Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography Assignment

In the last few years of teaching, I have been persuaded by a few friends to include annotated bibliographies as assignments in some of my classes. Such an assignment gets students experience with some of the important steps of literary scholarship: finding secondary criticism and digesting it. While I could just assign the standard end-of-term research paper, that often results in students looking around for any quotations they can throw in to meet the arbitrary requirement of sources. I think that annotated bibliographies can provoke students to read the other sources more carefully, reading for the source’s own argument rather than how it can fit into one’s paper that is due in 12 hours.

In this semester’s Reading Media and Technology in Contemporary Literature and Theory course (I know, it’s an awful name), I have decided to ask my students to contribute to a group Zotero library. This has the advantage of teaching them a very useful tool as well as allowing us to share our knowledge with one another.

In particular, I am wondering:

  1. Should I require students to read not just articles, but one full book?
  2. Should I stipulate that a particular source may be posted only once and by only one student?
  3. Should I give them a single due date for the assignment or due dates following each of the three units?

Here’s a draft of the assignment, and I’m interested to hear what you think.

Annotated Zotero Group Bibliography

This assignment asks you to summarize and critically assess 6 sources and contribute them to a shared, collaborative, online bibliography using the Zotero 2.0 beta plug-in ( for Firefox.

For each of the 3 units of the course, you will find 2 articles or books that comment or expand on the texts and/or subjects we have been considering. An online source is only acceptable if it comes from a peer-reviewed journal. (Feel free to run sources by me if you are not sure that they are scholarly.) You should write a minimum of 2 paragraphs on each source. The write-up should provide a summary of the major concerns of the text, perhaps with a representative quote or two, and should indicate how the piece contributes to your body of knowledge about its subject.  For example, you might write about how Hamlet on the Holodeck imagines the changes that will be made to fiction through the ever-increasing use of the computer and also discuss how Murray’s work amplified your conception of the reader’s active role in making meaning from any text.

At least one of your sources must be on something broader than a single text/author.

Once you have created your entry from your source in Zotero, you will place your write-up in the “Abstract” section of the source’s entry. You should also tag your entry with your name using the “Tags” field. Finally, you will need to drag and drop your source into our class’s group library.


  1. Download and install Firefox (, if you don’t already have it.
  2. Download and install the Zotero 2.0 beta plug-in for Firefox ( N.B. You must use the 2.0 beta plug-in. I have been using this plug-in for months and have had no stability issues whatsoever.
  3. Watch the video explaining Zotero at
  4. Join our class group (
  5. If you’d like to know more about Zotero, watch a few more screencasts at


  1. #1 by Rachael on January 14, 2010 - 2:00 am

    A networked/public annotated bibliography is a great idea that promises to make an otherwise drab assignment into a relevant and meaningful task. I have tried that in the past using (gasp) WebCT/Blackboard discussion boards, but Zotero seems much more suited to sharing research – obviously. I do think that six entries at two paragraphs each seems a bit heavy for one deadline, so I like the idea you suggest, of having one due date per unit. Though this might increase your workload in doing multiple checks to see who has met each due date. To say “a particular source may be posted only once and by only one student,” I can’t envision the logistics of enforcing that stipulation, but I understand why you would want it. I am not a frequent Zotero user, so maybe there is some trick I don’t know about. Thank you for sharing this assignment.

  2. #2 by Melissa Sexton on January 14, 2010 - 8:32 am

    Yes to all three of your questions above. This looks great, Brian! Excited to hear how it turns out. I tried to do something similar with my class last semester, only with using images from MARBL. We ran into a glitch, however, in that we were asked to purchase group space as we were going along. So, if this is only text based, I guess you’ll be fine but there are still lots of glitches in Zotero that I found to be frustrating for our group purposes.

  3. #3 by Mark Sample on January 14, 2010 - 9:19 am

    For what it’s worth, here was my most recent annotated bibliography assignment using Zotero. I use a tiered method, so as not to overwhelm students, but if you have three separate due dates, at the end of every unit, I don’t think you need the tiers; students should be able to handle two sources per unit. I would tend to have them stick with articles rather than books; the field moves too fast for books, and students can get a better sense of an ongoing conversation from recent journals. I do like that you have the students tag their names; this is something I forgot to do, and once the citations are in Zotero groups, it’s cumbersome to figure out who uploaded what.

  4. #4 by Amy Earhart on January 14, 2010 - 10:33 am

    Great idea and thanks for sharing. I’ve developed a similar assignment with COLLEX, but I like the idea of a shared library.

  5. #5 by Brian on January 14, 2010 - 3:53 pm

    Thanks all for your comments.

    @Rachael There isn’t really a mechanic for enforcing the only two students per source rule that is built into Zotero. They will just have to police themselves. I wanted to add this since the last time I taught this class, 2/3 of the class read similar articles (almost all of the about House of Leaves, which they loved). If they turn the bibliographies in on paper, that can work, but when there is so much sharing going on, it seemed risky.

    @Melissa I think we’ll be able to avoid triggering the need to purchase Zotero storage space, but that’s not something I’d even tought about.

    @Mark Thanks for the link (although it’s evidence that you’re ahead of my game yet again). I’m going to adapt some of your language to improve mine at this point. I like the three tiers to the assignment, but I also want them to read more things closely.

  6. #6 by Ben Miller on January 14, 2010 - 10:11 pm

    While I agree that you don’t want your bibliography to be 60% the same text reposted, it may be a teachable moment if students find themselves *wanting* to post the same texts: what is it that’s so appealing (or easily findable) about those sources? Since Zotero allows you to tag individual notes (and not just the sources they refer to), you could allow students to fulfill one of their two texts by significantly expanding an existing annotation. Then you’d be encouraging students to check the library before going ahead, but you’d also allow a more multi-voiced commentary on the most popular sources than a strict first-come, first-served policy.

    Really excited about this application of the Zotero beta; looking forward to hearing how it plays out!

  7. #7 by Billie on January 16, 2010 - 12:22 pm

    Brian, this is great! I would agree with others and say “yes” to all three of your questions. I’ve done a similar assignment in many of my classes, and I *do* require books. Students can learn the art of the “power read” if the book is long. But, as you know, there is significant skill involved in parsing a book into a one-paragraph (or so) annotation.

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