The Challenge of Organizing Research
While technology has improved the process of researching and writing research papers, the middle stage of the process, organizing the often-onerous process of research, has lagged behind. However, this stage can also benefit from new innovations.
The home page gives an overview of what Zotero offers.
Zotero is a free tool which aims to fill the need of writers and researchers to organize information. Its purpose is to help writers and researchers collect, organize, cite and share their research sources. Zotero captures full web pages, including bibliographic information.
Since Zotero is a program, users need to download it. The web site offers two options: one for Firefox, which allows the user to collect and organize information within the browser, and a standalone version, which runs independently and plugs into the user’s choice of browser.
There are a couple of options for downloading.
Learning to Use Zotero
A three-minute video tour on the web site provides a great overview of the site. It walks the user through the steps needed to collect research from web sites.
The video tour gives an excellent overview.
Zotero’s web site also includes a well-organized collection of text directions arranged into categories including Organize, Collect, Cite and Collaborate. The explanations are brief and concise, which is great for users who choose to learn by doing over reading long sets of directions. These instructional items are located under a tab called “Documentation” which may lead to users skipping over it, not realizing the page’s purpose.
Users will appreciate concise directions.
When using the standalone version of the program, users need to right-click on items they wish to save in My Library, Zotero’s offline receptacle for information.
Online research is organized into My Library.
While surfing for information online, a small pop-up appears in the lower right side of the screen, confirming that the web page has been saved. From there, users can organize documents based on topic, making this a good choice for students who may be simultaneously writing multiple papers. Selecting a saved page from My Library creates a small document where the user can make notes about the source.
Users can make their own notes about research materials.
A function that allows users to create tags provides additional options for organizing information. It’s important to view the site’s video tutorial and read through the additional information, because the offline program contains little information about how to use it.
Though the downloaded program will be where users do most of their work, Zotero’s web site includes useful features beyond video tours and directions. Zotero People is a potentially useful feature.
People are searchable by discipline.
This community allows users to identify others who are researching the same or similar topics. Creating a profile and uploading a CV allows users to interact and share their Zotero libraries. (img)
Users can also connect with each other via Zotero Groups, which allows for remote collaboration on projects. A brief video tutorial explains how to maximize the use of the groups feature.
Groups allow users to collaborate.
Finally, the Forums page gives users the possibility of getting quick feedback and information from other members. Topics, which currently number a dozen, include General, Troubleshooting and Special Interests- Law and Special Interests- Social Science.
Forums provide another option for users to interact with each other.
Students or teachers whose work involves heavy amounts of research will find Zotero a useful tool. However, more casual researchers may prefer something that’s a little quicker and easier to master.
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