Skip to Main Content

ENGL 786: Introduction To Graduate Study: Using Zotero

Installation and Preferences

First, you're going to need to download Zotero from You should first download the desktop application and then add the browser extension to your preferred browser(s).

zotero homepage with two options to download desktop and browser connector 

If you are planning to use Zotero with a word processor such as Microsoft Word, the necessary plugins should be automatically installed when you install the Zotero desktop application. If this does not happen, or if you need to reinstall the plugins for some reason, you can follow the instructions on their word processor plugin installation page.

Zotero Connector plugin for Chrome


After you install the Zotero desktop app and the Zotero Connector, you will need to set up your preferences to allow for syncing and cloud storage of your citations. The first step is to register for a free Zotero account. You can do this on the Zotero website

login page for zotero

Once you have created an account, you can return to the desktop application and sign in. To do this, select Preferences under the toolbar tab Edit (on a Mac, select Preferences under the Zotero tab on the menu bar). 

Select Preferences under the Edit tab

Next click on the Sync tab of the Preferences window. Enter in your username and password to your account and select both the Sync Automatically option and Sync Full-Text Content option. 

Select the Sync tab in Zotero preferences

If you would like to be able to access the attached files remotely, then select the Sync attachment files in My Library using Zotero. As of June 2022, Zotero gives all users 300MB of storage for free. Most PDFs range in size from 100KB to 1MB, so Zotero's free storage can hold between 300 and 1,200 PDFs, depending on the size of the PDFs.

Adding UNC-Chapel Hill Databases

In Zotero Preferences, you can link to UNC-Chapel Hill's custom list of databases. This will allow you to use the Library Lookup option under the Locate button to search through UNC's databases for a copy of an item. If you are off-campus, you will need to log in using your ONYEN and password to access items through FInd @ UNC. 

Zotero Library Lookup

To add UNC's databases to the options available on the Locate button, go to the Zotero desktop app. When you are in the app, click on the Edit tab, select Preferences from the drop-down menu (if you are on a Mac, select Preferences from the drop-down menu under the Zotero tab in the menu bar), then click on the Advanced tab.

Under the OpenURL section, enter this URL:

Linking to UNC databases by adding an OpenURL in Advanced Preferences

Adding Items to Zotero

The Zotero Connector's save button is the most convenient and reliable way to add items to your Zotero library. As you browse the web, the Zotero Connector will automatically find bibliographic information on web pages you visit and allow you to add it to Zotero with a single click.

For example, if you are reading a journal article online, the save button will change to the icon of a journal article (outlined in red):

Zotero paper icon

On a UNC Libraries catalog entry for a book, the save button will show a book icon (outlined in red):

Zotero book icon

Once you've clicked on the Zotero icon, a new reference will be added to your library. When the reference is recognized by Zotero, it should add the full citation information for the article to your library, but it's a good idea to double-check the reference to make sure it was properly imported. This way, you do not discover faulty citations when it comes time for you to cite documents.


On many sites, Zotero will also save any PDF accessible from the page or an open-access PDF that can be found for the saved item.

Zotero saved PDF file

If you are viewing a PDF file in your browser, the save button will show a PDF icon (outlined in red).

Zotero PDF icon

Clicking this button will import the PDF file alone into your library and then automatically attempt to retrieve information about it. While this will often produce good results, it is usually better to use the save button from the publication's abstract page or catalog entry (demonstrated below). 

Saving from the abstract page



Multiple Results

On some web pages that contain information about multiple items (e.g., a list of Google Scholar search results), the save button will show a folder icon (outlined in red).

Zotero folder icon

Clicking this folder icon will open a window where you can select the items that you want to save to Zotero.

Zotero item selector

One helpful feature of Zotero is that you can directly add references if you have an identifier for the item, like an ISBN (for books), DOI (for articles), or PubMed ID (for articles indexed by PubMed).

Adding item by identifier

To do this, go to your Zotero window and click on the Add Item(s) by Identifier icon, enter the identifier and it will be added to your library.

Organizing Items

Adding Notes to Items

Once you have added an item, you can add notes to that item for your records. To do this, click on the item 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 items. If you want to add a note to the entire library, then you can select Standalone Note.

Adding Child Notes

Example Note

Inserting Citations and Creating a Bibliography

Using the Zotero Microsoft Word Plugin

You should now automatically have the Zotero Word Plugin, which adds a Zotero tab to Microsoft Word on your computer (outlined in red). 

Zotero Microsoft Word tab


Add/Edit Citation (Add/Edit Citation icon)

This icon is for adding and editing citations. When you initially click this icon, you will be asked to select a citation style (demonstrated below).

Choose a citation style Zotero pop-up

When you select the Add/Edit Citation icon, a window will pop up like the one displayed below.

Add/Edit Citation pop-up window


Add/Edit Bibliography (Add/Edit Bibliography icon)

This icon is for inserting a bibliography into your paper. To edit your bibliography, click the Add/Edit Bibliography button again, which will open the Zotero bibliography editor.


Document Preferences (Document Preferences icon)

This icon is used to open a Document Preferences window, which allows you to update the following preferences:

  1. The citation style.

  2. The language used to format citations and bibliographies.

  3. For note-based styles (e.g., “Chicago Manual of Style (Note)”), whether citations are inserted in footnotes or endnotes.

    • Note that Word, not Zotero, controls the style and format of footnotes and endnotes


Refresh (Refresh icon)

This icon is used to refresh all citations and the bibliography in your paper. The Refresh icon will update any item metadata that you have changed in your Zotero library. 


Unlink Citations (Unlink Citations icon)

This icon is used to unlink Zotero citations in your document by removing the field codes. This will prevent any further automatic updates of your citations and bibliographies. Exercise caution when unlinking citations in Zotero; this action is irreversible and should only be done in the final copy of your document. 


Using Zotero with Google Docs

When you use Zotero with Google Docs for the first time, you will need to authenticate the Zotero Connector with your Google account. You should be automatically prompted to authenticate upon using Zotero with Google Docs.

Much like the Zotero Word Plugin, the Zotero Connector adds a Zotero menu to the Google Docs interface (outlined in red). 

Zotero Google Docs tab

It also adds a toolbar button for one-click citing and the same functions listed above in the section of Word.

Add/edit Zotero citation toolbar icon in Google Docs


Customizing Citations

Once you have inserted citations into your document, you may customize them using the citation dialog box. Click on an existing citation in your document and select the Add/Edit Citation icon (Add/Edit Citation icon) to open the citation dialog box. Then, click on the citation again to open the cite options window to customize your citations (demonstrated below). 

Zotero Cite Options Window

If you want to add page numbers to your citation, you may so do by typing in the desired page number or page range into the dialog box below.  
Customizing citations with page numbersIf you want to write a sentence that only includes the year of the citation because you have used the author's name previously in the sentence, you may do so by checking the box next to "Suppress Author." 
Suppressing an author in a citation

If you need to add multiple authors to your citation, you may do so by adding them one after the other in the citation dialog box. After you select your first item, type in the name, title, or year of the additional item(s) you would like to cite. Press Enter/Return whenever you are ready to insert the citation into your document. 

Adding multiple authors

Zotero Assistance

Profile Photo
Nora Burmeister

Zotero Assistance

Profile Photo
Rolando Rodriguez
239D Davis Library
(919) 962-9590