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Zotero workshop

7.1 why do we need sometimes to edit a style?

Most of the time you will not have to choose you bibliographic style. Either the journal to which you want to submit a paper or your research director will tell you which style is required. In some cases, you will be asked to use the style which is the most used in a given field (say ieee for electronics, Vancouver for Health Sciences).

If the guidelines do not name any style but enumerate specific requirements for each type of documents (patents, articles, books, reports, etc.), then you will have to identify the style mentioned or the closest style to these.

In the example below, Ethos Lab researchers use a style that displays a paper record as follows :

  1. SOVRANO, Valeria Anna. , BISAZZA Angelo & VALLORTIGARA Giorgio (2001). Lateralization of Response to Social Stimuli in Fishes: A Comparison between different Methods and Species Phys. Behav 74, 237-244

The style used here is unknown but you have noticed in it some similarities with the Nature style (another numeric style). Formatted with the Nature style, the reference will be displayed as follows:


Sovrano, V. A., Bisazza, A. & Vallortigara, G. Lateralization of response to social stimuli in fishes: A comparison between different methods and species. Physiology & Behavior 74, 237–244 (2001).

Now let's enumerate the differences between the two styles:

  Initial style Target style
1 The first name is reduced to its initial The first name is developed
2 Last name is written in lower case except the initial which is capitalized Last name is capitalized
3 Only the initial of the first word of the title is capitalized All significant words in the title have their initial capitalized
4 Journal name is expanded (Physiology & Behavior) Journal name is abbreviated (Phys. Behav.)
5 publication date is mentione after the name of the authors and editors Pubblication date is mentioned after the page numbers
6 issue number is in bold characters ( 74 ) issue number is in normal characters ( 74 )

(does not appear in the example above)

DOI is mentioned for chapters and books,

ISBN instead of DOI should appear in books or chapters records

Now, let us edit the initial style in order to convert it into this target style. How can we manage to do that?

7.2 The Visual CSL editor

bibliographic styles are xml files formatted according the CSL format (CSL means Citation style language

These files can be edited inside Zotero (Preferences > Cite tab > click "edit style") but beginners will prefer to use a tool with a GUI (Graphic User Interface). One of these tools is provided by Elsevier: Visual CSL editor

When you open Visual CSL Editor (VCE), APA style is provided by default. You will have to load first the Nature style instead : you will need to edit this style for the purpose of the exercise.

Go to Seach by Name and type "Nature". Select this style and click edit.


Use the "search by example" feature (if necessary, follow the instructions here)

Make a test with the following record:

SOVRANO, Valeria Anna. , BISAZZA Angelo & VALLORTIGARA Giorgio (2001). Lateralization of Response to Social Stimuli in Fishes: A Comparison between different Methods and Species Phys. Behav 74, 237-244

7.3 What is the CSL format?

The info element contains the style’s metadata. Its structure is based on the Atom Syndication Format. In independent styles, info has the following child elements: author, contributor, category, identifier, ISSN, link, title, rights. In order to save a style that you have edited from another, you have to change at leas the title and the link.

The citation element describes the formatting of citations, which consist of one or more references (“cites”) to bibliographic sources. Citations appear in the form of either in-text citations (in the author (e.g. “[Doe]”), author-date (“[Doe 1999]”), or number (“[1]”) format) or notes

The bibliography element describes the formatting of bibliographies, which list one or more bibliographic sources. The required layout element describes how each bibliographic entry should be formatted. layout may be preceded by a sort element, which can be used to specify how references within the bibliography should be sorted.

Macros, defined with macro elements, contain formatting instructions. Macros can be called with text from within other macros and the layout element of citation and bibliography, and with key from within sort of citation and bibliography. It is recommended to place macros after any locale elements and before the citation element.

Localization data, by default drawn from the “locales-xx-XX.xml” locale files, may be redefined or supplemented with locale elements, which should be placed directly after the info element.

The value of the optional lang attribute on locale, which must be set to an xsd:language locale code, determines which languages or language dialects are affected (see Locale Fallback).

terms: allows the modification of specific character strings (e. g. replace "edited by" with "ed. by")


7.4 About macros in CSL files

A macro is a set of parameters that define an element for the entire style. Suppose we use a style called "author-date".

Between 1938 and 1939, the hypothesis was put forward that it was a realistic phenomenon, called gravitational collapse (Laudau & Lifchits, 1970)

The "author" macro will define how the author's name should appear by default in the style: for example in upper case or with only the initial in upper case, or with the initial of the first name or with the full first name)

If the style uses the macro wether in the text (inline citation) or in the bibliography (full citation), then the name formatting will be the same in both. We can therefore format a name differently in both cases and for example for the full citation prefer not to use the macro author. The same applies to other macros.

Let's see the macros in the Nature style:

    Macro:Title : title of the article
    Macro:Author : Authors' names
    Macro:Access : sets the way the unique identifier that allows access to the document (DOI, ISBN or URL) appears
    Macro:Issuance : Publication date
    Macro Container-Title: Displaying the title of the magazine
    Macro Editor: this is a conditional setting that shows the name of the publication director if the document in question is a book chapter.

As the elements of the "bibliography" part all use macros, it is these macros that we will preferably modify to bring our Nature style closer to the desired format.



#1 How to display full first names


> Names

      > Name

Initialize with (par défaut) :     .

Select disable

#2 How to capitalize names


It will be necessary to distinguish the family name from the first name otherwise the two will be capitalized (only the family name must be capitalized)

To do this, we will introduce two Name-part elements under Name and define one Family (family name) and the other Given (first name)

#3 How to remove capital letters from the initial of common names in the title

This is a very common need, but unfortunately difficult to satisfy with Zotero. This could be done systematically by modifying the macro:title (> Title (variable) replace the attribute Capitalize All with Capitalize First). But in this case, all acronyms in article titles and proper names would be initialized with lowercase letters, which we also want to avoid.

In this case, and even if it is repetitive, it is better to review in its Zotero library all the titles of articles that have the particularity of having a capital letter at the beginning of each significant word and for each title in this case, to right-click on the title which will bring up a "Transform text" menu. Under this menu, choose "Sentence case"

#4 Switch to the long form of Journal name


Form : short is set by default ;  Select long 

#5 Change the place in the record of the publication date


Drag & drop macro:issuance just before macro:title

#6 Set issue number in normal characters


Group > Volume (variable)

Click on B (as Bold) to change the default setting.

#7 How to make conditional setting: the Macro-access example


Some styles prefer to display DOIs (and not display ISBNs) in the records. This can be embarrassing in some disciplines where more books are cited, including books for which we have no digital equivalent.

Watch the following video that explains how to change this (with APA style).

Try to do the same with the Nature style: make sure that the ISBN appears each time the reference has one.

#8 How to save the style and load it into Zotero

To correctly record a style, at least two metadata must be modified: the title of the style and its URL.

To make this change, click on Info > Info Style

In this exercise, we can consider that the style we have created is not a derivative (= fork or child style) of the Nature style but a new style. We're going to give it a new name

In Title, replace Nature with formadoct (from the name of this website)

In the URL, replace nature by formadoct >

Click on Save

Then on Download Style

Then load the CSL file into Zotero (this is normally done simply by clicking on the resulting.CSL file. If it doesn't work open Zotero and start again)