If you are from my generation, you know what UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT B A START means, your first e-mail account ended with hotmail.com, and the first five times you tried to use a reference manager, it sucked up so much time you were better off setting type by hand.
The fifth reference manager I tried, in October 2010, was Zotero. It wasn’t user friendly, had limited options, and I soon dismissed it like all the others.
But recently, thankfully, some people pointed my attention to Zotero again, and said it worked great. In first instance, I categorized them as people who will even say GitHub is user-friendly. You know, because they are tech-savvy youngsters who programmed in Minecraft on their iPad when they were 5.
But Zotero is great, and I’m so excited I just need to tell you some of it’s great features before you, like me, go on without it because you still think nothing can beat copy-pasting references by clicking Google Scholar’s ‘cite’ button.
Zotero has a standalone app. You can download it here, but be sure to also install the extension for the browser you use. If you load a webpage that has a scientific article on it, a symbol (either a folder, or a page) will appear in the browser bar.
If you click it, Zotero will automatically add the reference to your database. If you thought that was cool, wait until you see that Zotero also automatically downloads the PDF file (if you have access to it). If you use it on Google Scholar, and there’s a link to a PDF file there, Zotero will also download the PDF file (see below).
That’s right. In one click, you have the reference, and the PDF file stored in your database. See the .gif below that illustrates this process.
Talking about the database: wouldn’t it be nice if the database could be synced across multiple computers? It surely would, and it surely can!
Set up a box account. It will give you 10 GB to sync (which should be enough) for free. The Zotero servers will only allow you to sync 300MB for free, which is enough for the database, but not for the attachments. Create the account, and use dav.box.com/dav and your account name and password to sync (see below). Wait for everything to sync (I had 3 GB, which took a while), and then you can download the files to a second PC.
If you already have a large number of PDF files on your computer, just drag them into Zotero, select them, right-click, and choose ‘Retrieve Meta-data for PDF’ (see the .gif below). Zotero will recognize most (but not all) PDF files. If you have a few thousand articles, Google Scholar (which it uses) will block you for a day. Be patient, and spread out the automatic recognition over a few days.
Obviously Zotero comes with an easy to use add-in for word, and adding references and the bibliography is really easy (in any citation style you want – it has APA 6th edition). After enabling PDF indexing in the options, you can use Zotero for a super fast search through the content of all PDF files in your database. You can also create groups – I created two, one for each PhD student I supervise, so I can easily share papers I come across with them when I think they should read them, and vice versa.
In short, I’m completely sold. I was missing out on a great tool. Thanks to Maarten Derxen and Mark Dingemanse for convincing me to try Zotero again.
Are there some cool features of Zotero I missed? Let me know in the comments!