Citing Grammars with the SBL Handbook and Zotero

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

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

1. Cite section numbers wherever possible.

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

2. Cite grammars by abbreviation where applicable.

For many common Hebrew and Greek grammars, the SBL Handbook specifies an abbreviation by which to cite a given grammar (§8.4). For other works cited by abbreviation, also be sure to check IATG3.

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

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

3. Adjust your reference manager’s output accordingly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Double-click your custom CSL file. When prompted, choose to install the style in Zotero.
  2. To use this style, be sure to select the “Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note with abbreviations)” style in your document rather than the “Society of Biblical Literature 2nd edition (full note)” style from the repository.
  3. For any source you need to cite by abbreviation, add “Annote: [abbreviation]” at the top of that Zotero resource’s “Extra” field. So, for instance, for Blass-Debrunner-Funk, you would add “Annote: BDF”.

The upside of this method is that it will allow you to cite grammars by abbreviation while also using the Zotero add citation dialog. The downside is that you might still need to edit your bibliography manually to remove these sources and move them to an abbreviation list (per SBL Press’s requirement). But, you will probably know pretty well which few sources are cited by abbreviations and can edit the bibliography as needed to relocate these sources largely just by scanning through it.


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

If you want to cite them while using a reference manager, the process may be a bit more detailed to set up since the manager may not have a mechanism for handling largely custom citation patterns like the abbreviations SBL Press specifies for common grammars. But, with some careful thought about how you want to approach citing these kinds of resources, you can certainly streamline them into your existing citation process.

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

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

3 Ways to Increase Your Zotero Cloud Storage

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

AltYellow Photo by Darwin Vegher

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? Here are three options.

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.1 This option is probably the most straightforward. It may also make it easier for you to access your stored attachments via some mobile applications like PaperShip. But, 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 using the WebDav protocol.2 The Zotero documentation provides a list of providers whose WebDav service is known to work with Zotero.

Each of these WebDav providers makes available 2–15 GB of free storage. But, some also have lower limitations for individual attachment file sizes.

Certainly the most generous of these options is 4shared. 4shared’s maximum WebDav file size is 2 GB for their free plan. This is large enough to accommodate pretty well all the files I currently have stored in Zotero.

But, of course, larger attachments will eat away at 4shared’s 15 GB free allotment comparatively more quickly. At that point, a 4shared “premium” subscription would be necessary at $77.95 per year in order to allow up to 100 GB of attachments to be stored with no lower limitation imposed on the size of individual files.

So, synchronizing attachments via an alternative WebDav service may be more economical than doing so via Zotero storage. But, unless you already use 4shared or a comparable provider, it would still require an using additional cloud storage service.

3. Change where Zotero saves your attachments.

In this option, you can use cloud storage you already have to store Zotero attachments. 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.

From the “Files and Folders” tab of the Zotero Preferences dialog box,3 you can change the directory where Zotero saves all its files, including its main database. For a while, I changed this directory so that it would synchronize via Dropbox. But, as the Zotero documentation warns, I ended up corrupting my database and having to restore an earlier copy repeatedly.

Instead, a better method of implementing this option is to go ahead and synchronize your Zotero database via Zotero’s own protocol. This will help keep it from being corrupted. But, you can then move where Zotero stores the attachments.

For Windows users, this can be accomplished via a “symbolic link.” This isn’t the same as a “shortcut.” Instead, a “symbolic link” allows access to a file or folder via two different paths. To use a symbolic link to change the location of your Zotero storage directory, take 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 have a directory D:\OneDrive\Research\Zotero. This directory contains all the sub-folders and files Zotero looks for in “storage.”

c. Create the symbolic link 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 take you to the directory where you moved your Zotero 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.

Storing with or without Stores

Whether you use one of the paid or one of the free options, these steps should give you some additional options to manage your Zotero storage. In the end, of course, what matters is having the space you need to save your research and avoid needing to _re-_search for what you’ve previously found.

In what other ways have you increased your Zotero cloud storage? Linux- and Mac-using friends, what processes do you go through that correspond to (3) above?

  1. Zotero also offers special storage plans for laboratory and institution-wide deployments
  2. According to Microsoft, “Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) 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.” 
  3. To access this tab, open Zotero, and click Edit > Advanced > Files and Folders.