Zap Away Your Paper-Based Research Process With Zotero!
July 06, 2019

Zap Away Your Paper-Based Research Process With Zotero!

Benjamin Plotkin | TrustRadius Reviewer
Score 10 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User

Overall Satisfaction with Zotero

At present, I am the sole member of my immediate department using Zotero, but it is a well-regarded tool in the research community. I use Zotero to facilitate academic research projects, to collate sources and to facilitate the collection and management of sources, citations, and quotations. Zotero integrates with a wide variety of other software and web-based services to streamline academic research.
  • Zotero, when paired with the Zotfile plugin, makes it incredibly easy to index sources and documents on a project-by-project basis. Users can store document files locally in a Zotero project filesystem, or merely store links to files stored elsewhere.
  • Zotero plays extremely nicely with PDF documents, thanks again to the Zotfile plugin: I can highlight sections of a PDF article's text and Zotero indexes these "pull quotes" in a searchable and well-organized manner for easy extraction when it comes time to synthesize my sources into a new paper.
  • Zotero automates the production of properly-formatted references (including APA, MLA, Chicago, and others), making it a breeze to create accurate and complete bibliographies.
  • Zotero's library system provides a straightforward graphical user interface to manage multiple research projects and associated files, including the ability to easily add items to a project by ISBN, DOI, PMID, and arXiv IDs.
  • Zotero is a free, independent open-source project, and as such, it depends on the support of its users and developer community to extend the software and address bugs. Personally, I prefer the open-source approach but some users may wish for a paid option with dedicated support.
  • The Zotfile plugin is a must-have extension that turbocharges Zotero for me; however, it doesn't ship as part of Zotero, it must be installed by end-users, a process which involves .XPI files. This isn't a big deal, but it may be too much for non-technical users. It would be nice to see this functionality included in the core application.
  • Zotero does take a small investment of time for even tech-savvy end-users to get into the flow -- but once that small learning curve is scaled, it is intuitive and empowering.
  • Zotero is a free toolset, so my investment is limited to my time spent installing and configuring the product and the Zotfile extension, and teaching myself how to use it effectively -- and this time was very well spent, as Zotero and Zotfile greatly eased my efforts in researching and writing a large thesis paper. I estimate that, after taking my time investment into account, I have saved at least 50 hours of research time by going fully paperless with Zotero.
  • Zotero and Zotfile allow me to use the internet fearlessly as a research tool, as they help to automate away all of the minutiae of digital research. I have saved at least three hours of time managing my references page (this is a separate time saving from the research time I mention above).
  • By abstracting away most of the tedium associated with academic research, Zotero and Zotfile empowered me to focus on the actual research, allowing me to craft an exceptionally strong thesis project and paper that helped me secure first place in my master's program cohort.
Like Zotero, Mendeley is also available for MacOS, Windows, and Linux. It's also available for iOS and Android, whereas Zotero is not. Mendeley is not open source but is free, as well. Zotero's browser integration is superior to Mendeley's, however.

Qiqqa is limited to Windows and Android environments, making it a non-starter for me.

JabRef supports MacOS, Windows, and Linux, but focuses on bibliography reference management; I need Zotero's annotation extractions and file management capabilities.
Zotero (with its good buddy Zotfile) is well suited for any researcher who wants to go completely paperless in their research process, or who wants a centralized library system to manage their research projects, including attachments, notes, annotations, sources, and bibliographies. It is geared towards academic and social sciences researchers.

Zotero is a powerful tool with a learning curve, and as such it might not be worth the investment of time and energy for end-users with simple research project needs.