skip navigation


Zotero is a free citation manager similar to RefWorks. This page offers information that will help you create and build a reference library, create and use groups to collaborate, and use Zotero to add properly format references in your papers.

Adding Notes to References

Once you've added a reference, you can add notes to the reference. To do this, click on the reference that you want to add a note to, then click on the note button and add a Child Note. You can then type the note out in the rightmost section of the Zotero pane. Child notes are attached to references. If you want to add a note to the entire library, then you can select Standalone Note. This process is demonstrated below:

Adding a note to a reference in Zotero


To remove duplicate records, also called deduping, open your Zotero pane. Next click on the entry to the left named "Duplicate Items". This will display a listing of items Zotero believes to be duplicates. From there, you can select which version you would prefer to keep and the differences will be displayed beneath the listing of the different versions. Once you've settled on a final version, click on the "Merge Items" button and Zotero will remove the duplicate references. This is demonstrated below:

Deduping references in Zotero

Using Zotero with a tablet (Android, iPad, etc)

Since Zotero is open source, anyone can create plugins and addons to expand its functionality. One useful addon that adds several great features, especially if you want to read your PDFs on a tablet like an iPad or Google device. It adds the

  • ability to sync to your mobile reader or tablet is Zotfile.
  • ability batch rename and move attachments based on the whatever naming rule you want to use (e.g. Author - Year - Title)
  • ability to transfer and sync highlighting and annotations done on your tablet to notes in your Zotero library

There are fairly good instructions on the addon's website on how to set up this functionality and if you are interested in using Dropbox to sync documents, Zotero has some documentation on their page on how to set that up.

The author of the addon has tested both PDF Expert (Apple) and iAnnotate (Android and Apple) as PDF reading/highlighting apps for the iPad and they seem to work well.

Adding UNC's databases

Zotero gives you the ability to add your institution's custom list of databases to it. This will give you the ability to click on the Library Lookup option beneath the Locate tab and search through UNC's databases for a copy of the article. If you are off-campus, you will have to login using your Onyen and password. If you want to add UNC's databases to the options available on the Locate button in the Zotero tab, then follow the following steps.

Click on the Gear icon, select Preferences then click on the advanced tab and then under the OpenURL section enter in this URL:

Adding UNC's databases to Zotero

Switching between Zotero accounts

There may be times when you either need to transfer your library to a new Zotero library or switch between two accounts. The process for doing this is fairly simple. Before you alter anything, it is recommended for you to back-up your library/ies to make sure nothing is accidentally lost. To do this, you need to click on the Gear icon then select Export Library. If you have citations or attachments in multiple libraries, be sure to back up both accounts. Like so:
Clicking on your Gear Icon so you can open up Zotero's preferences

Before we outline the steps for switching accounts you need to realize that there are two copies of your library. One copy is on your computer and there's another copy on Zotero's servers. If you are switching accounts, then when you change the account that you are using by changing the username and password in the Sync settings (Gear icon then Preferences then Sync), there will be a mismatch. If you press sync in Zotero, it will download all the citations and attachments for the newly entered account and merge them with the data on your computer to create a combined library. This may be ideal if you are transitioning to a new account. Others will want to switch fully between accounts. Follow the steps below for how to do this.

Once everything is backed up, click on the Gear icon then select Preferences. In your preference menu, select the Sync tab. There will be a sub-tab for Settings and Reset. Like so:
Editing Sync options in Zotero preferences to switch between accounts

Settings is where you will want to enter the account information for the account that you would like to load. Reset is where you will go to force Zotero to refresh what is listed in your library from the synced data that you can view on

There are two main options under the Reset sub-tab:

  • Restore from Zotero Server: This option will load all the data that has been synced to for the account listed in the Settings sub-tab onto your computer.
  • Restore to Zotero Server: This option will force your synced data on to match the library that is present on your computer.

So to take an example to explain the process, let's say you are switching between two accounts named Primary and Secondary. You are currently logged into the Primary account and would like to load the Secondary account. Go to the Sync tab in your preferences and enter in the login information for the Secondary account then click on the Reset subtab and click on the option for Restore from Zotero Server. A message will pop-up warning you that the information in the library on your computer will be over-written by the library from the new account. It will look similar to this:
A warning that you will be over-writing your local Zotero library when switching accounts by resetting from Zotero server in the Reset sub-tab of Sync in Preferences
Now click Sync in Zotero and it'll load the Secondary account.

Searching inside PDFs for text

In order to search within PDFs for text, you first need to have a couple of plugins installed. You can view whether they are installed by clicking on the Gear icon then Preferences then on the Search tab. There will be entries for PDF Indexing. Like so:
Clicking on Gear then Preferences then Search to enable searching within PDFs for text

Zotero will tell you whether these have been installed. If they have not, click on the button to add them. It will be located where the "Check for updates" button is located in the screenshot above.

Once they have been installed when you are in the search pane in your Zotero window,  click on the drop-down icon beside the magnifying glass and search for Everything. Like so:
After enabling PDF indexing in Zotero, searching by everything to search within PDFs for text

How to use a USB drive to transport libraries

On your computer, click the Zotero gear menu, choose Export Library, and save the file to the desired format. From here, find the file on your computer and transfer it to your USB key. This is demonstrated with a screenshot below. On the computer you want to transfer the library to, Zotero must be installed. Once you verify this, click the Zotero gear menu, choose Import, and find the Zotero file on your USB key to import it.

Exporting a Zotero library

It is a good idea to back up your Zotero library regularly to a USB drive. While Zotero does sync with their online storage, backing up in multiple places will make a total loss of data very unlikely.

Moving to and from Zotero

Moving from Zotero to another reference manager

Be sure to review all newly added citations to make sure the citation information is correct.

Moving from another reference manager to Zotero

  1. RefWorks
  2. Endnote
  3. Zotero


Security Issues

If you're using Zotero on a public computer, once you leave the machine, anyone using the computer after you will have access to your library in Zotero. This may prove an issue for some users, especially when working with confidential items.

Also, if you are using Zotero on a public computer, any references added or edited while on the public computer will only be saved to your online account if the Synch feature is working. If you are not sure if it’s working and you want to be able to access any changes or additions that you’ve made later, follow the steps below.

To avoid these issues, there are different options:

  1. The best solution is to install Zotero to a portable version of Firefox.
  2. Use Zotero Web to add a few citations.
    • Go to, click on the log in link in the top right of the screen and you will be able to access your library.
  3. If you're able to install Zotero to Firefox and want to use it on a public machine, be sure to save your library before ending your session.
    • See the previous box on saving your library to a USB drive.
    • You may also want to uninstall Zotero after you've finished adding references to prevent future users from viewing, editing or otherwise alter your references.
    • If you follow this route, be sure to remove your account information before ending the session so the account doesn't attempt to sync with your online account after the next user logs in. To do this, go to your preferences by clicking on the gear icon, then deleting your email and password and clicking save. It's the reverse of the process that you went through setting up Zotero described in our Getting Started tab.

Social Networking

Social Networking in Zotero

This feature allows for users of the same or different disciplines to connect and work togther for research purposes. This feature is a good way to interact with other users.

Users can:

  • Create a profile
  • Send messages
  • "Follow" people's pages
  • Invite users to join groups
  • Learn about others' groups
  • Search for others by username or discipline