Zotero is a free citation manager. 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.

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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 installation

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


Since Zotero is open-source, there are additional 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.

Zotero plugins


For mobile support, check their mobile page which has options available for both iOS and Android phones.


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


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


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. 

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 some other citation managers, 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.

Intro to the Zotero Desktop App


To access the stand-alone client (the desktop app) 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 library/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.
  •  Add new item: This button allows you to add a citation to your library manually. It will ask you to choose a format (book, article, video, etc.) and will automatically format the data you enter.
  •  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.
  •  Basic Search: This is useful for doing a quick search of your library for tags, titles, years, and other info.
  •  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 PDF stored with the citation, link in the citation that leads to the full text, CrossRef Lookup (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!