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Step-by-Step: Adding Zotero Footnotes and Citations in Obsidian

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Introduction

This article aims to demonstrate the process of adding footnotes in Obsidian, whether you’re creating a new note or editing an imported one. We will also explore the application of this concept within Cornell Notes, a well known note-taking method ported to the digital age in Obsidian by TfTHacker. We will also examine how citations from Zotero bibliographies can be integrated into your working notes.

Why Add Citations and References

Citations and references significantly enhance the credibility of any written piece, be it notes or published articles. They also serve as a useful reference point for tracing back the source of information.

There are various methods to include these citations in your work. Often, you’ll find tiny numbers on book pages or online articles indicating footnotes. Alternatively, you might see what’s known as a citation where someone’s name when referenced in a sentence, is followed by the year of publication. Another method is at the end of a sentence there may be an author’s name and publication year in brackets denoting the source.

The final page usually contains comprehensive details about each citation including its location, publishing journal etc., providing robust backing for your work and statements made throughout your article.

Referencing Manager

Incorporating footnotes, citations, bibliographies and so on in your Obsidian notes, articles or even YouTube videos requires a referencing manager to track the origin of your references.

There’s a range of them available for download such as EndNote and MyBib. While I’ve utilised both before, I wasn’t particularly fond of EndNote. On the other hand, MyBib is quite impressive and free. Another worth mentioning is Mendeley, although I have not used it. However, Zotero is my current go-to. I prefer Zotero because it seamlessly integrates with Obsidian and allows me to annotate any PDFs within its interface itself. In addition, there are also browser extensions you can use to add articles direct to a Zotero collection and many research programs such as Consensus, Elicit, Research Rabbit and Litmaps.

For further information about using Zotero within Obsidian have a look at my article here accompanied by an explanatory video.

The initial step you need to undertake is installing your preferred referencing manager which will then enable you to access the necessary references or citations for inclusion in your document. This article and video however will be based around using Zotero reference manager.

Footnotes in Obsidian

For writing in Obsidian, I prefer using footnotes as they are integrated seamlessly during the writing process. They allow for easy insertion of a bibliography section from Zotero or another reference manager. In academic contexts, different institutions demand unique formatting styles. For instance, my Australian university uses the Harvard Australia system – each referencing system has specific citation rules.

Online posting, or even non-digital media, does not require such stringent formatting. It might even make articles harder to read if citations interrupt the text flow, particularly for readers not familiar with academic literature. Therefore, for non-digital and online publishing, I recommend footnotes.

To use footnotes in Obsidian effectively requires installing a community plug-in called Footnotes Shortcut. Upon installation, this plug-in works best by assigning a hotkey for quick access within Obsidian. Personally, I use Alt + F on Windows but you can choose any combination that suits you best. This footnote manager automatically adds sequential numbers after your last word in the note e.g., pressing Alt + F the first time would insert ^1 the first time and at the next footnote would produce ^2. After entering a number it redirects you to paste your bibliography at the bottom of page before easily returning back to where you were working using the Alt + F hotkey again.

A reference may be used more than once in an article. So having an additional hotkey like Command + Alt + F allows adding multiple references throughout one note without incrementing each time. Use of this combination will insert a carat (^) and you select the note number to insert. Although the bibliography will not change, the in-text number will change to ^1-2 and so on as the same reference is used. Following this procedure allows you to build your references as you go.

When in Reading mode in Obsidian, all the footnotes are hyperlinked to the bibliographies in the reference section.

Inserting the Bibliography

Figure 1: Accessing the Bibliography in Zotero

Screenshot of bibliography and citation in Zotero
Source: Screenshot by author.

The image above shows the bibliography and in-text citation for an article on AI in Zotero. In order to see this Preview Pane in Zotero, you need to install a plugin for Zotero. The plugin has full instructions and is called Zotero Preview. You will also need to ensure that Item Pane is turned on under View/Layout.

So I will now add a footnote here to reference it and include a screenshot from the bottom of this note where the bibliography is displayed [^1]. Note the footnote at the end of the previous sentence.

I insert the header for the References section so the bibliographies are listed below. Now for the screenshot of what this footnote looks like at the bottom of the note page (Stahl et al. 2022)[^3].

Figure 2: Third reference added to note.

Smaple of footnote
Source: Screenshot by author

In-text Citations

In-text citations can be effectively used in notes and even combined with footnotes, especially when writing academic papers. I frequently utilise Zotero to copy the in-text citation, insert it into the note, followed by appending my footnote. An example would be referencing an article that I had written on a subject (Raftis 2023) [^2].

This method is advantageous as it aids in building my bibliography. In my Zotero collection of articles and papers, not all are used for referencing. For instance, out of 50 collected papers, only 10 may serve as references. Thus, this process provides a cumulative list of references required to compile a formal bibliography at the end.

Formal academic writing differs from sequential footnote order; academic references must be arranged alphabetically adhering to specific formats that require rearrangement.

This article primarily focuses on footnotes usage rather than formatting details or creating bibliographies using Zotero from your in-text citations. These topics will be addressed separately in an separate video and article.

Cornell Notes

I had planned to elaborate on the concept and application of Cornell notes, but Nick Milo has already done an excellent job. He created a comprehensive video using TFT hackers’ Cornell Notes Vault as an example. I have a copy of TfTHacker’s Cornell Notes vault and it is really well done. You can use it either as a standalone vault in Obsidian or incorporate it into your own vault. This Cornell Notes Vault link will take you to the information page on the vault. It is very inexpensive and you have some options of what you would like to pay for access. Access includes lifetime updates by the way and there have already been three since initial release.

The system is immensely useful for taking notes in the Cornell style. You can see this from the image I’ve installed here and in Nick’s embedded video.

It’s worth noting that footnotes work just as effectively in Cornell notes as they do in native Obsidian.

Watch Nick’s video first and then have a look at the demonstration image below the video to see the footnotes in Cornell Notes.

How to Take Cornell Notes – Nick Milo

Now that you have an understanding of Cornell Notes and its use, the image below shows a note from the system with the footnotes incorporated. You should note, that when processing in Cornell Notes, the layout does not appear the same as in the image below until you switch to Reading mode.

Figure 3: Sample Cornell Note

Sample Cornell note with Footnotes added.
Source: Developed by author from TfTHacker’s Cornell Notes Vault

Conclusion

This article and video discuss the significance of including footnotes, citations, bibliographies, and references in your notes or articles. These elements enhance your credibility regardless of whether they are published online or in non-digital formats. The available Obsidian Footnotes plugin is user-friendly and integrates seamlessly with Zotero, an exceptional referencing manager.

Cornell Notes is also well worth exploring, for both academic and general use. Enjoy incorporating footnotes into your work and having the traceable history of where your ideas came from and that support your claims.

Bonus Video

References

[^1]: Borah, S, Kama, C, Rakshit, S, & Vajjhala, NR 2022,‘Applications of Artificial Intelligence in Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs)’, in PK Mallick, AK Bhoi, P Barsocchi, & VHC de Albuquerque (eds.), Cognitive Informatics and Soft Computing, Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, Springer Nature, Singapore, pp.717–726.
[^2]: This is just a sample footnote to show it linked to a number in the document.
[^3]: Stahl, BC, Antoniou, J, Ryan, M, Macnish, K, & Jiya, T 2022, ‘Organisational responses to the ethical issues of artificial intelligence’, AI & SOCIETY March, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 23–37.

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