Feature spotlight: note-taking

Most users don’t just like to read and gather sources; they like to take notes on them. We’ve all got little scribbles in the margins of books, on post-its, and on notepads (real and virtual). Zotero makes it easy to keep all those annotations, jots, and notes all in one place, and all searchable. And with the recent addition of the ‘grab a chunk of text off the screen’ capability added in the latest version of Zotero, that process has become even easier. Here’s an overview of note-taking to simplify your life.

Reading and Writing
As a scholarly workbench, Zotero reflects a basic understanding of the researcher as a crossbreed between a reader and a writer. Does browsing MIT’s Wearable Computing pages provoke a thought? Does reviewing the presiding judge’s ruling in Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. spark some insight? Simply open your Zotero pane, click on the “standalone note” icon in the middle column (Figure 1), and type away. No need to cumbersomely switch back and forth between your web browser and a desktop application (Figures 2 and 3).

middle_column_icons.jpgFigure 1. Five icons appear at the top of the middle column in the Zotero pane. The yellow square with a plus sign at far right is the “standalone note” icon.

Figure 2. Zotero integrates reading and writing within a single environment. You can resize the Zotero pane by clicking and dragging, thereby revealing more or less of the content in the browser window.

Figure 3. Enlargement of note in right column.

Grabbing Text
Because new research often incorporates pre-existing work, Zotero makes it easy for you to migrate quotable material from a web-based source into your notes. Highlight the relevant text, right-click (ctrl-click on the Mac) to open a pop-up menu, and select “Create Zotero Note from Selection” (Figures 4 and 5). In this way, Zotero facilitates transcription as well as annotation.

Figure 4. Zotero allows you to highlight plaintext and send it to a note.

Figure 5. The copied text appears in the right column of the Zotero pane.

Other Ways to Add Notes
To preserve the connection between source and annotation, first add the source item to your library and then either right-click on the title (ctrl-click on a Mac) in the middle column, choosing “add note” from the pop-up menu (Figure 6), or click on the note tab in the right column and select “Add” (Figure 7). If you return to the note later, you have the choice of editing it in the right column or in a separate window (Figure 8 ).

Figure 6. To associate a note with a specific item, right-click on the title of the relevant item in the middle column and select “Add Note” from the pop-up menu.

Figure 7. Another way to associate a note with an item is to click on the title in the middle column, select the “Notes” tab in the right column, and then click “Add.”

Figure 8. You can edit a note in the right column of your Zotero pane or, as shown here, in a separate window.

“Related” and “Tags” Options
You can cross-reference other items in your library by clicking the “Related” option in the bottom left corner of the note window (Figure 3). Doing so will open a menu from which you can choose a related reference, note, snapshot, or file. To select more than one, hold down the shift key and click all relevant items. Several notes can be appended to each item, all of them searchable. You can also add tags to notes by clicking “Tags” in the bottom left corner of the Note window (Figure 3).

Deleting a Note
Clicking on the minus sign that appears next to a note in the right column will delete it (Figure 9), as will right-clicking on the note icon (ctrl-clicking on the Mac) in the middle column and then selecting “Delete Selected Item from Library” (Figure 10).

Figure 9. Delete a note by clicking on the minus sign.

Figure 10. Delete a note by selecting “Delete Selected Item” from pop-up menu.

Find Out More
To learn more about Zotero’s capabilities, visit our online documentation, or check out Steve Bailey’s screencast.