If you aren’t, you should be using Zotero. It amazes me to see researchers ‘managing’ their references manually these days. It’s complicated, takes time, is prone to errors, and simply unnecessary. There are many options out there to manage your references, but you should look at the free and open Zotero. You can install it on all your devices, you’re not limited in the number of citations you can use, you can take it with you when you change workplace, and in fact you’re not even restricted to the feature of Zotero because you can use plugins. Seamless integration in word processors isn’t going to stand out from the competition, but getting stuff into Zotero takes no effort at all — it’s unparalleled easy with just one click in your web browser. You get free syncing, too. There really is no reason not to keep notes of what you are reading.

After grabbing Zotero, you probably want Zotfile, too. Zotfile manages your PDF versions of research articles. In my view, the most useful feature is the ability to extract highlighted text from the PDF. It’s so practical that I sometimes even don’t take proper notes (for the main points, you should store them in your brain anyway).

Image credit: Zotero, Zotfile

Collaborative writing in SciFlow now with Zotero

This deserves mentioning: The collaborating writing service SciFlow now supports Zotero. You can find instructions here and here; all you need is an account with Zotero for syncing. Like the Mendeley link they provide, fetching references from the connected (Zotero) account can be a bit sluggish if you have a large library. If you’re a student writing up a term paper or a Master thesis, you will probably not notice this. If you have a more substantial collection of references, you will notice this. A downside of the Zotero link is that it searches your complete library, including notes and extracted annotations if you have this. I would have liked a more selective sync to speed up things.

So I’m still waiting for a reference search like in Authorea or ZoteroBib. With the many export styles to choose from, SciFlow easily beats Google Docs, and it works in a limited way on a mobile phone (you can log in and edit the text, but formatting etc. are now disabled in recent versions).

How to Add References in Footnotes in SciFlow

SciFlow is an exciting platform for collaborative academic writing. Perhaps similar to Authorea, SciFlow comes with no restrictions. One limitation I faced was that it seemed impossible to add reference in footnotes. If you enter a footnote, and add a reference there, the reference is added after the footnote. That’s not what we want. Let’s walk through the workaround:

You can add references in footnotes, though, if you copy the text (with the reference) into a footnote. To do so, write the text of the footnote on a new line, select the entire paragraph, and click on the “footnote” symbol (or cut and paste).

It turns out, there is a bug in the way references in footnotes are displayed (which the developers expect to iron out very soon), which made me believe that you cannot add references in footnotes. You get a “NO RENDERER SUPPLIED” error instead of the reference field.

Here’s your reference:


And this is what it looks like when you export the document:

updated on 1 September to reflect bug fix!

Zotero and Zotfile

Apparently there are still researchers out there (no, I won’t name you) who have not heard of Zotero and Zotfile. Zotfile takes Zotero to another level by managing PDF files, including the ability to extract highlights and comments from PDF files. Try them.