Which is better for an historian, Zotero or Revolution?

My research is not in libraries or books other materials from libraries, which Zotero seems to do well. Instead, I work in such primary sources as diaries, correspondence, photo albums, interviews, and the like. I'm trying to decide whether to adopt Zotero or to stay with "Revolution Studio," which I've been using since it replaced Hypercard which I first used 15 years ago on a Macintosh.

Can anyone who does something like what I do help me with these questions, and perhaps others to follow?

1. How do I create a unique compartment for each of my sources?
2. How do I label each note so that I can sort all my notes into the order in which I want to use them when it’s time to write?
3. How do I edit notes? I see no cut, copy, paste or clear buttons.
4. Why do some of my notes present themselves with a few words that show what’s on the note, but some do not?
5. Would you recommend I adopt Zotero?

  • Hi,
    I don't work on similar issues, but I think I can still answer some questions.

    1. I don't understand. What's a unique compartment? If you refer to different "types" - i.e. one for government document, one for diary etc. - that's not possible - you'll have to work with the ones offered by Zotero (which cover a lot, but not everything)

    2. Do yo mean notes or generally items in the database? It really depends on what you want - tags seem to be one thing you'd want to use, but in order to answer that question I'd have to know more precisely which workflow you have in mind

    3. Using keyboard shortcuts would be the easiest: copy isc ctrl+c, cut ist ctrl+x, paste ist ctrl+v and clear is select all, i.e .ctrl+a followed by delete. If you really want to you can select them from the Firefox Edit Menue.

    Note, too, that you'll have so called rich text options (bold, italics etc.) starting with version 1.5

    4. The label for notes (if by notes you really do mean _notes_) consist of their text until the first return.

    5. My sense is that Zotero's biggest comparative advantage over other software is in its incredibly smooth online integration, combined with it's word processor integration.
    If you're not using either of these features, but plan to use Zotero mainly as a note-management tool my sense is that there might be better programs for your specific purpose - but I wouldn't know which one, nor woult I be certain.
  • Adam,
    Thanks. I should have explained better. A thousand years ago I was taught that historians take notes on 3x5 slips of paper, so they can re-order the hundreds or thousands collected for a book. What you end up with, after re-ordering infinitely is the order in which you need the notes when it's time to write. That's what I mean by "notes." those 3x5 slips of paper. In Hypercard/Revolution (H/R), you can create a cyber-equivalent, even to the degree that it looks like a 3x5 note, and you can sort the notes by putting certain codes into one of the "fields."
    "Compartments" may have been a bad choice of words. What I meant is that on each note you need three "fields," although you can create as many as you want. "Field" is the word used by H/R. You can write in each one. So in the biggest one in the middle of the note, you write the information. In a smaller one, say to the left, you write the source. In the smallest one, say at the top, you write a series of letters and numbers that allow you to sort. So "a1" will end up before "a2." The codes actually look like "05a3c03d2," or so.
    I learned computerese at a Dell mainframe with all those control commands, so I know and use them all. But I tried them in the five or six notes I created in Zotero, and they did nothing. I'll try again because I probably did something wrong.
    Your overall view that if I need a note-management tool, Zotero may not be it, is the one that leaps off the page at me. I hope to hear from someone else, too, so that maybe I can give it a try. Lord knows, it's cheaper than Revolution, and I have to replace Revolution.
    Believe me, I'm grateful for your effort. Thank you.
  • edited January 28, 2009
    OK -- I think for what you want Zotero works quite well.

    You probably don't want to use the note feature or at least not produce "stand alone notes".

    Try the following:
    Instead of a note, create a new item each time - maybe "report" would be a good category- this gives you not just 3 but a huge number of fields (you can obviously ignore most of them if you want). You can then use a field - e.g. call number - to put in your code and use the title and publication field to lable your note.
    You can then decide to either use the abstract field to write up your note, or you can right click on the item and write "add note" which allows you to attach a note to the specific item. This note stays with the item in all cases so you don't need to worry how it's labeled or sorted - this will be done with the item.
    If you want to order your items now, look at the middle panel. On the right (next to "creator") there is a little icon that looks like a table - it lets you select the categories displayed for each item in the middle panel. Select "call number".
    Now you can click on "Call Number" and the entries will automatically sort by call number.
    You can combine this with folders (aka collections/subcollections) - i.e. collect items in a folder and only sort the items in that folder . You can also combine this with a search - first search for something, then only order those items that came up as results from that search.

    If you like a 3*5 card look try out the "generate report" feature (also with right click).

    I wasn't saying that Zotero isn't suited as note-management software. I'm just saying it's probably not the best note-management software out there (people here have noted some limitations - I don't remember exactly what, though).
    But if it serves your need and saves you a couple of hundreds bucks I think it's a good choice.
  • But I also think you can do a lot with stand items, tags, collections and notes. If you are worried about sorting of notes, do a search through the forums archives for discussion of some ways to do this.
  • edited January 29, 2009
    What I meant is that on each note you need three "fields," although you can create as many as you want. ... So in the biggest one in the middle of the note, you write the information. In a smaller one, say to the left, you write the source. In the smallest one, say at the top, you write a series of letters and numbers that allow you to sort.
    Actually, Zotero can simplify your workflow a lot. Right now, you have to enter your source info every time you're creating a new note, even if the source is the same. Zotero allows you to enter your source once, in a parent item. Item types appropriate for you would be letter, interview, manuscript (for diaries), and document (for photo albums). Then you can create child notes from this parent item (right-click on the parent and select "add note" from the menu).

    Zotero sorts notes by the text in the beginning of the note, so you can just add your sort code as the first characters in the note.

    The only serious limitation of Zotero for notetaking is sorting notes independently from sources. Currently, you can sort notes independently only in reports, which is good for printing them out but not good for tagging or adding comments. You can see the discussion here.


    You will see from the discussion that adding this feature is planned but it's not currently a priority for the developer team. It would be great to get this done because this question comes up every time I recommend Zotero for historians. I'm doing this again today, and what am I going to tell my students about this?
  • Zotero can greatly enhance efficiency over the 3x5 card method by allowing not only reordering but also duplication and tagging too.
  • edited February 7, 2011
    If I may add a short comment... once you created folder and sub-folder (in which your sources can be multiplied - exist in diffrent location but still strored one as one) and used tags to classify your datas, you might also want to try a third party program, like a mind-maping program which could allow you to link to files stored in Zotero.

    For example: https://vue-forums.uit.tufts.edu/posts/list/521.page

    What is really great about Zotero... well one of the thing that is... is its capacity to interact with other programs.

    Edit: more plug-in here: http://www.zotero.org/support/plugins
  • edited July 7, 2011
    As a newly minted author...I just received a two book (history research) and I've been using the Beta of Scrivener. Scrivener was an award-winning program for writers which has until now only been available for Mac OS X.

    It offers you the option of using note cards to aid you in your research and your writing process. If you are a non-linear writer like I am this is the program for you.

    I use Scrivener, Zotero and Dropbox. What else could a historian want other than more time?

  • @19Ron49 - your post reads like borderline spam. Be careful about that in the future.
    @RobertoLee's post is definitely spam. Let's delete it and that account?
This discussion has been closed.