by Jeremy M. Brown — last modified 2015-10-23T10:12:58-04:00

Zotero (pronounced "zoh-TAIR-oh") is software that collects, manages, and cites research sources. It's easy to use, lives in your web browser where you do your work, and best of all it's free. Zotero allows you to attach PDFs, notes and images to your citations, organize them into collections for different projects, and create bibliographies. It automatically updates itself periodically to work with new online sources and new bibliographic styles. Also, Zotero offers an add-in for Microsoft Word and LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and NeoOffice, which makes inserting and formatting citations easy as pie.

Currently, Zotero is available as a Firefox add-on, and as Standalone software that interacts with Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. Zotero DOES NOT work with Internet Explorer. Developers at Zotero are working on making a version compatible with Internet Explorer, but it is probably not happening soon.

This guide is based on the guide by Jason Puckett, available at http://research.library.gsu.edu/zotero, as well as information from the Zotero website and forums. Thank you!

Need additional help? Check out the Zotero F.A.Q.

 Zotero Basics

Which should I use?


Note that you can install and use both Zotero Standalone and Zotero for Firefox on the same computer.

Not sure how to download and install Zotero? Check out this guide or watch the Zotero for Mac and Safari Users video tutorial to get started. (Video tutorials on other installation options will be available soon.

Create a Zotero Account

This is useful if you're regularly using more than one computer in your research, or if you're concerned about backing up your research library. Creating an account lets you use Zotero's sync feature to keep your library up to date on multiple computers, and also makes a back-up available online.  All your computers must be running the same version of Zotero, but they can be running different operating systems.

First, set up a (free, of course) Zotero.org user account. Then:

  • Open Zotero preferences (via the gear menu) and select the Sync tab.
  • Enter your Zotero user name and password.
  • Check the "sync automatically" box.
  • Check both boxes under File Syncing and choose Zotero storage for My Library. This will sync your PDF attachments as well as citations (more info).
  • Click the green circular arrow button at the top right corner of the Zotero window.
  • Zotero will upload your library to the server.

Repeat this configuration on each of your computers.  Any updates you make on one of your computers will be reflected on the others.

Saving Citations

Zotero provides the ability to save references from most library catalogs (including Mercer's) and databases, and even some regular web pages, with one click. (Zotero publishes a list of compatible sites, and many sites not on this list also work.) If Zotero detects that you're looking at a book or article on a catalog, database, or a site like Amazon.com, LibraryThing or the New York Times, you'll see an icon like these Zotero Icon Examples.PNG appear at the top of your browser. Just click the icon and Zotero will automatically save the citation.


If you're on a page of search results with many items, you'll see a folder icon instead. Click this to get a list of all the items on the page, and check off the ones you want to save.


If no icon appears on the page, you can right-click anywhere on the page, and in the menu that pops up, there should be an option to save a Zotero snapshot from the page. Be aware that Zotero will probably not be able to save all of the data for that page, and carefully check over the citation information in the Zotero record to make sure you have everything you need.

Organizing and Managing your Zotero Library

Create collections in Zotero to organize your citations. For example, you may want to create a new collection for each paper you're working on, or for each class you're enrolled in. The same citation can be located in multiple collections within your Zotero Library.


When working with others, you may want to create a shared Group Library in Zotero. Click on the icon in Zotero, log in to the Zotero website, and follow the directions to create a library that works for your needs. Keep in mind that other researchers will need to have a Zotero account to be added to the Group Library.


Sometimes the information captured for a citation may be incomplete or inaccurate. You can edit and add to this information, simply click on the information that needs to be corrected.


Zotero detects duplicate items, and merges the information in them for you.


 Citing Items

Zotero offers three different ways to cite items - an Add-In for word processors, Quick Copy, and Create Bibliography. All three options are described below.

Word Processor Add-In (For Microsoft Office and LibreOffice) Video tutorial available: Citing Items with Zotero's Word Add-In.

This is the most fully-featured option. If you use Zotero Standalone, the Word Add-In should already be installed. If you use Zotero for Firefox, you download the appropriate plugin here.

On Windows computers, the Zotero Add-In is accessed through the ribbon in Word.

On Mac computers, it is a separate toolbar which you will need to make visible by clicking "View," going to "Toolbars" and then clicking on the option "Zotero Bibliographic Management."

The Zotero add-in looks and functions the same in all word processors. The seven buttons are explained in the image below, but the main button used is the first, which allows you to insert a new in-text citation. Step-by-step directions below will walk you through the process of citing items in a paper. If you prefer, you can watch a video tutorial here.


  1. Make sure your text cursor is exactly where you would like your citation to go! You must start with an in-text citation.
  2. Click the first button in the toolbar to insert a citation. The first time you do this in a new document, Zotero will prompt you to choose the citation style you would like to use. (After selecting your citation style, clicking this button will simply bring up the search box.)
  3. After selecting your citation style, use the search box to search for items in your Zotero library by author’s name or title. You do not need to enter the entire name or title.
  4. Select the item you would like to cite in the drop-down list.
    • If necessary, click on the citation to edit information (add page numbers or suppress author name, for example).
    • If necessary, you can cite multiple works in one search – simply search again for the next item you need to cite.
  5. After you have finished selecting items, hit the "Enter" key to insert the citation.
  6. At any point after inserting your first in-text citation using Zotero, you can start creating your bibliography. Start by placing your cursor exactly where you want your bibliography to go.
  7. Click on the third button from the left in your Zotero Toolbar (see image above), and Zotero will automatically insert a bibliography of all items cited in your document, in the appropriate order for your selected citation style.
  8. IMPORTANT: Check over all citations for accuracy! Zotero will usually get you at least 90% of the way there, but some citations may be a bit off. You can edit any citation either in Word or in Zotero (editing in Zotero will permanently fix the item).
  9. After you insert your bibliography, you may continue working in your document – any additional works cited will automatically be added to your bibliography.

 Quick Copy (Drag-and-Drop)

  1. Set your default output first by opening Zotero Preferences and going to the 'Export" tab.
  2. Make sure you can see both the item(s) you want to cite in your Zotero library and the program you want to drop the citations into.
  3. Select the item(s) you want to cite in Zotero, and drag and drop them into the area you need the citations.

 Create a Bibliogrphy

  1. Select the item(s) in Zotero you would like to cite.
  2. Right-click on the item(s) selected, then choose "Create Bibliography from Selected Items…"
  3. Choose the citation style you would like to use, and the appropriate Output Method. (See image below if you’re not sure what Output Method to use.)
  4. If you chose "Copy to Clipboard," paste the citation into the appropriate location.


 Zotero Groups

Zotero's Groups feature allows you to share references with other Zotero users. It's a great way to work on collaborative research projects. First, make sure to create a Zotero account and synchronize your library.

Creating a Group

  1. Click the Create Groups button near the top left of your Zotero window.
  2. Sign into the Zotero website, go to Groups, and click “Create a New Group.”
  3. Choose a group name and type of group appropriate for your needs. Keep in mind that Public, Open Membership groups CANNOT share full-text articles, due to copyright law.
  4. If you created a Public, Closed Membership or a Private group, make sure to click on Member Settings to send invitations to those you want to join your group.
  5. Force Zotero to re-sync on your computer – you should now see a new section called “Group Libraries” on the left (see image below).

Joining a Group

  1. Log on to the Zotero website and go to Groups.
  2. Search by name for the group you would like to join, or click “Browse All Groups” to look for groups you may want to join.
  3. Click on the name of the group you’d like to join in your results list.
  4. On the main page for the group, click the red “Join Group” button. You may need to wait to be approved by a group administrator (Public, Closed groups only).
  5. Force Zotero to re-sync on your computer – you should now see a new section called “Group Libraries” on the left (see image below).

Other Notes about Groups:

  • In Zotero, your library and group libraries are entirely separate. This means that other members of a group cannot see items in your personal library, and changes made to items in one library do not affect the other.  You can drag items back and forth between libraries to copy items.
  • With Group Libraries, you must be careful about where you save items to. Zotero will save new items into whichever library or collection you have selected at the time. Make sure you select the correct location for where you would like new items to go. Also, be aware that you cannot save into “Group Libraries” as a whole - you must select the specific group library you want to save to. If you have "Group Libraries" selected (as in image below), Zotero will save items into your personal library by default.


  • Group libraries take up storage space from the group owner’s quota. Depending on how you use Zotero, you may want to consider not sharing files in Groups to limit the amount of storage space needed.
  • Group owners can modify membership and delete groups at any time, but it is a good idea to alert group members before doing so, since they may want to move items into their personal library first.
 Tips for Advanced Users

 Alternate methods of adding items:

    • Save multiple items at once: On pages with multiple items, Zotero will display a folder icon – click the folder and then check off each item you want to save. When possible, it will also save the full-text of articles.
    • Save item from PDF: If you have already downloaded a PDF, Zotero can often add the necessary citation information. Drag and drop the PDF into your Zotero library (Do not drop it on a specific item, or it will be added as a file for that item), then right-click on the PDF and choose “Retrieve Metadata for PDF.” Zotero will scan the PDF for the DOI and then download the citation information from a website like Google Scholar. Note that not every PDF will work, particularly older articles and scanned images.
    • Add item by ISBN, DOI, or PMID: You can add items by ISBN (Books - International Standard Book Number), DOI (Articles - Digital Object Identifier) or PMID (PubMed Identification). Click the icon in Zotero that looks like a small wand (see image below) and type in the ID number for your item. Make sure to type in the numbers only – Zotero will recognize what type of item it is. Zotero may or may not grab the full-text for articles, depending on availability.
    • Manual Entry: For certain types of items, manual entry may be your best, or only, option. Click the green icon with a plus sign (see image below) to manually add an item. Zotero has more than 30 item types available – choose the one that most closely describes your item, and then fill in as many of the data fields as you can.

Organizing Items

  • Tags: Zotero automatically downloads tags for some items, and you can also create your own. You can easily view all items with the same tags by using the tag library in the lower left of the Zotero window.
  • Related Items: You can connect any two items in Zotero using this feature. For example, you may want to indicate one article is related to another because it was written in response to the original. You can add as many related items as you like.
  • Notes: while not technically organization, you can add notes about any item, and then search within notes later.
  • Check for Duplicates: Click on “Duplicate Items” in your library to view any items that Zotero recognizes a duplicate of. You then have the option of merging the items, which will keep any notes, tags, and other files associated with those items, and combine them into a single Zotero item.

Zotero Storage Options

Zotero is available on a freemium model – basic is free, but you can pay to upgrade to more storage. The basic, free version comes with up to 300MB of storage space. Users can upgrade to 2, 6, 10, or 25 GB of storage space if needed.  You can upgrade your storage, and also see how much space you’re currently using, by going to https://www.zotero.org/settings/storage.

It is important to note that Zotero Groups consume storage from the group owner’s quota. There is no way to purchase storage solely for a group – it must belong to an individual account.

If you are concerned about the amount of storage space, there are several options:

  1. Block Zotero from downloading full-text files and other attachments (see below under "Change Default Settings")
  2. Use an alternative method of syncing file attachments.
    • You can block Zotero from saving and syncing these files, and manage them separately through a service such as Dropbox
    • You can set up Zotero to work with WebDAV to sync files. THIS IS RECOMMENDED ONLY FOR EXTREMELY ADVANCED USERS! We are unable to offer support for this.
  3. If you own any Zotero Groups, change the group or group library settings to block file storage. Alternately, you can transfer ownership to another group member.

Change Default Settings

Zotero offers quite a bit of customization in the Preferences window. We encourage you to look around and see what options you might want to change – some of the more common tweaks are covered here.

Change the default output of Quick Copy citations: Under Preferences -> Export, you can change your default citation style to any style you have downloaded.

Block Zotero from downloading full-text or taking snapshots: Under Preferences -> General, you can uncheck the boxes for “automatically take snapshots when creating items from web pages” and “Automatically attach associated PFDs and other files when saving items.”

Change how Zotero syncs attached files: Under Preferences -> Sync, you have several options for customizing file syncing. For both your personal library and group libraries, you can tell Zotero whether or not to sync attachment files, and how frequently to do so. For your personal library, you can also choose to sync files with either Zotero storage or WebDAV. (We do not offer support on using WebDAV as an alternative, and recommend this option only for extremely competent users.)

Download Additional Citation Styles

While Zotero comes with a set of standard citation styles, several thousand other citation styles are available. You can download these by going to Preferences ->Cite -> Styles and clicking the link “get additional styles…” Browse by subject or search for the style you would like to use. Zotero will automatically update all citation styles you have installed.

Usually Zotero will automatically install citation styles, but if it doesn't, click the + button under your list of citation styles to search for the downloaded file and install it.

Add Keyboard Shortcuts for Zotero’s Word Add-in

Directions for Microsoft Word 2010 are included below. Directions for other versions of Word and other Word Processors are available at http://www.zotero.org/support/word_processor_plugin_shortcuts.

  1. Click "File."
  2. Click "Options" (appears under "Help").
  3. Select "Customize Ribbon."
  4. Click the "Customize" button at the bottom of the window next to "Keyboard Shortcuts."
  5. Select the "Macros" category in the box on the left.
  6. Locate the Zotero items in the box on the right, and select one to assign a keyboard shortcut.
  7. If it already has a shortcut it will show in the 'Current Keys" box.
  8. To assign or change a shortcut, click in the "Press new shortcut key" field.
  9. Try out the shortcut you want to assign.
  10. If the "Currently assigned to" field says "[unassigned]" you can use this shortcut without any conflicts with other commands.