Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Today's tech post is all about a little tool called Zotero. At its heart, Zotero is like iTunes for your research. You know how your MP3 player might have thousands of songs on it? What if you had no organization for it? What if you couldn't search for things by genre, or artist, or album? What if all you had was a big pile o' music that you had to sort through each time you wanted to listen to a song? I think most of us would go crazy in that situation. We wouldn't even consider subjecting ourselves to it. But researchers do this exact thing to themselves when they research. They compile a hoard of information on various subjects, then spend little to no time actually organizing that information. When the time comes to use a quote or find a reference, they discover they didn't write down where the quote

Enter Zotero.

It's a Firefox addon, which means that it's a program that works within Firefox. You open your Firefox web browser, and it's automatically running. When you find an article, web page, movie, book or whatever, you can import its information into Zotero. Zotero classifies things by tags, subjects, authors--you name it. Like iTunes, you get out of it what you put into it. When you import information, it's important that you look it over to make sure everything was imported properly. You add tags of your choosing. Put it into various reference collections you have going.

If you're only working with a handful of articles, Zotero is overkill. But if you're working on a large research project--a thesis, or research that spans several semesters--Zotero can be a life saver. No more lost citations, missing quotes, last-minute searches to find the article you could have sworn you had already printed off. Zotero lets you add notes to each entry, including particularly noteworthy passages if you want. Really, there's almost nothing you can't do with it. It does take some effort to learn the ropes, but for those who put in that effort and are serious about their research, it always pays off.

Already use Zotero? Tell us what you think! Have more questions about it? Please ask!

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