Cite Your Sources: Zotero Citation Management Software

This guide provides information on citation styles, how to read a citation and how to avoid plagiarism.

What is Zotero?

Zotero is free, open source citation management software that automatically generates bibliographies and in-text citations. It also assists in the research process by download articles and citations directly from databases and websites while you search. It is also an excellent tool for organizing your research notes.  The open source aspect of Zotero is also important, as an active community of users and developers constantly change, update, and proof this software. Zotero also allows you to stare your citations with other scholars through shared reading lists, or "groups." Unlike other citation management software options, Zotero does not track your usage.

PSU Library Zotero Workshops

The video below from Ohio University Library shows an overview of different ways you can use Zotero.

Detailed guide to Zotero, created by the Paul V. Galvin Library.

Save Citations with Zotero

You can add items to your Zotero library by using the web extension, bookmarklet, or even by manually adding citations and files. For more information, visit the Zotero website.

  • Web Extension - This is the easiest tool to save your citations to Zotero. An icon is embedded in your browser near the top location bar; it will change to a picture of a book or a picture of a folder depending on how it can save the information you are viewing. Click the icon to import the reference.
  • Zotero's Bookmarklet - takes a snapshot of whichever website you are currently viewing and adds the information, including the citation and any applicable files, to your Zotero library.
  • Manual Add - Manually add citations and PDFs to your Zotero library.

An image of the Zotero web extension adding a citation is pictured below.

import citation menu in Zotero

If there are multiple search results to choose from, the Zotero icon will change from a single page to a folder. Clicking the folder icon lets you then choose from a list of articles to import, which is shown in the image below.

menu with option to import multiple citations

The image below shows the bookmarklet in action. More information can be found at the Zotero bookmarklet page.

Zotero Bookmarklet on the bookmarks bar of Google Chrome

Sync your citations to your Zotero account so that your citations and added content follow you no matter where you use Zotero. Do this by clicking the “Sync” icon in the top right corner of the desktop application (pictured here: Zotero sync icon) or by setting up your preferences to make Zotero automatically sync your citations.

The image below shows how to set Zotero to automatically sync your citations in the Zotero desktop application. First, click the gear symbol in your Zotero desktop application, then scroll down to "Preferences." Click the "Sync" icon to set up account syncing; type in your username and password. You can avoid exceeding the 300 MB storage limit (about 100 articles) by de-selecting the option to "sync full-text content."; This will make it so that all of your citations, notes and URLs upload to Zotero while large files stay on your computer.

Zotero application preferences to sync citations

Organize Citations with Zotero

You can use Zotero to organize your references with "Collections" and "Tags."

  • Collections let you to organize your items into groups even before you add them to your library. You create your own hierarchy of Collections that lets you organize your library in as much detail as you require.
  • Tags are keywords or phrases that allow you to characterize your items before or after you add them to your library. Tags can be created automatically when you import an article to Zotero. You can also add or change tags after you add items to your collection, and let you easily organize your data outside of the grouped collections. Tags can be edited individually or in large groups, and tag information will import to other Zotero libraries.

The image below shows an example library organized using Zotero's collections.

nested collections in Zotero

The image below shows you an example of citations viewed via selected tags.

tags in Zotero

More information can be found at the Zotero website.

Install Zotero

There are several ways you can install Zotero. Please note that you can only install the web extensions on the PSU lab computers.

  • Zotero is a desktop application. It communicates with your web browser through separate Zotero Connectors for Chrome, Safari, or Opera or Firefox. Zotero can be downloaded on the Zotero downloads page.
  • The Zotero bookmarklet is available for most browsers, including mobile/tablet browsers. The bookmarklet simply takes a snapshot of whichever website, journal, or article you are viewing and adds the citation to your Zotero.
  • Zotero plugins are available for download on their Plugins page, including Microsoft Word plugin for Zotero Standalone users. Other plugins created by the Zotero community include keyboard shortcut features, Google Scholar functionality, and other useful tools are also available for download.
  • Zotero mobile apps are listed on their website..

Zotero for Cromebook

Storage Costs for Zotero

Zotero is a free program until you have used 300 MB of cloud storage (approximately 100 PDFs). Different pricing plans for your storage needs are available once the storage has been exceeded. Plans range from $20/year for 2 GB storage up to $120/year for unlimited storage. More information about paying for additional storage can be found on Zotero's storage plans page.

PDF Features in Zotero

Zotero allows you to highlight and annotate PDFs, to pull metadata and citation information from databases and PDFs, to add your own notes and tags to research articles, and to sort and export your research. For more information about Zotero’s PDF features, visit their support page. Additional PDF features can be added to Zotero through 3rd party plugins, including the ability to extract only text that you annotated for future reading.

Word Processors and Zotero

Word processor plugins are available for Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and NeoOffice. Google Docs is supported via the browser extensions in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. These allow you to easily insert in-text citations while automatically updating your bibliography. Any updates you make in Zotero to your citations or citation style will automatically be applied to any citations in your paper.

Other word processors will work with your Zotero citations, with some limitations. Use Zotero to create a static citation. You can paste the copied citation into Google Docs or other word processors. Citations copied in this manner are static (and not dynamic), meaning that any changes made to the citation in Zotero will not be reflected to the citation copied in your document.

More information about these plugins, including guides on installing and using them, are available on the Zotero website.

3rd Party Plugins

Zotero has an active community that creates 3rd party plugins. These include keyboard shortcut features, Google Scholar functionality, and other tools. The plugins listed below add features for general ease of use and accessibility.

  • Zotfile is a Zotero plugin to manage your attachments: automatically rename, move, and attach PDFs (or other files) to Zotero items, and sync PDFs from your Zotero library to your mobile device. Zotfile also lets you extract and search the annotations you make in Zotero, making it even easier to manage your own added to your research. More information about Zotfile can be found at the Zotero website.
  • Zutilo adds several accessibility functions not available the regular Zotero for Firefox with extra menu items and keyboard shortcuts, including copying, pasting and right-click commands. More information about Zutilo can be found on the Firefox page for the Zutilo addon.

For more information about plugins for Zotero, visit their support page about plugins.

Share Citations with Zotero

Zotero users may share citations using "groups" which can be explored on the Zotero website.

  • Private groups can only be accessed by people invited to the group. These are hidden from search results and the group members' profile pages. Group members can access and share files and references.
  • Public, closed membership groups can be viewed by anyone, but only people who have been invited or requested an invitation can join. These groups can publicly present their work and sources and can share files.
  • Public, open membership groups can be joined by anyone instantly. They are useful for broadcasting and discussing information. Files cannot be shared with public open groups.