Digital Research Tools: Zotero Reviewed

The Education Techie reviews tech tools that can help students and teachers. This week, the Techie is taking a look at online research tools. Today's review: Zotero.

zotero logo

What Is It?

Zotero is an academic research and project management program with collaboration and social networking capabilities. The program also works across different platforms, so you can sync your account and access the same information on different devices. You can use the program on mobile devices, but unlike some other research tools reviewed for this series, it doesn't have its own app.

To use Zotero, you must register for an account and download the program. Once registered, you can save articles and information by clicking an icon in your browser. You can simply extract data for citation, or you can save entire articles in PDF format. It's also possible to archive websites that might change or update and alter necessary information.

Users can also organize their information into categories and folders. The program features a powerful search function that covers everything you add - including PDFs. You can also add notes to any of the items you add to Zotero, and the search function applies to these notes as well. Another strength of the search function is that you can save specific searches that you find yourself performing over and over.

If you want to add a citation to a paper using information stored in your Zotero account, you can do so using one of the many styles of citation template that come with the program. Bibliographies can be automatically generated using the citations you add, and there are multiple styles to choose from here, as well. Switching between styles is as simple as choosing from a drop-down menu - there's no need to reenter or reformat your information manually. This works through integration with two word processors: Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.

Collaboration and social networking features include the ability to share your information with other Zotero users. You can choose to collaborate automatically, or you can stay private if you would like. Users also have the ability to connect to others in their field, sharing research and information digitally.

What Makes It Cool?

For some users, the biggest pro just might be the fact that Zotero is free and open source. Plus, the project was developed by academics at George Mason University.

The program's interface is straightforward and user-friendly - in an introductory video made by Zotero's developers, it is described as being similar to Apple's iTunes interface. In addition to being easy-to-use, there is plenty of additional troubleshooting and user support available through the software's website.

As a research tool, this program is versatile and effective. It's probably not useful for non-academic work, or at least for work that doesn't require research, citation and writing. However, the program is described as an academic research tool, and with functions like word processor plug-ins and the ability to store all types of files, it's a program that has use that reaches beyond simple storage and organization.

What Are Its Drawbacks?

Zotero has a lot of great features, but its one serious drawback will probably be a deal breaker for many: Zotero currenlty only works with Firefox. Other browsers, like Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera, are not supported. This is due to the fact that Zotero operates in your browser as an extension, and other browsers don't provide the right support for the program. According to the Zotero site, though, the developers are working to make the program compatible with any browser.

This is the second review in a series about academic research tools. Previously, the Techie reviewed Dropbox and Mendeley. Stay tuned for more of these reviews this week!

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