About a month ago the fine folks at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media released an update to Zotero, their fabulous research management and citation software. The update broke Zotero free from the confines of the Firefox web browser and gave it the ability to stand as it own application. That change was big news for folks who prefer Chrome, Internet Explorer, or one of the many other browsers out there to Firefox. I’m actually a Firefox user so I wondered if the release would have much to offer for me beyond saving the step of opening Zotero in a separate browser window to make it seem like its own program. Did it ever!
The new standalone version rolled out a number of tweaks and upgrades to the previous iteration of the software, including a very useful duplicate detection and management system. But, for me, the most significant improvement over the old system came in the form of a wonderful new interface for adding citations to Microsoft Word and OpenOffice. In the new system, activating the “Insert Citation” action for the Zotero add-in brings up an elegantly simple search bar. To add an item you simply begin typing the author’s name or part of the title. As you type the system brings up a menu of options meeting the search criteria. It even moves items that you’ve previously cited in this file up to the top of the list for faster access. Once you see the source you’re looking for you can click on it or use the arrow keys to select it.
Adding additional information to the item such as page numbers or prefix or suffix text is as easy as pressing Ctrl and the down arrow. That command brings up a separate menu for the item where you can add those details. Overall it is a snap to use and makes it much easier to add citations to your text. And with a few tweaks to your word processor’s hotkey settings, you can improve your workflow even more.
I’m a firm believer that mastery of hotkeys makes your experience with computer software much more efficient and productive. This is especially true in word processing software where your hands spend much of their time on the keyboard. Lifting one hand off the keys in order to grab the mouse or operate a trackpad breaks the flow of what you had been doing – writing. I’m sure most all of you are familiar with the most basic hotkeys that come integrated into our word processors and operating systems such as using Ctrl+C to copy text or Ctrl+B to make it bold. [Mac users, of course, substitute the Cmnd key for the Ctrl key.] But you may not have realized that almost any action in today’s word processors can be assigned a hotkey. And that includes the actions related to Zotero citations.
When you install the Zotero plug-in for Word or OpenOffice, hotkeys are not automatically assigned. So you’ll need to take a moment to set them up.
To edit the list of existing hotkeys in Word start by opening up the “Word Options” menu by clicking on the office symbol and then the “Word Options” button at the bottom of the menu that opens. [Note that all of the images below link to larger versions in case you want to see more detail.]
Once you are in the options menu, click the “customize” tab on the left side of the window. [Bonus Tip: On this screen you can add or remove items in the quick access toolbar. For easy access to Zotero options using the mouse, select the “Add-Ins Tab” option from drop down called “Choose Options from:” and then move the “Custom Toolbars” item to the quick access toolbar by selecting it and clicking the “Add” button between the two windows. This will place a mini menu of Zotero actions in with your quick access buttons (located just above the ribbon).] To more forward with setting up your keyboard shortcuts click the “Customize” button at the bottom of the window next to the phrase “Keyboard Shortcuts.”
So now that you have pressed the “Customize” button while on the “Customize” tab (thank you Microsoft for the elegantly descriptive naming conventions here), you have access to Word’s Customize Keyboard tool. From here you can add or change the hotkeys for every action in the program.
All you need to do is locate the action you want using the two windows at the top of the tool. The one on the left shows the broad categories for the items. These generally relate to the tabs on the ribbon where the actions are usually housed. The box on the right shows the individual actions or “commands” as Microsoft calls them. The Zotero items to listed under the “Macros” category. After you select that category you will find the Zotero items listed in the right-hand window.
To create a hotkey for them, simply select one and then place the cursor in the blank “Press new shortcut key” field. Now take a stab at a hotkey you might like to assign to the item. In the image above you can see that I pressed Alt+Z. Just below the “Current Keys” box (where the system would tell you if the action already had a shortcut associated with it) it says “Currently assigned to:” This refers to the hotkey you just pressed. In this case it says “[unassigned].” This tells me that Alt+Z has no other job in MS Word, so I’m free to use it for this action. Simply repeat that process for the other Zotero actions that you use often and you are all set. Although it is probably a good idea to jot them down on a post-it so that you don’t have to revisit this tool again if you forget what keys you assigned to what actions.
If you are a user of OpenOffice here are the instructions I found in the Zotero forums for accomplishing these changes with that word processor:
Select Tools / Customize / Keyboard
Then select the Category OpenOffice.org Macros / user / Standard / Zotero
Finally highlight the action and give it a new shortcut key
And if you are Mac user, you may encounter slight variance in the menus and options for these instructions. But I’m fairly certain the basic gist will get you to where you need to be.
Finally, if you become obsessed with using hotkeys and keyboard shortcuts in Word to make your life easier, I have one final tip to offer. I you press Ctrl+Alt+[the plus sign on your number pad] all together in an Office application, the mouse pointer will turn into a kind of cloverleaf icon. Once that has happened, selecting any action from the Word menus will result in the keyboard shortcut tool opening with the action you just selected highlighted. You can use this trick to figure out if actions already have shortcuts and to add new ones for those that don’t. This trick doesn’t work every time, and I’ve got no idea whatsoever if it works on Macs, but when it does it is quite useful.