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Organising Your Research With Reference Management Tools (e.g. Zotero)

Zotero Library in Firefox


Reference management software helps researchers and students with the essential but often tedious tasks of collecting, organising and citing their sources. This tutorial focuses on using Zotero, a free online reference manager, which can do tasks such as:

  • Save a reference to a trial, session or Ordinary's Account from the Proceedings, as well as references to other primary and secondary sources
  • Annotate references and add attachments
  • Organise related references into Collections, and tag references with keywords
  • Export bibliographies in a variety of formats
  • Insert citations from Zotero straight into your work as you type
  • Use Zotero's Group functions for collaborating with colleagues or student group projects

In addition, Zotero has online storage facilities so you can keep your references synchronised across different computers.

Zotero isn't the only tool of this type currently available (some alternatives are listed below). We focus on Zotero in this tutorial because it has already been closely integrated into the Proceedings, enabling you to save many documents with a single click of your mouse.

Getting Started with Zotero

Zotero pane in Firefox

Firstly, you will need to install Zotero (and sign up for a user account for the online storage and sharing features). Until very recently, Zotero has only been available as a plugin for the Firefox browser, but a standalone version has recently been released that works with other browsers.

Zotero has extensive help guides and video tutorials and this tutorial will only introduce a few of its features, focusing on using Zotero to support research or teaching with the Proceedings. The following sections will assume that you've already installed Zotero and familiarised yourself with basic actions and the layout of the Zotero pane. Links to Zotero documentation will take you to more detailed information.

The tutorial is written using the Firefox plugin, but the new standalone version works in very similar ways.

Saving References

Zotero icon in address bar

Zotero can automatically sense and save bibliographical information in many websites, including the Proceedings. Once Zotero is installed in your browser, you will be able to see a small icon in the address bar when viewing any webpage that contains information Zotero can understand. This icon will change slightly depending on the type of item (or items) on the page.

Single Document

For any trial, Ordinary's Account or Session view, the Zotero icon is an image of a single page. All you need to do to save the information for the page is to click on the icon.

If you then open your Zotero pane (by clicking on the Zotero logo at the bottom of your browser), you'll be able to review the saved reference in your Library.

Zotero icon in address bar

Search Results

For search results pages, the Zotero icon is an image of a file. When you click on this icon a check list of all the items on the page that Zotero can save will appear.

For example, this is the list Zotero will offer on the first page of results from a search for infanticides tried from 1760. You can save any or all of the results from the search, as well as the search query itself so that you can return to it later if you need to.

Select the items you want by checking the boxes, click on OK, and Zotero will save them as individual items in your Library.

Other Pages

Zotero references

Historical background and similar pages in the Proceedings do not have Zotero icons. You can still save these to Zotero, but it will take a couple of extra clicks of your mouse.

When viewing the page you want to save, open the Zotero pane. At the top of the pane, in the centre, you can see a row of small icons. Click on the Create New Item From Current Page icon and basic information about the page will be saved (including a snapshot of the page itself, if you have this setting turned on in your Zotero Preferences).

Other Sources

Of course, you are unlikely to use the Proceedings as your only source in your research! Many websites used by researchers, for both primary and secondary sources, are Zotero-enabled, including Google Books, Bibliography of British and Irish History (BBIH) and the English Short Title Catalogue. Unfortunately, however, many key sites for researchers are not so conveniently supported (yet). But there are several other options:

Working in Zotero

Zotero references

Once you have some references in Zotero, you can start working with them. All Zotero items are saved as a bibliographical type: each automatically saved reference from the Proceedings is given the type Case, with some key basic citation information including:

  • Case Name (the document title, exactly as it appeared in the web page)
  • URL of the page
  • Date Accessed
  • Reference Number

Saved search queries also store full details of the parameters of the search.

Limitations: Zotero's automatic save does not (at present) save the date of the document as a separate field, although it is usually included in the Case Name field.

Zotero icon in address bar


You can edit your Zotero items in various ways to add further details to this very basic information. Ultimately, these features can make your Zotero Library a sophisticated research management tool.

  • To attach a file to an item in your Library, first right click on the item in the centre section of the Zotero pane. This will open a dialog that includes the option to Add Attachment. You have a number of options: you can save a snapshot of the saved web page (this may be useful if working offline) or simply a link to it; or you can attach a file from your computer, such as a PDF copy of an article.
  • You can add notes to items using the built-in Notes editor. Again, right-click on the item you want to add a note to, but this time select the option to Add Note; or go to the Notes tab in the right-hand section of the Zotero pane and click on the Add button. This will open the rich-text Notes editor. You can add multiple Notes to any item.


There are several ways of organising the items in your Library.

  • You can add tags to categorise items, using the Tags tab in the right-hand section of the Zotero pane.
  • You can link individual items using the Related tab in the right-hand section of the Zotero pane.
  • You can also put items into Collections. Create a Collection by clicking on the New Collection icon above the left-hand section of the Zotero pane, and then you simply drag and drop items into it. Items can be put into multiple Collections, and you can have as many Collections as you like.

Exporting from Zotero

Once you have saved, annotated and organised your reference collections, you want to be able to get them back out of Zotero so that you can use them. Zotero offers extensive export functions to insert your references in printed publications, dissertations and web pages, share them in reading lists and syllabuses, export them to other software, and so on.

Zotero saves references in a simple text database, and any work of styling or formatting is done during export. This separation of the underlying bibliographic data from the output means that it is very easy to correctly format and re-format your Library items for almost any purpose. For example, if you are reworking your PhD dissertation into a book for which the publisher requires a particular bibliographical style, you do not need to manually edit all your footnotes and bibliography: Zotero can do it for you.

A number of standard citation styles come already bundled into Zotero when you install it. Historians will probably find the Chicago Manual or Modern Humanities Research Association styles most useful. But there are many more available in the Zotero Styles Repository - some specially customised for specific journals' requirements. It is very easy to install a style from the Repository if the standard ones do not cover your needs.

Zotero Create bibliography dialog

Creating a Bibliography

In the Zotero pane, select the references you want to include in a bibliography. Often it is easiest to do this by creating a Collection specifically for them. Then you simply right-click on the Collection folder, or select multiple items from anywhere in the Library view, and select Create Bibliography From...

You will be presented with a box to select a citation Style and output format.

  • Save as RTF - may be particularly convenient if you are creating a reading list to distribute to students
  • Save as HTML - enables you to publish the bibliography as a web page
  • Copy to Clipboard - allows you to paste the formatted bibliography straight into a word-processed document

Exporting as Bibliographic Data

You can also export a bibliography in several different formats for use in other bibliographic or database software. Again, right-click on your selected items, but this time select the Export option. You will be presented with a number of possible formats: you will need to check the documentation for the software you want to export the bibliography to in order to find out which will be compatible (but BibTex will usually work). It is also possible but less straightforward to export Zotero data to CSV (or similar) for importing into non-bibliographical software (try searching the Zotero forums for help).

Word Processor Integration

Zotero Add footnote dialog

You can integrate Zotero into Word or OpenOffice so you can insert citations from your Zotero Library straight into documents as you type. However, automatically saved Proceedings items deviate significantly from our recommended citation formats when exported into footnotes in this way and you will need to use the Editor in the Zotero Add Footnote dialogue to amend the formatting.

Collaboration using Groups

As well as working with your private Library, you can also set up Group Libraries that you can use to facilitate collaboration with colleagues (or among students). A Group Library can be subdivided into Collections in exactly the same way as your private Library.

There are three types of Group:

  • Private - can be accessed only by members of the group; new members can only be added by Group admins
  • Public, Closed - anyone can view the Group's page on the Zotero website, but they can join only by invitation
  • Public, Open - anyone with a Zotero account can join the Group from the Zotero website

Example Uses of Groups

Old Bailey API and Zotero

The Zotero Old Bailey translator is designed to work with the Old Bailey API as well. After performing a search on the API page, clicking the page icon in the URL bar will save a reference to your search as a Zotero item (using the case item type) as a Search Results Set.

  • note for advanced users: appended to the Zotero item will be a zip file containing the full text of all of the cases and a text file (JSON) that lists all of the case identifiers.

Upon saving searches from the OBAPI, the translator also provides a link in the extra field of the Zotero item, which automatically points to and references the first 300 items in that search.


send to url dialog

We have created a Zotero plug-in that allows users to create ad hoc collections of text, attachments, or URLs from within their Zotero libraries and send them to analytic tools like Voyeur. It is not a default component of Zotero, so download the Firefox plug-in. if you are using Firefox to download it, it should install automatically.

To use the plug-in, select items from your Zotero library and click the gear icon. Select Send to URL.

You will then see a dialog box that wants to know what you want to do with your items. The easiest option is to select one of the predefined services, like Voyeur (the default selection). You will also need to select which Zotero item fields you’d like to use. Advanced users can create custom URLs to send to other web services.

send to url

The Send To URL plug-in and Old Bailey translator have been designed to work seamlessly together. When using the Zotero translator to save search results from the Old Bailey API, the translator saves a reference URL that can be used by other services, like Voyeur, to reference those results. This URL is stored in the Extra field of the Zotero item. Therefore, when sending to Voyeur a search result set (or several of them) obtained from the OB API, be sure to include only Extra field.

You can also use the Zotero translator to save the text of individual cases from the Old Bailey website and send them to Voyeur. Because the translator saves the trial text as a Note (a kind of attachment to Zotero items), you’ll need to be sure that only the Notes box is checked on the plug-in dialog box.

After clicking OK, your data is send via HTTP to the selected service or the specified URL. Whatever result that the service returns will appear in a new browser tab.

Limitations: At this time there are two important limitations that we are working to overcome.

  1. When saving a search result set from the OBAPI, the Voyeur URL that is saved in the Zotero item (in the extra field) can only reference about 300 individual cases.
  2. It is not possible to send both single cases and search results sets to Voyeur from Zotero at the same time.

Alternatives to Zotero

Because bibliographical data has standard formats, you can import and export your bibliographies between reference managers. This means that you are never tied to a single option. You might like Zotero's ability to ingest data from webpages with one click, but prefer to use Endnote's integration with MS Word or Mendeley's online editing facilities - you can mix and match.