what is zotero, & why do I need it?

Zotero is a tool that helps you collect, organize, cite, save, and communicate your research, both individually and collaborating in groups.

collect:
  • Zotero helps you collect research with one-click: library catalog searches, library databases, booksellers, blogs, and just about anything else. When you click on the icon, Zotero stores the bibliographic data, the url, files (if available), and in the case of a website or blog, a snapshot of the page. This last one is important if you are citing to something that may disappear or change without warning.
  • You can attach any pdf, image, audio, video, or other type of file to the entry, as well as any notes you take.
  • For things that you can't automatically store with one-click, like things in print that you didn't find on the web, it is very easy to enter the bibliographic data by hand.
  • Zotero indexes it all (even the pdfs), allowing you to search easily amongst what you have collected.
organize:
  • Zotero does not store things in a nest of folders. It stores everything in the your main library, and you may then add that entry to any number of collections or subcollections. Think iTune playlist, only without the annoying parts of iTunes.
  • You can save searches, which then create smart collections inside your Zotero (e.g., "items added in the last 7 days", or "every blog entry from OpinioJuris")
  • TAGS! With tags, you can create your own taxonomy. One tag might be "case history", with which you tag everything in your research that has to do with the history of the case you are writing about. Then when it comes time to write, click on the "case history" tag in Zotero, and there will be listed all of your sources and note on that topic.
cite:
  • Zotero automagically puts your bibliographic data into proper citation form, allowing you to easily cite your sources.
  • There are over 6750 citation styles available at last count, including the Bluebook. Unfortunately, the several Bluebook citation styles for regular Zotero are not all that accurate, and they do not have the ability to make a bibliography entry for you. To solve this, I have written our own, which is much more accurate and does create a bibliography entry. It is still not perfect, and you need to check its output, but it does a decent job with the major types of citations. You can get it and instructions on how to install it on its page on this website.
  • If you are using Microsoft Word, LibreOffice Writer, or OpenOffice Writer, Zotero has a plugin that gives you a Zotero toolbar and the ability to search Zotero and pull up your research entries, edit them, and create footnotes or endnotes. It is pretty slick.
  • If you are using Google Docs, or are writing a blog, or sending an email, or using almost any other text editor, you can just drag and drop citations directly from Zotero into your doc/email/whatever.
save & sync:
  • Zotero automatically syncs your research on as many devices as you choose (laptop, desktop, etc.)
  • It makes it painless to upgrade to a new computer; just install Zotero and sync.
  • Your research is available from any web browser pointed at zotero.org, so you can use it even when you don't have your computer with you, but you do have access to the web.
  • While it is not a complete substitute for other backing up of your research, it does store the latest version of your data in the Zotero cloud, which can be a part of your 3-2-1 backup strategy.
  • There are mobile clients for smartphones and tablets.
  • You get 300 Mb of storage on the Zotero.org servers for free, and more storage is dirt cheap.
collaborate:
  • By setting up shared group folders, it makes it really easy to collaborate as part of a group. This is ideal for moot court teams, group projects, and the like.
  • If you want, and only if you want, you can choose to share your resources with the world. Many scholars do this after they publish to allow others to build on their work. It is a personal choice, and strictly up to you.

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