Latex and Zotero: why is it so complicated ?

Dear all,

Zotero seems fantastic. But...

I'm new here, and almost new with Zotero as I moved from Jabref recently. I wish I could give some feedback and hopefully get useful tips.
I am using, as many, Latex, to write articles. Journals (or fields of research) usually have their own abbreviations, and citation style, most using the bibtex format. In my field (astrophysics, but physics in general would probably be the same), bibtex is simply THE format.

So having a bib tool that handles correctly bibtex is the most basic and foremost requirement. My feeling is that ZOTERO is not good at that.

1- importing bib files from Jabref: journal is NOT correctly imported; in fact, in the @article entry, there is no such field, but "Publication" or "Journal Abbr"; this is really really bad.
2- importing bib library (e.g. more than only a few 100 entries) takes very long time (more than a minute)
2- generating citekey takes also a long time, and is done upon each launch of zotero: this must be related to java.
3- importing bibtex entries from the clipboard is complicated: the shortcut (ctrl+shift+alt+i) is pure madness;
4- the "date" is also not well handled: for instance {\#dec\#2009} is NOT interpreted correctly.
5- worse: exporting to bibtex is NOT robust; journal abbreviations are NOT handled correctly; if you want abbreviations to be handled, it seems that you have to specify this twice: in the BBT, and you have to do the export interactively through the right-button; this just can not be.
6- even worse: you can not have an entry like journal = {\apj}, where \apj would then be interpreted by your latex compiler, using a user-defined command (here, \apj="The Astrophysical Journal" for instance); this is related to some blablabla regarding backslash; but bibtex is latex, and latex is backslash. So there is something I don't quite understand in the logic of Better Bibtex... These user-defined command are a way to get your personal journal abbreviations.

In practice, despite the fact that Zotero is really good at flagging entries, it does a pretty bad job for bibtex. It must be that I have not understood the logic, and that I am not using Better Bibtex correctly. But in the meantime, I must (and reluctantly) get back to jabref, because I can not simply go through my >1000 entries and enter the journal.

Best regards,

  • I use Zotero with my LaTeX/BibTeX workflows. So do many other people. We're interested in making this workflow even better, but I think you may misunderstand some fundamental differences between Zotero and JabRef & I also don't quite understand all of your gripes.

    Zotero is a reference manager and not a BibTeX manager & there are, necessarily, some concessions to support the many more Zotero users that don't use BibTeX. That is the reason for, e.g. some of the performance hit in your first #2 (though this import should be a one-time operation) and the lack of string/macro support (e.g. #4 & #6).

    I don't know what you mean by #1. Zotero has an attribute called 'Publication', but this is exported to the BibTeX standard 'journal'. Similarly, BibTeX with a 'journal' attribute imports as expected. Similarly for BibLaTeX: 'journaltitle' "just works".

    I also don't know what you mean by the citekey complaint. Zotero doesn't rely on Java. JabRef, of course, does. Stock Zotero doesn't store citekeys yet; it generates them on export. Better BibTeX allows you to assign/store citekeys, but I don't find this to be much slower than JabRef.

    #5: Journal abbreviations are hack-ish in BibTeX in general. That's why JabRef replaces the 'journal' field if you'd like. BibLaTeX introduced 'shortjournal'. Zotero exports the Journal Abbreviation field here. Many styles don't use that. If you have specific suggestions for improvement, they'd be welcome!
  • edited August 30, 2018
    In general, you will find it easier to get help if you ask "I'm new to Zotero, how can I do the following" rather than "New to Zotero, Zotero sucks, it can't even...".

    I develop the BBT plugin, and as far as I can see:

    1. is addressed (anything that cannot be imported into Zotero is retained in the extra field and output again on export to BibTeX)

    2a. is true, import is slow, even if a minute for 100 entries seems excessive, it's not that slow for me. Anyhow, with Zotero, large import is not something you are expected to do over and over again.

    2b. is a one-time thing, and if you are importing an existing bib file those existing keys will simply be retained, no generation of keys whatsoever

    3. your bar for madness is pretty low

    4. Never seen that format before. We can help make it possible to import that if you want, but I'll need more information (on the BBT tracker please if you want it fixed in BBT).

    5. I honestly don't know exactly what the complaint is here. You can set up auto-export and it will just keep your bib file updated. Journal abbreviations can be managed separately (search for abbreviations.json on the forum, I don't know precisely how this works, BBT just uses the Zotero facility). Make sure auto-abbrev is on in the BBT preferences.

    6. with BBT you can actually achieve "{\apj}" by entering "<pre>\apj</pre>" in the relevant field. This will screw up Word/LO usage though.

    Please report any questions on use, enhancement requests and bug reports for BBT at and I will be happy to help you if you work with me.

    But I'm not entirely sure you want to use Zotero. Why not use JabRef if it performs favorably for your use-case? As @noksagt points out, Zotero is not primarily a BibTeX manager; I would go as far to say that it's primarily a ref manager for Word and LibreOffice, which also works with some constraints for other use-cases such as Markdown and Bib(La)TeX.

    edit: can we *please* have a markdown mode for the forums.
  • 3. The inconvenience of some of the shortcuts is acknowledged and simplification is planned. You can customize the shortcuts using the Zutilo plugin (I set mine to Ctrl-i).
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