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.

Installation and Preferences

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

                                                                                  Zotero download page

Also, if you are planning to use Zotero with a word processor such as Microsoft Word, you can download the Zotero word processor plugins by following the instructions on their word processor plugin installation page. Since Zotero is open-source, there are also community developed plugins listed on their plugin page. Most of these plugins aren't of much use to the general user, but browse the options to see if something may be useful or fun for you. For mobile support, check their mobile page which has options available for both iOS and Android phones.

Opening the Zotero section and selecting preferences

After installation, you will need to set up your preferences to allow for syncing and cloud storage of your references. You can do this by first loading your Zotero section of your browser by clicking on the Zotero icon that ought to be in the bottom left corner, then clicking on the gear icon in your Zotero section of your browser and select Preferences.

Zotero Preferences window to enable syncing

Next click on the Sync tab of the Preferences window. Enter in your username and password to your account and select the Sync automatically option. 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 May 2017, Zotero gives all users 300MB of storage for free. Additional storage can be purchased on their website, however other citation management systems such as EndNote offer more functionality if you are going to pay for the service. 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.

Additionally, this will allow you to access your library when you're away from your personal computer through the My Library section of Zotero.org. You can manually add references using their website and it will sync with your library on your personal computer. The web interface for Zotero is not as powerful as EndNote, the other citation management software that we at the Health Sciences Library support, but it will give you basic functionality to add a reference if you have the citation information handy. If you're in a lecture where a paper by John Smith about something to do with Asymmetry published in Nature in 2003 is mentioned, you can add a reference on the Zotero website and tag the article with "follow up" or "to-do" to remind you to dig up the actual paper when you have some free time.

Introducing the Zotero pane

The Main Zotero Pane

Main panel of Zotero, with descriptions of the buttons

Once you've installed Zotero, you can access the web extension for Zotero by clicking the Zotero button to the bottom left of Firefox. To access the stand-alone client on your computer, open it from the programs menu; if you have not yet added the Zotero connector for your browser, you can do so from the stand-alone installation webpage

The above image displays the layout of the Zotero pane. From left to the right the buttons are for:

  • Create new collection: The first button to the left creates a new collection. This is useful if you are working on multiple assignments or projects and want to keep the citations for each separate.
  • Create new group: This button allows you to create different groups to let you collaborate with colleagues. If you are using a group to collaborate, the group will use the storage space of the creator. So it may be a good idea to create a different account to create the group so that it has the full 300 MB of storage space for the group project. 300 MB is between 300 and 1,200 PDFs, depending on the size of the PDF.
  • Actions: This button will allow you to access the Zotero preferences along with the ability to import items in that are saved to your computer.
  • Add new item: This button is what allows you to add in citations to your library. This button will provide you with many different formats for the item that you want to add to your collect.
  • Create snapshot of current page: This button will create a file of the page that you are seeking to cite and store that file locally. If you want to keep a copy of a page locally rather than worry that the page will not be there in the future when you go to cite it, then this button will be of some use to you. When you select this option, Zotero will try to create a citation for the item using the metadata on the page or PDF. This citation may not be perfect, so double check the citation so you do not run in to problems when you go to cite the file.
  • Add item by identifier: This button will allow you to add items to your library if you have an identifier for the item, like a DOI, PubMed ID or ISBN. For more information on this process, see the references page.
  • Notes: This button will allow you to add notes to the citations in your library. This button is useful to keep your notes of the items that you are citing in one place so you can keep them in mind down the road in the research process.
  • Add attachment: This button allows you to add an attachment to a citation. Use this button if you want to add a PDF or file copy of a citation in your library. Remember that Zotero only offers 300 MB of free storage, which roughly translates to 300-1,200 PDFs, depending on the size of your PDF.
  • Advanced Search: This button will allow you to search through your library using advanced features. The basic search bar is beside the advanced search button.
  • View item: This button will allow you to try to locate a copy of the citation using a number of options. The options include: local snapshot, using the link in the citation record, CrossRef (which is used for DOIs), Google Scholar and UNC's databases (this feature requires you to edit the preferences, see the Advanced section for a walk-through on this).
  • Sync library: This button will sync your library with Zotero's servers. Much like when working on a document in Word, be sure to save your work often!
  • Toggle tab mode: This button will pop out the Zotero frame to a tab in the browser. If you find this display easier to work with then click this button.
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