M. Willis Monroe

Editing Zotero Styles

I’ve been trying to use Zotero for a while now to manage my (growing) bibliography.  I first gave Mendeley a try, I think at the time I was attracted by their standalone client (Zotero was still dependent on Firefox running at the same time).  However, in Mendeley you couldn’t insert page numbers into a reference, which seemed crazy at the time, so back to Zotero I went.  I think Mendeley has since added the feature, but I’ve stuck with Zotero (and was quite happy to see the development of a standalone client soon after).  I find Zotero great when writing papers and articles where the established conventions of citation are rigorously codified in a number of styles.  The recent work I’ve been doing on my syllabus present a bit of a problem though.  I wrote a draft with all my assigned readings as normal Chicago style (author-date) citations surrounded by parentheses.  These looked kind of bad, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of deleting all the parentheses especially if every refresh of the bibliography (an amazing feature of any bibliography manager) would reset all the citations.

Instead I decided to copy the Chicago style style I was using and edit it to take out the parentheses.  This of course was a bit of a rabbit hole, and I could see it coming.  But I started with the Zotero wiki page on editing, did a quick find for parentheses and saw where they were being inserted for citations and removed them (but kept the parentheses for dates, issue number etc…).  Then I foolishly just tried importing my new style file into Zotero, which resulted in an error.  So I visited the wiki page on validation, which is actually not Zotero but the citation-style-language project, an open-source attempt to create shared xml citation style.  This page led me to two validators, only one of which worked, after a few rounds of validating and fixing errors I was good to go.  I re-imported it, changed the syllabus file to use that style, reloaded, and after much crunching and automated moving about the file re-emerged with all the citations missing their parentheses.  I did a few checks to see if the citations still updated if I changed something in my database, and all was well.

This was an interesting exercise in guided diversion.  I had a problem, managed to fix it after a bit of research and work, and now I’ll have an added tool going forward.  Of course having solved this problem I should return to my syllabus instead of writing this blog post…