Like many paper-writing academic types, I typically employ a haphazard and ill-planned technique for reference-handling when writing papers. I have EndNote and BibTeX, and I have used them both at times, but I really have never been entirely satisfied. I have liked EndNote at times, but the truth is the version I have is old and clunky, and I am not all that thrilled about plunging another $100 some-odd dollars into an updated version. BibTeX was great while I was using LaTeX, but most earth science journals do not accept LaTeX file submissions, and none of my collaborators are ever comfortable with LaTeX, which means I have to constantly import and export from Microsoft Word to LaTeX and back. A pain. Plus, BibTeX is great for most things, but putting out a .rtf formatted bibliography is not one of them. So to summarize, I want something cheap (read: free) that works well with Microsoft Word (the standard for my collaborators).
Enter Loose Baggy Monster, my better half. One of her favorite things in the world is playing with new word processing related software. Seriously, I'm not joking. She is especially excited about reference management utilities and other things that let her release her humanities dorkosity.
She pointed me toward Zotero, a free reference and bibliography management utility that works through FireFox, and integrates beautifully with Word 2004. I've now become a convert, and decided it is time to spread the word. Now, there are many features in Zotero I don't yet use or understand, and I am sure in the future I'll do a better job showing off it's power, but here are some screen shots describing why I like Zotero. Oh, and if you want, click on the pictures to see higher resolution versions.
First off, Zotero makes importing references into your database very easy. I do all of my reference searching on web-based applications, such as my current GeoRef interface (shown below).
You will notice that in the browser address bar, there is a little orange folder. That means that this page has enbedded bibliographic information that Zotero can read, and import directly into your database. This is a GeoRef search for the term "jimboite."
If you click the orange folder, a window appears with all of references that appear on the page. You select which ones you want in your database, and once you click OK that are imported. You can see that there is another window on the bottom right showing the references that are currently being imported.You will also notice that on the bottom of my browser window, there is the little "Zotero" icon. If you click this, you are taken to your personal database. You can see that one of the articles I had searched for and selected in my "jimboite" search is now in my database. I should mention here that this database is held on your hard drive, so even though it runs through a web browser, you don't have to be online to access your downloaded or otherwise entered database. Nor must you be on the interwebs to use the "cite while you write" functionality in Word 2004.
So now lets go to Word and start writing that landmark paper. You can see that because I installed the free Zotero plugin for Word, I have a little Zotero menu bar up on the top of the screen shot. So I've written my first stunning introductory sentence, and now want to insert a reference. I click one of the menu bar buttons.
And this window comes up. I can select what citation style I want to use. Truth is there aren't as of yet that many earth science citation styles available, but someone did make the AGU general style, which I tend to like. On the Zotero web site you can download and install the AGU style (it does not come standard), and there is also a style-maker that I have yet to figure out.
After I click AGU, I am then shown a window where I select the reference that I want to include. You can chose one or multiple, either way it is pretty simple.
Click "OK" and voila! the paranthetical citation is entered into the word file.
So now I'll add some more text and reference, and then click the menu bar button that says "Zotero Insert Bibliography" and Ka-Bam! Instant formatted bibliography.
Now GeoRef isn't the only web search engine that lets you download references straight away. Most of the individual publisher or journal web pages do as well. There are plenty of other features I like, for example you can take snapshots of web pages if you wish to record and later reference those; you can link references in your database directly to the .pdf's on your hard drive, and so on.
There are some things I want Zotero to improve on. First I'd like more citation styles. Zotero also does not have any decent way to sort out duplicate references, which is a headache. But, Zotero is one of those programs it seems is improving quickly. And hell, it's free!
So as of now I am a convert.