Zotero: Notes, Quotes, & Annotations

The thing that makes Zotero great is the citation plug-in that can be used in NeoOffice. Any item I’ve saved from my online research using Zotero in Firefox is immediately available through the Zotero citation and bibliography toolbar in NeoOffice. I can select from a number of desired citation styles — in my case it’s APA.

A feature that needs to be implemented (see here, here, here, and here) is one that allows a researcher to differentiate between notes that the researcher makes (and belong to the researcher) and the highlighted annotations that a researcher might make in a selected text (and must be attributed to the cited item).

Currently, the way Zotero works is that highlighted annotations aren’t identified as separate elements in the Zotero collections. In Zotero, highlighted annotations are simply visual cues within a saved copy of an item. On the other hand, Zotero Notes can be created as attachments to saved items. Researchers may be tempted to copy quotes from the cited item into a Zotero Note item. The trouble with this approach is that the Note doesn’t provide an automated means by which the Note can be cross-referenced back to the original source. The danger here is that a researcher may inadvertently confuse as their own words the words of an item that they’re citing.

Zotero developers may want to consider the interface that the developers of Skim use for annotations, shown here. Skim is a richly featured PDF reader for Mac OS X.

In this screen capture, the main window shows the text being annotated. Shown here are two kinds of annotations: highlighted text is shown as though marked with a yellow highlighting marker and an anchored note shown as a small yellow icon in the page. There are several other kinds of annotations available in Skim but these are the salient ones for this discussion.

Highlighted text items and anchored note items are visible in the Notes pane in the Skim interface, visible here on the right. Each note item in the Notes Pane has a snippet of text that helps identify it (seen here as “Immortal society?”), as well as an icon representing the type of annotation, and a page number. Double-clicking the page number or icon will jump to the associated location within the main document window. Each highlighted annotation on the page also gets an automatic listing in the Notes pane. In this example, the highlighted annotation starts with the words “If the members who.” This snippet of text is visible in the Notes pane along with its corresponding icon and page number.

Because of the way that the items in the Notes pane are created, there’s no ambiguity as to the author of the item.

Although some of these features may not be applicable to online documents (such as page numbers), Zotero can benefit from an approach where its annotations are saved as discrete items. Highlighted annotations and anchored notes are already implemented in Zotero. I’d like to attach them to items that I save from my research.




See this page at https://kinasevych.ca/index.php