An Information Organization Tool for Academics and Students Alike

Tired of searching through hundreds of bookmarks or searching through a bunch of folders on your computer for that website or paper that you know you saw and now need but can’t remember where you put it?  I might just have a solution to your informational organization woes.

Every spring term I teach CH 407 Seminar which is a capstone class for our chemistry majors in which they are required to carry out an in depth literature review on a topic of current interest in chemistry, biochemistry, environmental or forensic science and present a public seminar on that topic.  One of the things I try to do in all my classes that involve students developing research and writing skills is to expose them to different technological tools that can aid in completing their projects.  This year the students learned to use an open source information manager called Zotero which allows you to collect, manage, and generate citations for research sources.  While there are a number of research management tools out there, Zotero is a good choice for students because it is both a cross-platform solution and is free!  Zotero was developed as a plug-in for Firefox but can work in other browsers such as Chrome and Safari through the Zotero standalone application.  Zotero allows you to organize your research materials into searchable project collections, attach pdfs, notes and images to your citations and generate bibliographies using word processors such as Word or OpenOffice.  You can sync your Zotero library allowing access from multiple computers.  References can be added to your Zotero library directly from a database, a journal’s website, a Google Scholar search, a library’s catalog, a webpage, from pdf files you have made by scanningdocuments or from pdfs that are stored on your hard drive, etc.  When needed, you can generate citations in one of more than two thousand formats.  This is a particularly useful feature for my students who are required to prepare and distribute an annotated bibliography to accompany their seminar presentation.  Here is a short video that gives you an overview of the features of Zotero:

While free is a very good price for students, there are other options for the gainfully employed academic.  Probably the closest rival to Zotero in the paid market is Endnote ($249.95 download or $299.95 shipped ; $113.95 with student discount).  Both tools possess many similar features.  There is a very good article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Brian Coxall that compares the two products.  If you are interested in a reference management tool, I would suggest you read Brian’s article to see which solution is right for you.

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