then allow you to configure your footnotes one way while not affecting the formatting of the bibliography entry for that resource, should you need to include one there or in an abbreviation list.

Conclusion

As Zotero and SBL style continue evolving, the process for getting certain types of output will change as well.

But of all the bibliography managers available, Zotero continues to provide one of the easiest out-of-the-box experiences for managing and citing research in biblical studies.


  1. Society of Biblical Literature, The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2014), §§6.3.6–6.3.7. Header image provided by Zotero via Twitter

  2. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word),” weblog, SBL Handbook of Style, 4 April 2017. 

  3. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  4. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  5. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

  6. Citing Reference Works 3: Dictionaries (Word).” 

How to Easily Edit and Unedit Zotero Notes

Zotero makes it very easy to edit notes when you need to customize them beyond what a particular style allows. Unediting notes is also very simple, but it is less immediately clear how to do it.

What Goes In and What Comes Out

If you manage citations in Zotero, you should always double check whether you’re getting the correct output for your style requirements.

In many cases, it will be. In some, it might not be.

But when a citation isn’t quite right, I normally find I haven’t put something into Zotero as I needed to.

So before you manually edit notes, try to save yourself some effort. See if you can simply adjust your Zotero records to allow the software to give you the output you need.

Some particular examples might include cases where you’re citing

Zotero’s rich text options can also be helpful since you can use them to refine formatting both in Zotero records and in the citation dialog.

But If You Need to Make Adjustments …

Sometimes though, you might still need to make adjustments to the final citation Zotero gives you.

This is particularly likely if you’re needing to observe a house style that Zotero doesn’t already support and you’re not able or inclined to learn how to create your own citation style file.

If you find yourself in this place, you have a couple options.

First, you can directly edit the note in your document. This will break further updates from Zotero and allow you to keep your customized note, although you may be asked to confirm this is what you want to do.1

Alternatively, you can open whatever note you need to change in the Zotero editor.

If you’re using the default citation dialog, you’ll need to click the “Z” icon on the left-hand side and choose “Classic View” before you can manually change the citation.

Zotero default citation dialog

After you have the classic citation editor open, click “Show editor” in the bottom left-hand corner of the citation editor dialog box.

Zotero classic edit citation dialog

Once you do so, Zotero will open a miniature word processing box at the bottom of the citation dialog.

Zotero edit citation dialog with the manual editor shown

Simply make whatever changes you wish in this box, press “OK,” and Zotero will update your citation accordingly.

You can follow a similar process to edit specific entries in a Zotero-linked bibliography in your document, if you have one.

And If You Need to Get the Citation Back to How It Was?

So the Zotero editor allows you to make whatever custom changes you need for any given citation.

There is a downside to this process though. Once you manually edit a citation, that citation is “stuck” in that form.

Any changes to that resource’s record in your Zotero database won’t update the citation.

To get a citation that reflects what’s currently in your Zotero database, you could create a new citation and delete the old one that you edited.

But this can be cumbersome, especially if you’ve cited several sources together in a particular Zotero reference.

The better method is simply to edit the note you need to reconnect to your “live” Zotero database. To do so, reopen the classic citation editor, and delete the manually edited version of your citation.2

Press “OK” when prompted to acknowledge that the citation will be empty. And voila—Zotero will reprocess the note and relink it to the information currently in your database.

Using the Zotero edit citation dialog to relink a citation to live Zotero data

Conclusion

To save yourself work in the long run, its always best to avoid manually editing citations when working with Zotero.

But on those occasions where you need some custom output, simply follow the steps here to adjust notes and, if necessary, “give them back” to Zotero to handle automatically.


  1. For this suggestion, I’m grateful to the kind folks at Zotero via Twitter

  2. For this point, I’m grateful to adomasven via the Zotero forums

6 Reasons to Use Zotero in Your Research

A good reference manager can be an incredibly helpful tool in 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.

I stumbled upon Zotero and started using it in the fall of 2007, thanks to some helpful input from Westminster Seminary’s writing center.

Zotero was useful then, but in the years since, ongoing development has made it an even more robust and helpful research tool.

Over the years, I’ve blogged about Zotero a good deal. But a reader recently asked if I recommended it, and I realized it might be useful to put a few reasons behind my hearty “yes.”

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. (Why Zotero?)

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.

But Zotero also has support for other biblical studies styles like those from Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Currents in Biblical Research, and Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche.

So even if you need something a bit different from these, you can likely get close enough to make pretty minimal the 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 Word.

As a further plus, if I ever decide to start using Writer instead—or if you use Writer rather than Word—Zotero supports Writer just as well.

5. You can “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.

Of course, 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? You can attach that PDF directly to the citation and so save everything in one place.

Zotero also provides some cloud storage so that you can sync a minimal number of files among multiple PCs.

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.

Conclusion

A student recently 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 sounds 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.

Do you use Zotero? If so, what other reasons do you have for using it?

Daily Gleanings: Software (1 August 2019)

Zotero releases a substantial update to improve cross-compatibility among word processors. Zotero comments,

While this conversion process is required to move active citations in and out of Google Docs, you can also use it to move documents between Word and LibreOffice without some of the problems inherent in Bookmarks mode.

Zotero also provides step-by-step instructions for switching between all three word processors it now supports—Google Docs, LibreOffice, and Microsoft Word.

For more information on this update, see Zotero’s original post.


I’ve previously mentioned PhraseExpress as a helpful tool for saving and quickly replicating text content. The tool works quite well overall and currently reports that it’s now saved me more than 66 hours of typing time (!).

A downside, however, is that it’s difficult to share content built in PhraseExpress with others unless they also use PhraseExpress.

Happily, however, PhraseExpander—a competitor platform—has created an export tool for Windows users. The tool does quite a nice job moving PhraseExpress content into a basic CSV format that can then be saved, manipulated, and shared outside PhraseExpress.