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Zotero: A Convenient Way to Manage the Research Process

The Internet has revolutionized research papers. Students no longer need to toil over reference books in the library; multiple sources of information can be uncovered in just a few mouse clicks. Word processing programs that point out spelling and grammatical errors further simplify the process.

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.

Download Options

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.

Additional Features

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.

Written August 28, 2013 by Stacy Zeiger


User Reviews & Comments

11/23/2015 Harwinder
I'm going to have to vote for OneNote. I've used OneNote extensively since the 2003 vesroin, and I'm currently using the 2010 vesroin. I've tried Evernote at various times, and I agree with Brandon Carmichael above that Evernote is not as flexible OneNote. I was continually trying to do things in Evernote that I can do in OneNote and finding it did not have the functionality.OneNote has features that Evernote does not have:1. OneNote has superior organization with its Notebook, Section, Page, Subpage setup.2. OneNote allows for superior organization on the page itself. It allows for hierarchical lists. You can even collapse and expand any indented paragraph below headings for ease of navigating through lengthy notes.3. OneNote allows you to write/type/draw/insert pictures or screen clips anywhere on its canvas. This means that you can easily do mind maps. It also allows for greater flexibility in note taking. For instance, I'm doing research on natural law right now. My research is going into my ST notebook, in the Revelation/Bibliology section on a natural law page. Each book or article receives a column, and I can scroll horizontally to see the sources that I've consulted. In Evernote I'd have one very long page full of notes, and it would be hard to see what my sources were.4. OneNote has superior table creation abilities.5. OneNote has styles built in6. OneNote allows you to copy files right on to OneNote pages. So if you have a Word document or a PDF or an Excel file relevant to what you are doing, you can drag and drop them right onto the relevant OneNote page. So when I receive a chapter to edit at work, I'll drag the Word doc into OneNote. I can open and work on the document right from OneNote. Any research I do or notes I take about the chapter can take place on the OneNote page.7. OneNote has superior sharing tools. My work OneNote notebook is shared with my coworkers via our network. My wife and I shared a wedding planning notebook via Dropbox. Notebooks can also be shared via the cloud using the Skydrive. The person you are sharing with does not have OneNote, they can access the notebook via the Skydrive. Or you can easily e-mail pages from OneNote or the OneNote app.8. OneNote plays nice with links. I can link to any page or paragraph within OneNote. This makes for easy cross referencing of notes. I can also link to files outside OneNote (e.g., to a book I have in PDF form) or to Logos resources.Almost everything that the Evernote folks are saying they like about Evernote is already a feature in OneNote:1. OneNote converts handwriting into text with a high degree of accuracy.2. OneNote recognizes text in images. All images in OneNote with text are indexed and searchable. (This includes text that bends with pages or text in other orientations than horizontal; e.g., it would recognize the text on the spines of book, if you snapped a picture of your bookshelf.) You can also copy text from images and paste it.3. OneNote does a superb job with its own built-in search capabilities. It can even search by author if you're using a shared notebook. OneNote is also recognized by the search built into PCs, so if you're searching your PC for something, OneNote sections will be included in the results.4. OneNote has customizable tags. You can search and sort by tag.5. OneNote is mobile and in the cloud. With 2010 you can access OneNote on a PC (though not a Mac), iPhone/iPad, or on the Web. Microsoft has produced an iPhone/iPod Touch app. I use this on my iPad. MobileNoter has produced an iPad app.6. OneNote comes with the base package of Office 2010, and you get 25 GB of free storage on the Windows SkyDrive (rather than Evernote's 1 GB per month). So if you've already invested in Office, OneNote could be the less expensive route.7. Data in OneNote is easily exportable. I'm not sure how one exports data in Evernote, but in OneNote you can save any page or section as a Word document, PDF, or even in HTML. If you want to export an entire notebook at once you can save it as a PDF.One downside: OneNote does not have a Mac application. But if you're collaborating with someone using a Mac, they can access OneNote notebooks via the Skydrive.I would highly recommend using OneNote over Evernote. The two exceptions would be if you use a Mac as your primary computer or if you find Office too pricey. Otherwise, OneNote does everything that Evernote does plus a lot more.

02/18/2015 Marianne

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