Citation Style Revisions: I promise it’s not that hard

I am going through the transition from Endnote to Zotero. I have loved Endnote since I was 18 (what a little history major nerd I was then). It's generally great, but has been a little frustrating lately. It was time for change - even my librarian chuckled at how old-school I was with Endnote. Moving to Zotero has been an adventure. Fewer out-of-the-box citation styles exist. Publishers only seem to provide Endnote styles. It was time to learn to create my own citation style.

Thanks to a supportive friend, who tolerated an hour of my pouting about citation styles, I learned how to find, revise, and save a citation style. Here are my provisional steps - they're not perfect, but I wish I had found them somewhere 3 weeks ago!

All of this uses (featuring the very obvious Author Guide, which I missed). They have a .csl extension that works in Zotero. If you can use search by name and find your style, AWESOME. The steps below assume that you can't.

Getting to the right citation style

  1. Go to Citation Styles search by example. Using your journal's style examples, revise the in-text citation and bibliographic entry to match theirs. If the default example it gives you isn't helpful (I think it defaults to chapter), then use the previous and next cited item buttons to find one that is helpful. For me this is usually journal article. But to each their own!
  2. Click on search and review the matches. Choose the one that seems to be the fewest revisions away from your target style. I'd pick one that notes pages incorrectly ("pages" instead of "pp") but is otherwise correct over one that has periods where I need commas. Each piece of the citation that is wrong requires its own correction.
  3. Use the Visual Editor (in the tabs at the top of the page) to browse this citation style on a number of citations and bibliography entries. You can add more, to reflect the document types you're actually using. The "example citations" drop-down it the top right took me FOREVER to find, so, you're welcome.
  4. You can click on the part of the citation that is wrong to find the parts of the style that impact it. Trial and error to figure out how to change the errant period to a comma, non-italicized text into italics, etc. There is help in the CSL specification document (make sure you're in the relevant version!). Search for the type of thing (eg. "et al" or "page range") and it will tell you what to look for in the code. If it sends you to the code, use crtl+F (or command+F) to find the string on the code editor page (also in the tabs at the top of the page). Changes you make in the visual editor persist into the code editor and vice versa.

Save and Validate your Citation Style

  1. Save your Style: Once you've wrestled with the style a bit, it's time to save and validate it. From the visual editor tab (by now you have noticed the tabs!), go to Style > Save Style to save the style to your desktop. I find it's helpful to save the styles with a version number to keep track of the changes (there will be changes).
  2. Validate your style: Upload the csl you downloaded to the validator. It will tell you if this style will work in a citation manager or throw errors. If it validates, great! Add it to the citation manager and apply to your document. If it doesn't, go back into the editor and make revisions. Note: If you skip this step, you'll get sad little errors later and nobody wants that.

Iterative Style Corrections

  1. Apply and check your style: Apply the style to your document and compare your citations to the journal style guide. Format still not right? Go back to the editor, make changes, save as, validate, and try again.
  2. Content not right? To get just the list of documents cited in your current paper, this handy tool to select in to highlight  and drag into a new folder (only works with zotero). Then you can make sure that most-cited-author's name is actually spelled the same in each of their references (this was my biggest problem).