As we begin this spring, and a fresh semester full of new projects, we thought it appropriate to give you a leg up on your upcoming schoolwork with some amazing software (before you get your hands dirty in research papers and finals). While you begin think about what some of your end-of-the-semester work will look like, or if you need to do some spring cleaning, you might want to consider Zotero, a truly amazing — and free — digital organizer.
Zotero is an offline desktop app that organizes your research. It looks familiar (a little bit like Finder or Windows Explorer), and gives a hierarchal structure to your research materials. Zotero allows you to catalog articles, books, pdfs, web pages, and almost any other document while also keeping track of citations–authors, publishers, dates, ISBNs, urls etc. It organizes your notes, and allows you to attach .pdfs to them. If, for example, you’ve found a journal article on Human–Bovine Plagues in the Early Middle Ages, you can save the entire article and append a note to self: Does Gary Larson have a comic about this?
Once you’ve saved a document to Zotero you can add tags to categorize resources across projects or folders, which can not only offer interesting metadata at the end of your research but allow you to assemble chapters. For example, tagging documents by year means that you can search by that year, and create a chronology of events. You could catalog dates or places, and by the time you’ve filed all your sources, begin to see trends in certain kinds of documents or particular people over space in time.
Zotero also comes as a browser extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox which allows you to save files to your desktop with a simple button, automatically keeping track of file type and citation information. This feature is a perfect for research done online, and keeps your work neat and tidy.