Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fear Research No More - Zotero

All through elementary school, middle school, and high school, I dreaded the infamous research paper. All of the emphasis on plagiarism, paraphrasing, and citing your sources scared the graphite out of me.

I used to rely pretty heavily, therefore, on websites such as Citation Machine or EasyBib. After all, let's be honest: who is actually going to read the ever-changing manuals on APA or MLA style (aside from the individuals who wrote it, I mean)? Not to mention, there are now more than a half-dozen other organized ways of citing one's sources thrown into the mix.

Our society nowadays doesn't allow us the freedom to sit and read a half dozen citation manuals. Too much is expected of us. This, however, doesn't diminish the need to give authors the credit they deserve. It's not only the law, if you think about it, it is actually a way of networking and improving literature as a whole.

All that to say this: I never feared writing research papers because of the need to research or the need to cite sources. No, I have always wanted to give due credit for what I learn, and the research comes somewhat naturally to me because of curiosity. Actually, research papers always seemed so daunting because I was afraid I would forget to include a resource, and be innocently tagged as a plagiarizer. Then I found Zotero.

Enter Zotero

In short, having Zotero is like having your own database of references. Its like having your own Dewey-decimal system to your own augmented road map of knowledge. Face it: there is so much knowledge out there today that it is impossible to learn it all in college classes and get out in a reasonable time (5 years for engineers, nowadays). At best, we can skim the knowledge that is out there, take notes on it, and hope we still own the book after we graduate and enter the work world. We can't possibly memorize all the textbook content we've ever viewed.

Capabilities

Okay, enough dramatic complaints about our current-day academics. Here is what I find useful in Zotero:

  • One click while searching articles in a database or books on Amazon.com or even videos on YouTube, and Zotero saves the resource as well as the URL to it in your personal database
  • If you sign up for a free account with Zotero, you can sync and access your resources online and across multiple installations.
  • When you install the standalone application, plugins are automatically installed for:
    • Firefox and/or Google Chrome for saving resources straight from the browser
    • LibreOffice, OpenOffice, etc. for entering inline citations or an automatically-formatted sources cited section at the end of your document
  • The document can be switched between dozens of citation formats with a couple clicks, including the most common formats: APA, MLA, IEEE, etc.
  • Zotero has standalone installations for Windows Users, Mac Users, and Linux Users
  • Zotero is Free.

Gone is the day when you had to schedule a 3-hour block just to write in all of your in-text citations, and manually type and format your sources cited. At least, those days are gone for me because I've installed Zotero.

Final Thoughts

If you are a college student like I am, I highly recommend looking into and installing Zotero. I can see this resource being very useful for my senior project, or for you master's students out there, for your theses.

This could also be useful for compiling one's own equations reference as I try to do. Sometimes you need to know what page of what book to reference for a further explanation of a particular equation.

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