Zotero is among other things, a Firefox add-on which allows you to note, or save research information that you fine online. As a professional writer, this is no small task because while virtually no client requires me to submit a bibliography or list of sources along with my work, I am still accountable to be able to produce just such a thing upon request. In other words, a pro writer has to be able to show just where, when, and how they got the facts and information in documents that they have written. Zotero manages citations for you.
If a professionally written article refers to Supreme Court Justices who were members of Skull and Crossbones, it isn’t good enough to say, "I found it online somewhere." Even if you could re-locate the information and even if you could pull it up rather quickly, the slightest delay or hesitation raises questions about the article’s veracity, and potentially reflects badly upon you professionally.
What a freelance writer has to be able to say, without any doubt or hesitation, when asked about a source is, "Yes, I have that information. I can email it to you if you would like."
Also, if there is ever a copyright questions, particularly the kind where someone else claims to have written something you wrote (making you the plagiarist), having all of your research and sources cataloged and available can go a long way toward proving just who originally wrote the item. (Think, the scene in the movie Working Girl with Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford when she shows Mr. Trask just how she came up with the idea for buying radio station.)
However, cataloging, or even bookmarking, all of your research as you write is a tedious and very time consuming task. A professional writer can turn out hundreds of items in a month sometimes. Keeping track of every source manually would be a nightmare.
Zotero Research Bibliography Tool
Zotero solves this problem for students, researchers, and writers. The best thing about Zotero is that it easily allows you to create a link, or snapshot, or citation for whatever source you are viewing just by clicking a couple of buttons.
Zotero will even create the bibliography citation or appropriate footnote for you based on the sources you have saved with Zotero whether you are using MLA Style or a less rigorous research format. It even integrates with Microsoft Word and other word processors that you can drag and drop a cite right into the paper you are working on.
However, as my business has grown and the number and complexity of articles I write continues to increase, I find myself with too much Zotero, and not enough ways to manage it all.
You see, I managed my Zotero citations much like I used to manage my bookmarks, with folders and sub-folders. But, much like my bookmarks, using folders to not only collect and manage, but also to retrieve what I need, has grown overly cumbersome.
I can no longer remember if that interview with the CEO of IBM about cloud computing is under, Tech –> Online –> Computing, or if it is under Management –> Strategies –> Online, or in any number of other places.
The answer, just like with my bookmarks, is tags.
Unfortunately, Zotero’s tagging system is pretty week. You can add tags, but to do so, you have to click ADD, and then type the tag you want to add to the item. You can only add one tag at a time, so each additional tag is another click and more typing. The worst part is that there is no way to tag an item by selecting existing tags. So, you have to keep straight whether you are tagging your Twitter research as Social Media, Social Networking, Social Marketing, or Twitter.
This just won’t do.
So, today I start looking at other plug-ins or add-ons that may do a better job, but I do so with much trepidation. After all, Zotero does what it does very, very, well, and I’m worried that other plug-ins will be too "dumbed down", more focused on letting half-wits re-find that YouTube video of animals taking a dump on people’s lawns than on being able to document and cite information.
Maybe a future update will bring Zotero better tagging support, or maybe I’m just a handful of mouse-clicks away from utility that is even better.
We shall see.