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Zotero: Zotero 101

What is Zotero?

Zotero is a free citation management tool that helps users store the sources that they find in the course of their research.  It also offers the ability to insert citations and format bibliographies instantly in a word processor like Microsoft Word.

EndNote vs. Zotero

Each tool has advantages and disadvantages.  Both of them allow you to organize citations into folders, generate bibliographies in all major citation styles, cite sources from within a word processing program, and share your sources with collaborators.  But here are some key differences:

Comparison of EndNote and Zotero
EndNote Zotero
Web-based, so you can access your source library from any computer Installed on your computer, so your sources are only readily available there
Can add citations to EndNote by using Export tools in library databases Can add citations to Zotero by clicking on the Zotero browser add-on
Must download PDFs and then attach them to EndNote citations Available PDFs are automatically attached when you add the citation to Zotero
Cannot automatically add citations to free Web-based sources Can automatically add citations to free Web-based sources

Create Bibliographies

You can use Zotero to automatically generate bibliographies of selected sources in the citation style of your choosing.

  1. While pressing the Ctrl key, click the citations in your Zotero library that you wish to include
  2. Right-click (ctrl-click on Mac) and choose "Create Bibliography from Items" in the pop-up menu
  3. Pick a citation style and output mode (footnotes or bibliography)
  4. Pick a format (RTF is best for Word, but clipboard will enable you to paste it into Google Docs)
  5. Press the OK button

Create an Online Backup

You may want to create a free online Zotero account, which enables you to sync your Zotero library to a cloud-based version that you can access from anywhere.  This also serves as a backup, in case your hard drive fails.

To create an account, visit the User Registration page on the Zotero website and follow the instructions.

To "sync" your online account with the Zotero library on your computer, do the following:

  1. In the Zotero program, click on the Edit menu and choose Preferences
  2. Click the Sync button in the menu at top
  3. Click on Link Account and enter the username and password for your online Zotero account
  4. Set your Sync preferences as desired and press OK

Share Citations with Others

If you create an online Zotero account, you can create either public or private Groups with whom you can build a shared online Zotero library. These Groups can be opened to your research collaborators or students.

To create a Group:

  1. Log in to your online Zotero account
  2. Click on Groups, then on Create a New Group
  3. Name your group and decide whether it will be Public or Private
  4. Click on Manage Members to invite others to join your Group

You and other group members can now save citations to the shared group library.

Export Your Zotero Library to a New Computer

Since your Zotero library is saved to your computer's hard drive, you need to export it before you replace your computer.  It's best to create an online backup as described on this guide.  But you can also save out your Zotero Library before getting rid of your computer.

1) Find the Zotero storage folder on your computer, using Windows Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac).  The default locations are:

  • Windows: C:\Users\[User Name]\Zotero
  • Mac: Users/[Username]/Zotero

2) Copy the entire Storage folder to a USB Drive, or upload it to your Google Drive

3) On your new computer, after you install Zotero, copy your old Storage folder to the appropriate location as indicated in step 1

Install the Program

To use Zotero, visit the Download Zotero webpage and install these two items:

1) The Zotero program (which automatically includes Zotero plus the Microsoft Word add-on)

2) The Zotero connector for your preferred browser.  Connectors are currently available for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge.  A Safari connector will be available soon.

Follow the on-screen instructions.  You may need to close Microsoft Word so that Zotero can install the Word add-on.

By default, the connector will try to add "proxy info" to your URLs, which may trigger warnings in a yellow bar whenever you load webpages.  To prevent this, right-click on the Zotero Connector icon in your Internet browser, choose Preferences, and uncheck the "Enable Proxy Redirection" option.

Add References

You can manually add references to Zotero by choosing "New Item" in the File menu, selecting the desired type of source (book, magazine article, etc.), and filling in the information necessary to create a complete citation in your preferred style.  This method will be needed for unusual sources like primary sources, interviews, and documents that are unavailable on the Web.

But for sources in library catalogs/databases or on the Web, the best method is to use the Zotero Connector that you installed in your preferred Internet browser.

When in a library catalog or database record for a particular item (for example, a journal article in Academic Search Premier), or on a free website, look for the Zotero icon in your browser's top toolbar.  It may look like a book or document.  Click it, and the item's citation information (along with full-text if available) will be added to your Zotero library.

If an item's full text is not in the database but you obtain it later (by scanning the item or getting the PDF from Interlibrary Loan or another website), you can add it to the item's citation in Zotero.  Click the paperclip (Add Attachment) button in the toolbar, choose Attach Stored Copy of File, browse to the item's PDF, and click Open to attach it to the Zotero citation.

Zotero works well for most research databases, including the following highly-used resources:

  • Books and More / WorldCat
  • Academic Search Premier (and other EBSCO databases like PsycINFO and Business Source Premier)
  • ProQuest Central (and other ProQuest databases)
  • Google Scholar
  • JSTOR
  • PubMed
  • Scopus
  • Journal websites (Sage, Springer, Wiley, etc.)

It does NOT work well for the library's two databases of encyclopedia articles, Credo Reference and Gale Reference, so you may need to add those encyclopedia articles manually.

Organize References

You may choose to organize your citations into one or more collections.  Collections can keep your citations organized according to topic, material type, pro/con, empirical/theoretical, assignment, or some other dimension. These collections appear in the left window in Zotero, and work similarly to file directories/trees. 

  1. In the File menu, choose New Collection.
  2. Name the collection and press OK.
  3. Click on My Library in the left window.  This shows all the citations that you have gathered.
  4. Click and drag citations from the list in the middle window to the desired collection folder.

You can create sub-collections within collections if you wish.  Note that you can file a particular citation in more than one collection, and all citations will remain accessible by clicking on My Library.

Create Citations in Word

When you install Zotero, an add-in is automatically inserted into your copy of Microsoft Word that creates a new Zotero menu.  As you type your paper, you can insert in-text references and footnotes that will draw from the citation info in your Zotero library.  You can then insert a bibliography of all the sources you've cited, in the style of your choosing.

First, open the Zotero menu in Word, click on Document Preferences, and choose the desired citation style.

For styles that involve in-text citations (such as MLA and APA), do the following:

  • As you type your paper in Word, when you wish to insert a citation, open the Zotero menu and select "Add/Edit Citation"
  • In the box that appears, enter a search term (such as the author's last name or a word from the title) that will locate the reference you wish to cite
  • Select the desired reference and press the Enter button on your keyboard
  • If you need to cite a specific page number, put your cursor on the in-text citation, click "Add/Edit Citation" again, click on the in-text reference inside the box, type a page number in the Page field in the pop-up window, press Enter, and press Enter again

For styles that involve footnotes (such as Chicago and Turabian), do the following:

  • As you type your paper in Word, when you wish to insert a footnote, open the References menu and press "Insert Footnote" (as you normally do in Word)
  • With your cursor in the footnote at the bottom of the page, open the Zotero menu and select "Add/Edit Citation"
  • In the box that appears, enter a search term (such as the author's last name or a word from the title) that will locate the reference you wish to cite
  • Select the desired reference and press the Enter button on your keyboard
  • If you need to cite a specific page number, put your cursor on the footnote, click "Add/Edit Citation" again, click on the in-text reference inside the box, type a page number in the Page field in the pop-up window, press Enter, and press Enter again.
  • Note that if the reference has previously been cited in your document, the footnote will use the "short form" of the citation if appropriate.