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Zotero: Using Zotero

Zotero is a free citation manager. This page offers information that will help you create and build a Zotero library, create and use groups to collaborate, and use Zotero to add properly formatted citations to your papers.

Library Data Services

Library Data Services caters to researchers interested in working with data, mapping, texts, visualization, and technology. Many of these services are available online. Davis Library Data Services, located on the second floor of Davis Library, offers:

  • A computing lab with specialized software for GIS and data visualization & analysis.
  • Walk-in assistance provided by knowledgeable student consultants during set hours
  • Consultations with specialists for more in-depth inquiries (by appointment).
  • Spaces for collaboration and presentation, complete with white boards and external displays.
  • Technology short courses and programs that promote digital scholarship.

Adding Items via Web Browser

To use Zotero properly, you need to install the Zotero Connector for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, in addition to the Zotero desktop app. See the Zotero Downloads page to install the Zotero Connector.

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.

Zotero imported bibliographic information

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


Generic Web Pages

Some web pages don't provide any information that Zotero can recognize. On these pages, the save button will show a gray webpage icon (outlined in red).

Zotero gray paper icon

If you click the save button on these pages, Zotero will import the page as a “Web Page” item with a title, URL, and access date. See Zotero's Saving Webpages section for more information.



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

If you save a PDF directly and Zotero isn't able to retrieve any information, it will leave the PDF as a standalone attachment. To add additional information about a PDF, you will need to create a parent item by right-clicking on the PDF, choosing to Create Parent Item, and entering an identifier such as a DOI or ISBN. If all else fails, you can click Manual Entry after selecting Create Parent Item and manually enter information for the item.


Zotero will open PDFs with your computer's default PDF viewer. You can annotate PDFs with a variety of programs, including Adobe Reader/Professional, FoxIt, Nuance PowerPDF, PDF-XChange, macOS Preview, Microsoft Reader. So long as the program saves the annotations to the PDF file, the annotations will sync with and your other devices.


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

Manually Adding Items

Zotero is designed to help you avoid manual entry whenever possible, so you should always try to save items to Zotero via your web browser before trying to create them manually, saving you time and reducing errors. 

However, if you need to add something manually to Zotero, you may do so by clicking the green “New Item” () button at the top of the middle pane and selecting the desired item type from the drop-down menu (outlined in red).

Add a new item manually in Zotero


An empty item of the selected item type will now appear in the center column. You can then manually enter the item's bibliographic information via the right-hand pane (outlined in red).

Entering a new item's bibliographic information

Adding Items by Identifier

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

Removing Duplicate Items

To remove duplicate items from your Zotero library, click on the Duplicate Items folder in the left pane. Opening this folder will display a list of duplicate items in your Zotero library. From there, you can select which version of each item that you would like to keep. The differences between each item will be displayed beneath each version of the items. Once you have settled on a final version, click on the Merge Items button and Zotero will remove the duplicate items.

Merging Duplicate Items

Locating Items at UNC-CH

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

Importing and Exporting Libraries

Importing to Zotero from Another Citation Manager


Instructions for importing to Zotero from Sciwheel are available on our Switching Citation Managers guide.


Instructions for importing to Zotero from Endnote are available on our Switching Citation Managers guide.


Instructions for importing to Zotero from Mendeley are available on our Switching Citation Managers guide.

Exporting from Zotero to Another Citation Manager


Instructions for exporting from Zotero to Sciwheel are available on our Switching Citation Managers guide.


Instructions for exporting from Zotero to Endnote are available on our Switching Citation Managers guide.


Instructions for exporting from Zotero to Mendeley are available on our Switching Citation Managers guide.

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


Transferring a Zotero Library

You should note that Zotero does not recommend exporting and importing entire Zotero libraries between systems because none of Zotero's current export formats allow for a complete transfer of your library data, reimporting your library will break existing connections with word processor documents, and you may later end up with several duplicate items if you use Zotero syncing.


That said, there are a couple of options for exporting your Zotero library and transferring your library on Zotero's website. Again, proceed with caution and note that this is not a recommended practice. 

Switching Zotero Accounts

A Zotero library can only be synced with one Zotero account at a time. Once you have synced your Zotero library with your Zotero account, it is no longer possible to sync that library with a different Zotero account. If you attempt to unlink your account and set up syncing with another Zotero account, you will lose all of the Zotero data that is saved to your computer. As such, it is not recommended that you switch between Zotero accounts.


Visit Zotero's website for more detailed information on switching accounts