Monday, April 29, 2013

Wrangle Story Research With Zotero

Merp? But it's the penultimate day, you say. Why am I posting "Z"? Well, as I was looking at my topics, I realized that the best and most important writing hack is "Y," and that "Y" would be a great one to end this little journey. So I'm going to post "Z" today, and "Y" to end everything tomorrow.

As a broke grad student (wait, that's redundant), one is always on the lookout for inexpensive solutions to problems. And one problem I have as a grad student is citation management. A friend tipped me toward an open-source citation manager called Zotero.

Right. So Zotero does all those cool things like throw in an in-line citation (Schley 2013) and create a bibliography. Neither of which are things a fiction writer often has to do, though if you need something more robust, it can handle that.

But what really makes Zotero nice for my fiction writing is its ability to wrangle multiple types of sources at once. For instance, I can have a PDF of an article attached to its citation so that the citation automatically launches the PDF when I need it. Or, the reference might be for a URL for a website with great info. Or perhaps I check a book out of the library, and make notes about the important stuff that's relevant to my novel right into the citation, and then, if I need the book again, all the info about which book it was is right at my fingertips so that I can check it back out.

Then, I can group all my citations for any given book into a folder, so that all the resources I've used for one book appear in one place. 

Best of all? I can tag all those sources with their topics or any other tag that is relevant to me. The sources still stay in the main bin, but they can be pulled up by tag. For instance, I try to keep heavy research to two books, so that at any given time, I'm doing two spins on the same set of research. So for Book A I might need resources on topic Q, but I'll need topic Q resources for Book B, also. When I begin outlining Book B, instead of just browsing everything I set aside for Book A, I can just click on the tag for topic Q, and add those citations to a new folder.

We're all trying to craft a story that our readers can get lost in with full suspension of disbelief. But to do that well means potentially keeping track of a lot of little niggling details. Zotero lets me outsource some of that work, so that I can focus on the important part: the writing.

What do you use, if anything, to keep track of where your noveling research has taken you? Bookmarking sites? Goodreads or Library Thing? Your Amazon Wish List?


This month I'm participating in the A-Z blog challenge. My theme is "writer hacks," or 26 shortcuts you can do as a writer to get the most out of writing and the journey toward and through publication. Find out more about it at, and hop around to read the other cool blogs that are part of the challenge!


  1. Zotero sounds really good. Thanks for sharing.

    1. It's pretty awesome! Happy to help with any questions if you decide to use it.

  2. Congratulations on finishing the A - Z Challenge!
    A month of Blog...


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