Kevin Colyer's thoughts and ponderings

Semi-random rambles


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Using Zotero to manage bibliographies and simplify writing essays

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Zotero running with several collections on the left

I am a student again for the next three years and amidst the general perks of student life (leaving dirty dishes in the sink, book buying and NUS card discounts) there is the downside of having to write essays of which the worst part is writing bibliographies and formatting them correctly. Worse yet we need to use the Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA) style to format them, which is not the easiest style.

So as computers are supposed to make our lives easier I searched about for some software to help. I think I have found an amazing (and FREE) tool and I wanted to share it with you.

Zotero is a bibliography manager. This means it is a database you can put books (and any other resource – webpages, journals, pdf’s etc.), you can even make notes in it. Then you can create smaller folders (mini-bibliographies) with the sources you are using for different essays. It comes with plugins and exports that make sticking the references into the proper places in your essay very simple. It also dumps the bibliography in the right place too, and keeps it in alphabetically sorted, AND it formats each entry and citation perfectly according to the MHRA style (or any other it supports). Did I mention it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux and was free?

I enjoy getting sources into it the most. If you know the ISBN of a book for example you can type it in and, poof, it searches for the data and plops the entry in Zotero. If it gets it wrong you can change the data too.

The best bit comes when you are browsing the web. If you are searching for Journals, books (Amazon) or even what to source the webpage you are reading there is a small blue book icon that appears. Clicking this drops the resource straight into Zotero! If there are multiple sources you get to pick which. Wow. Utterly painless.

How it works

You can grab a copy from http://www.zotero.org. If you are a Firefox user then you are in luck as it integrates best with Firefox as a plugin. Otherwise you can install it as a standalone (which I do). At this point you will most likely to need to register an account at Zotero, which is also free and painless. This means your database is up to Zotero and even synchronised with another copy of Zotero if you have two computers. But you will need an account so you can use the Zotero plug-in for other browsers. Safari and Chrome are supported. You need to dig into the preferences of Zotero and the relevant plugin to enter your username and password. This is straightforward. Do make sure you select the MHRA style when asked (or go to preferences to select it) as otherwise it will diligently use the Chicago style or some other (saner) style and not MHRA.

So off you go, adding sources. I make sub folders for each essay and it is simple to drag and drop the sources about. I also make notes in Zotero when I am reading. Each source has a notes section. You can search and tag stuff and have as much fun as you wish.

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Selecting more sources – you can choose multiple sources if you want.

Writing an essey

Zotero has plugins for Word and for Libreoffice and offers to install when you install the main program. This offers you a handy little toolbar.

MHRA requires lots of footnotes. You can add footnotes in the normal way in your word processor, but when you want to add a citation you can click in the insert reference button on the Zotero toolbar in the word processor.

This pops up a bar on the screen. Type the author or a word from the title and Zotero will offer you a drop down list of sources to choose from. It puts a blue blob around the source once selected. Click on the blob to add a page number or page range. After that hit return or add another source if you want. Now the magic happens as you continue to edit and add resources Zotero keeps adapting the footnotes according the style rule.

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Inserting a citation (click on the blue oval to add pages)

You will of course need to add a bibliography section at the end. Again. Make the page you want it on click on the Insert Bibliography button and, poof!, a sorted and well formatted list is dropped in. This dynamically changes as you add new sources.

For the Durham Common Awards we have the added pleasure of needing different bibliographies for Primary sources, Secondary sources and Dictionaries. This is more troublesome but can be worked around in the following way. In Zotero make a separate collection folder for your essay and add the word “secondary” to it if you like and perhaps another collection with “dictionary” in the title. Add the appropriate sources to each folder. Then when you are done right-click on the folder and choose “Create Bibliography from Collection…”. This offers you several choices. I chose Copy to Clipboard and then pasted it into my essay after the proper heading. Poof (again!), a delightfully formatted sorted list.

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Choose where you want the bibliography to go. This grows as you add more citations

Over to you

I hope you find this useful. Do play with Zotero. I am finding this a genuinely useful tool playing to the strengths of the computer. Computers are good at formatting following complicated styling rules. Humans are not. Humans are good at selecting suitable sources for essays, computer are not! And that’s the way it should be.


One more thing – Getting the Modern Humanities Research Association Zotero style sheet with ibid!

This may not mean anything to you but the MHRA style sheet that comes with Zotero is wonderful but misses placing ibid as the authors name in a citation if it follows directly on from the last footnote. This is in the standard that I have to follow from Durham. Some kind folks have modified the style to include this feature. You should download it here.

To make it work you need to import it into Zotero. You do that from the Edit/Preferences menu. It brings up the dialog in the screenshot. If you click on the button marked 1 you will get a file picker and you can point it to the attachment .csl file.

Then all you need to do is to select the new style (2) and Zotero will format your footnotes even more perfectly!

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Beans Beas by 4rank CC by-nc 2.0 flickr.com


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Baked Beans on Toast!

Supply Chains to the Supermarkets

Milk and Butter Production

  1. Using the papers provided create a timeline for the production of Milk and Butter from farm to fridge. Write down as many in between steps as you can think of.
  2. How many people are involved in bringing milk and/or butter from farm to fridge?
  3. What is wonderful about the process?
  4. Does anything concern you? How could we respond?

You may use the internet to help you. You may find the following links of use:

Butter:

Human impact:

Tea Production

  1. Using the papers provided create a timeline for the production of tea from field to teapot. Write down as many in between steps as you can think of.
  2. How many people are involved in bringing tea to your teapot?
  3. What is wonderful about the process?
  4. Does anything concern you? How could we respond?

You may use the internet to help you. You may find the following links of use:

Human impact

Bread Production

  1. Using the papers provided create a timeline for the production of bread from field to toast. Write down as many in between steps as you can think of.
  2. How many people are involved in bringing bread to your toaster?
  3. What is wonderful about the process?
  4. Does anything concern you? How could we respond?

You may use the internet to help you. You may find the following links of use:

Human impact

Baked Beans Production

  1. Using the papers provided create a timeline for the production of baked beans from bush to saucepan. Write down as many in between steps as you can think of.
  2. How many people are involved in bringing baked beans to your saucepan?
  3. What is wonderful about the process?
  4. Does anything concern you? How could we respond?

You may use the internet to help you. You may find the following links of use:

Human Impact

 


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I am voting REMAIN tomorrow

So after weeks of the campaigns I am going to the polls tomorrow and I will vote REMAIN.

I am unconvinced by the arguments of Brexit that suggest leaving is sufficient to stem migrancy. I am certain that the legal disentanglement from Europe will take decades and will leave us poorer.  We will still be paying money to enter into the market-place to trade and then we will have no say in what happens there. I am not convinced that being British and standing alone is helpful for us. Isolation is not a great strategy.

I am certainly not on the side of Johnson, Gove, Duncan-Smith and especially Farage. I am hoping that a Remain vote will curtail Farage’s voice. I can’t imagine what future will look like in Britain if we leave as he will grow in importance in our politics. I think there is truth in the saying that the way immigrants are treated is how government would treat everyone if they could get away with it. I don’t want that future.

Instead I will vote along with the hundreds of historians, hundreds of economists and the vast group of people who want to be associated with the European project. It is not perfect but has brought peace and prosperity to a continent broken after two World Wars and thousands of years of feuding and strife. There has never been anything like the European Union. I value standing in solidarity with others than being in isolation. Being a part of the EU is good for all the other members, not just for us. It costs us peanuts compared to our ongoing costs for health, welfare and defense and arguably has lowered our defence budget much more than the millions we send each week.

Having live outside of the UK for 10 years I have seen much of Europe. I have visited the EU buildings, interacted with MEP’s and many of the people who work there. I have seen first hand the changes in many parts of Europe that membership has made to the many regions that have been poor and underdeveloped. I have seen the pride and engagement of many Eastern Europeans who have a future of safety and freedom from oppression in the EU. Many of these nations were under Soviet control as I grew up.

In sight of the EU parliament building in Brussels there is a small sliver of graffiti covered Berlin wall; standing next to it I feel relieved and thrilled that it no longer exists and the threat it implied of war and the symbol of division it embodied is no more.

I am proud of my Nobel Peace prize that I share with all European Union citizens. I don’t want to let my share slip from my hands.

Vote REMAIN with me tomorrow.