This guest post is by Gabriel Oguda, who is studying for an MPhil in Health Promotion at the University of Bergen in Norway. Gabriel follows me on Twitter and told me that Zotero recently saved him from an epic thesis fail. I asked him to share his story …

I must begin by saying I am a very conservative person. Give me a lower version of SPSS and I will not upgrade unless it breaks down or loses my files.

Yet that is what happened last week when the EndNote X4 library I had laboriously assembled failed to turn up – two days before the final submission of my class assignment.

“Why not shift to Zotero?” a classmate suggested as I painfully hurried to reconstruct the library. I remember receiving a brief orientation on Zotero on the first week of my new course, but quickly forgot to follow up as I settled in. As I write this, I have just submitted my assignment with all the sources, properly referenced. So what did the magic? Here is my experience with both EndNote X4 and Zotero.


The University of Bergen pre-subscribes all students to EndNote X4, for free. You enjoy the freedom of referencing using EndNote X4 up until your graduation. When the systems stop recognizing you as a student, you have to buy the program online if you have to continue using it. Zotero is free for all. As long as you have the Mozilla Firefox browser, your library is secure. What’s more, you can access your library offline so you need not to worry about Internet connection. If you are the student who works with limited funds, Zotero is the program for you.


When EndNote introduced EndNote X4 compatible with Word 2011 for Mac, I had to contact the university IT department to configure it for me. Part of the reason why I lost my previous library is due to the complexities encountered with working back and forth to harmonize the settings before and after the upgrades. Moreover, the whole EndNote bundle can only be downloaded from the university IT website which often requires the help of a technician because it involves numerous steps that are too tedious for a student willing to stock a library limited with time. Zotero is readily available on their website and can be downloaded easily.

Importing references

Working on research proposals and theses can be time consuming. Students often want to utilize every drop of time available. Importing references has never been easier using Zotero. To use the words of one of my tutors, “…you can just google a reference, click a button and have all the pertinent info saved in the appropriate fields. It is so time-saving!” EndNote X4 also has this feature but it’s limited to specific sites with peer-reviewed articles like ISI Web of Knowledge, but even then you have to register on the website for you to enjoy this feature.


I still wonder why I was stuck to EndNote X4 despite all the hassles I had to go through. Zotero, one of my classmates observes “offers you a nice overview of your references with an easy drag & drop system, allows you to create folders and to attach documents, comments, tags etc., which some of the other free systems don’t.” If you are the student who likes keeping track of the references you have used, take notes and make comments within a reference library, then Zotero is the program for you.

Referencing village

From the term “global village”, “referencing village” is my new slang that denotes the interaction of all manner of referencing approaches on one platform. Everyday I learn something new. Today I have been informed that on top of Windows and Mac, students using Linux as their preferred operating system can also access Zotero. The admin at Zotero are not stopping at this, either. They have just launched a new application dubbed “Zotero Everywhere”.

 Zotero Everywhere, according to their site will have two main components: a standalone desktop version of Zotero with full integration into a variety of web browsers and a radically expanded application programming interface (API) to provide web and mobile access to Zotero libraries. As a student from a developing country, I couldn’t ask for more from a referencing program.

So that’s my story, fellow student struggling with #phdemotions. As we continue struggling in this world of academia, let’s remember David Brent’s words that “a problem shared is halved.” Let the sharing continue unabated.

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