UC Santa Barbara > History Department > Prof. Marcuse > Presentations Page > Zotero & Endnote (June 2007)
Screenshot of Zotero screen
Screenshot of a maximized Zotero screen

Zotero and Endnote:
Note-Taking & Bibliographic Software
for Historians

presentation by
Harold Marcuse


UCSB History Department
June 8, 2007
(page begun 6/2/07, last updated 9/20/08)

Taking Research Notes
Zotero Demonstration
Other Note-Taking Programs


  • In teaching the History department's Senior Honors Seminar (in which I asked the students to ask their mentors how they take research notes), and in my own graduate seminars I've realized that the way historians organize their research can indeed be seen as "haphazard, idiosyncratic, and often bordering on the untenable," as reported by a Minnesota libraries study quoted by Roy Rosenzweig in a Dec. 4-5, 2006 interview.
  • However, figuring out a good system may be the key to successfully writing a dissertation.
  • I started out with an index card system, which I explain in greater detail below.
  • When conducting my own dissertation research in the late 1980s, I developed an elaborate database structure within microsoft word by typing in records with a specific sequence of items as individual paragraphs, each starting with a sortable date format. [add screenshot here]
  • I reviewed several software programs at that time, including hypercard, asksam, librarymaster, and procite, the latter of which I purchased (version 3) and used to a limited extent. For instance, I hired a student to use it to catalog the UCSB history honors theses written at UCSB, 1981-1997. I've posted sample output from that database, sorted by author, containing the information:
    Author. Year. Title, MentorName, Location.
  • In my Winter 2007 graduate seminar (homepage), several students were using Endnote, and I attended a UCSB library orientation session on the free, web-based version of that program. I had also just received a notice of the new release of Zotero, a free, open-source bibliographic database plugin for the Firefox brower, designed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University (CHNM homepage). I have been using their online "survey builder" in several of my courses , and am very impressed by the tools that they offer for free. (2007 133c midterm evaluation survey at CHNM; compare to my 2004 form. For an idea of the power of the survey tool, see also results of 2006 2c intro survey).
  • I've begun trying to make Zotero work for my next research project, and decided I could offer to present the results of my efforts to interested students and colleagues.
    This page contains the steps and links of that presentation.

How do historians take research notes? (back to top)

  • The results of my students' inquiries of their mentors (and my observations of graduate students) confirm the Minnesota study cited above: this procedure can be called "haphazard, idiosyncratic, and often bordering on the untenable." Here are some examples:
    • Index cards were and are the classic method, 3"x5" seem to be the preferred size. Various color codes and symbols help to keep collections organized.
    • Photocopies in binders are also among the most often mentioned;
    • Spiral notebooks, yellow legal pads, and word processor files;
    • yellow post-its in books, digital photographs, ...
  • We'll start the session by going around the room and having everyone describe how they've done this.
  • The index card system I started out with will be the basis of this presentation, although I'll try to explain how it might work for some other listeners' systems. My idea for this presentation is to demonstrate how the software can be used to mimic electronically what people do in the real world with physical objects.
    • (Back in the early days of e-commerce--purchasing things on the internet--programmers quickly realized that they had to mimic what store shoppers do because shoppers were incredibly frustrated by their on-line experiences. Thus the procedures "Add to shopping cart, check out, confirm payment" soon became standard .)
    • Ok, so what kinds of 3x5" index cards did I work with? [link to page of scans here]
      1. White BIBLIOgraphy cards, headed by the AUTHORLASTNAME, Firstname -- Year
      2. Blue BIOgraphy cards, headed by the PERSONLASTNAME (birthyear-deathyear)
      3. Orange LOCATION cards, headed by a site (e.g. name of a concentration camp)
      4. Yellow or green HIERARCHICAL KEYWORD cards resembling Library of Congress Subject traces, adapted for my specific projects. For different projects I'd use a different color (yellow for my dissertation on Dachau, green for my Master's on memorials).
      5. Pink CONCEPT/DEFINITION cards to keep track of literature and quotations.
      6. Last but not least, as mentioned above, I used word processor files to actually take my notes from my primary source documents (and some books), in a database-compatible format that I could use to sort by date. Each archive had its own folder containing files named according to the collections I used there, and the date I took the notes. (show examples: screenshot directory; filenames)
  • In the presentation I'll discuss how I organized the material for a comparative exhibition on monuments commemorating events during the Nazi era, which focused on memorials for three main groups:
    • Civilians, Persecutees, and Soldiers,
    • primarily in 4 countries: East and West Germany (aggressors), France and Poland (victims).
    The final publication (show Stones of Contention brochure), however, organzed the material in a very different way: Groups, locations, forms, symbols, inscriptions, each of the four countries.
  • For my dissertation study of Dachau, however, I soon accumulated too many cards to travel with, and as mentioned above, I developed a database-like system within Microsoft Word documents. [add screenshots here]
    1. To keep organized, I created separate folders for each archive I visited, with separate files for collection within that archive.
    2. I later integrated all of the records (date-sorted paragraphs) together in a large master file (actually, because word couldn't effectively handle so much text back then, it was 3 master files covering periods of time: 1945-55, 1956-68, 1969-present).
    3. When I began writing I pulled records (paragraphs) containing certain words out and created new files on specific topics, which I then printed and used while writing. As a former computer programmer in my undergraduate days in college, I used macros to automate the process, but it was clear to me that a database program could do this much more effectively.
  • I would guess that these systems cover much of what we historians do. Now the question is: How/to what extent can we get the bibliographic database software to mimic this system?
    • What most of the software is designed for is to automatically create records (index cards) for books, by importing records from library (and other) databases. In other words, it does my White bibliography cards really well.
    • Additionally, it can easily link to web pages, pdfs, photographs, word processor files for anything else on the internet or the computer hard drive.
    • And it is easy to paste existing text into these "notecards," for example a table of contents on the publisher's website (or from amazon).
    • Finally, most such software allows for tags, which is computer lingo for keywords (of the non-hierarchical kind). (Wikipedia entry on tags; example: YouTube -- Kuril, Hiroshima, Dresden+bombing)
  • Before we try to answer this question, we need to get the software onto our computer and become familiar with what it does.

Endnote (back to top)

  • I'm not planning to go into Endnote in any depth, except perhaps to login and show how it looks. I think Zotero is superior in most respects (see also disadvantages, below) :
    • Endnote is primarily a reference/citation manager, whereas Zotero not only manages references (with more efficient drag-and-drop capabilities), but also manages, sorts and searches the notes you take on those works.
      [In June 2007 Endnote released version X1, which (for the upgrade price of $90...) does some of the linking to web pages and other materials that are hallmarks of Zotero.]
    • Zotero creates records from amazon.com pages and major newspapers
    • Zotero easily archives web pages, and allows you to annotate them with sticky notes (cool!)[note: I think in Firefox the Bookmarks toolbar must be visible: View>Toolbars]
    • Zotero doesn 't need the extra steps for filtered importing that Endnote does
    • Zotero has fewer output formats, but does do Turabian and MLA, the most common for historians (so you don't have to wade through long lists of possibilities)
    • Zotero is open source with a nonprofit historical institution (CHNM) spearheading it, and some grants for future development. Once it has a dedicated user base, including some technogeeks, new developments will come more quickly (PC magazine rated it a top pick of free software, so technogeeks have taken note, not just historians).
    • [However: I don't know about size and number of record restrictions; ease of backing up]
  • Endnote Links

Zotero: Installation and Familiarization (back to top)

  • As with any new software, there is a learning curve, and some hurdles to overcome before you can work comfortably and efficiently with that program. For Zotero, you will need to do some basic software installation before you can start working.
    1. You will need to download, install, and use the Firefox browser (version 2.0 or higher).
      You will have to do the usual: agree to term, save to your desktop, then exit your programs and install firefox.
    2. Run firefox. If you have been using microsoft's Internet Explorer, you'll have to get used to a few things that look and work a little differently. But rest assured, this is worth it, this is a much better program. Go to zotero.org and download the plugin.
    3. While we're downloading and installing, you might as well get the Microsoft word plugin that will allow you to "cite as you write." Chose the Mac or Windows version of the compressed zip file on Zotero's word processor integration page. This is a much trickier step, and since it is still in "alpha" release (testing stage), it may not work with your version of word. You will need to:
      • unzip it,
      • put it into the proper directory (C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Templates)[or in the startup folder],
      • open word and install the template (Tools > Templates).
      • You may have to lower the security settings in Tools > Macros, and then
      • you should restart word.
      • If all Zotero Word iconsgoes well, three new icons will appear at the top of your word screen. They communicate with zotero and allow you to insert citations, generate a bibliography from the works you've cited in your document, and set preferences.
    4. Just to be on the safe side, close all programs, reboot your computer, and open Firefox again.
  • If all zotero word logohas gone well, the word Zotero should appear in the lower right corner of your Firefox window. Click on it to open the Zotero window in the lower half of your browser window. (In general, there are 3 ways of accessing any feature in most programs we use: icons, menus, and shortcut keys. This is also true for zotero: Tools > Zotero, and Ctrl+Alt+Z will open it as well.)
  • You will see that Zotero has three columns/panes in that window:
    1. Left: a listing of file folders
    2. Center: a listing of the items in the folder selected in the left pane
    3. Right: some tabs showing information about the particular item in the center pane.
  • Who has an ipod/uses itunes? This structure is similar to the way it organizes your music.
  • What do all of the buttons do? Which ones do I need to know?
  • Describe the different kinds of records Zotero creates:
    1. bibliography records (for books, articles, newspaper articles)
    2. web page "snapshots" (actually not an image, but the whole page of text+images)
    3. notes: free-form records that you create (can be subsidiary to types 1 & 2)
      These would be useful for the keyword cards that I used.
  • I note that the documentation, especially the screencast tutorials are excellent introductions. (Only: they don't really deal with producing output, like generating bibliographies and "reports.")
    • Note that the 10 screencasts are arranged in columns, with the title at the head of the column, and the content of each screencast in the same font below its snapshot.

Zotero: Demonstration (back to top)

  • What can I do with Zotero?
    1. Who's got a book? -- look it up in Pegasus, UC Libraries, or amazon, download the record.
      Try a colleague's name, or someone like Peter Novick or Konrad Jarausch.
    2. How about reviews of that book? Search the web-google book scholar, look in jstor, expanded academic, project muse (proxy), proquest - UCSB libraries databases.
      : Historical Abstracts; New York Times, Washington Post
    3. How about websites about the author? google
  • What's useful?
    • It pre-writes bibliography entries, saving time that can be used for note-taking.
    • It helps to keep track of locations of documents and files.
    • It can quickly pull together records with the same keywords.
    • It can quickly generate "bibliographies," and footnotes.
      • For bibliographies, highlight (ctrl- and shift-click) the items you want to include, then right-click them and select whether you want the bib as .rtf, .html, or in your clipboard to paste into a document. Can also be used with all items in a folder.
      • For footnotes, you need to install the zotero.dot template of macros into microsoft Word (as described above). Firefox must be open. [This didn't work during my demo--couldn't communicate; a Zotero forum contributor got it to work by reinstalling Zotero]
      • I don't think the "reports" feature works yet--nothing happens when I choose it.
    • They are developing a "server side" (online) version, which will make sharing information and notes easy (useful for classes, e.g. for my "Collective Memory" seminar)
  • What are some obvious uses?
    • Creating bibliographies for graduate student comprehensive exams!
    • Creating bibliographies for syllabi and courses
  • What are the disadvantages? (go to advantages, above)
    • It doesn't recognize duplicate records. (But you can't add the same record to a collection twice)
    • It is cumbersome to integrate multiple records for the same item.
    • It is difficult to back up (and transfer). They recommend using firefox's portable version, running on a memory stick.
      Until/unless you export the MyLibrary, the actual data is stored at (for example):
      C:\Documents and Settings\User History\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\
    • It is based on ONE computer. Unless you only and always work from the same laptop or run it off of a memory stick, it needs to be transferred from one computer to another.
    • It doesn't work with melvyl. [Melvyl translator bug reported June 2, 2007: Error ID 1079427153] [note 6/11/07: a UCSB librarian said that melvyl is being phased out, to be replaced by the OCLC web version]

Links (back to top)

  • Wikipedia
  • Thomson Researchsoft has purchased all three of the best-selling commercial programs:
  • Asksam.com: a freeform database (you define how your records look), and is the closest thing to doing index cards on a computer that I have found. You can use it with citation, which adds some "cite as you write" functionality. Costs: $150 (+$75?).
  • Comparisons
    • asksam vs. endnote/citation, user feedback from Copenhagen History dept., with a detailed explanation of how & why that dept. uses the program and teaches it to students.
    • In 1998 the Yale Library got a grant to compare the personal bibliographic database software, including asksam, procite and endnote (then vers. 3, now version X). They published a short summary of the comparison study in 2000. It's outdated now, but still gives an idea of the general functionality of the programs.
    • Humboldt State did an overview of database managers in 2006. It contains links to other pages of comparisons.
  • Microsoft Office Onenote 2007 (part of Microsoft Office 2007)
    • detailed description by the Academic Superstore, $45. "Office OneNote 2007 delivers the flexibility to gather and organize text, pictures, digital handwriting, audio and video recordings, and more--all in one digital notebook on your computer. Office OneNote 2007 can help you become more productive by keeping the information you need at your fingertips and reducing time spent searching for information across e-mail messages, paper notebooks, file folders, and printouts."
  • Citation 9, description from AcademicSuperstore.com ($80 student version, $130 teacher)

Other Note-Taking Programs (back to top) [begun 9/19/08]

After using (and liking) Zotero to do the citations for several articles in 2007, I realized that it is really best for managing bibliographic information, but not (or less) suitable for taking notes on keyword cards. (At least I can't figure out an intuitive way of doing this--searching tags and dragging into folders, then sorting on the first line is one way, but wouldn't it be nice to have several columns to sort on?? This seems to be a common problem: see this Apr. 2008 discussion thread). If you want to put pressure on the developers to implement this functionality, say it on the discussion thread. They call this feature "ticket 672"--you can refer to that.

In 2008 I began searching for another program to do this. These are some results of that search:

  • Scribe3, formerly part of Filemaker Pro, taken over by the CHNM, and being merged into/superceded by Zotero, although Zotero's "notes" entries really don't have the full functionality of my research note cards (specific fields for page numbers, hierarchical key words, perhaps other things). However, it is clunky in importing bibliographic records from anywhere but amazon.
  • Ndexcards. This is a very promising program. The 30-day trial is consecutive calendar days, so plan your trial accordingly.
    • Here is what they write about research notetaking, which looks like my research process:
      Write a research paper
      • Begin by gathering source materials - books, magazines, periodicals, interviews, etc. Make a Source card for each item, and needed Author cards.
      • As you read - use Summary / Paraphrase / Quotation note cards to take notes, and link them to Source / Author cards. If you did not make these cards earlier, you can do so now.
      • Take advantage of Auto-keyword, automatic new note, type-ahead features to take a series of note cards quickly on the same article or book.
      • Begin outlining the paper using the Project feature - add headings & see where your notes will fit. As you discover gaps in the paper, do additional research / take more notes.
      • When your project outline looks ready for a draft - export into your word processor for editing. Your bibliography will be exported too.
  • Here are some programs I examined and rejected as unsuitable:
    • Microsoft Office Onenote 2007 (part of Microsoft Office 2007)
      • more like an electronic notebook

page created by Harold Marcuse, June 2, 2007, last updated: see header
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