Zotero for Beginners

How to use Zotero for saving and citing articles

May 13, 2018 · 7 min read

What is the most time consuming and worrying part for an academic? For me it is managing references, and citation. This is where Zotero comes to the rescue. I started using Zotero during my first year as a research assistant. I wish I knew about it, when I was burning the midnight oil citing footnotes for my dissertation.

Zotero is a tool to help collect, organise, share and cite research.

Lets get started by downloading Zotero and setting up.

Setting up

  1. There are three components to Zotero: An account on the Zotero online platform, a browser extension and a Zotero App/Standalone for the desktop.

3. After the download is complete your browser tab in Chrome or Firefox will have the following icon on the top right corner

This means that the Zotero plugin has been successfully downloaded

4. And a Zotero icon on your desktop

This is how it comes on my Mac

Now you are all set up! I use Zotero for two main functions: one as sort of a bookmarks folder that organises files based on their type (journal article, books, blogs, webpages etc. and second as a citation generator. I’ll be explaining how to use it as both with the help of the images below.

Zotero as a repository

  1. The best part about Zotero is that it picks up the context of the webpage and saves it according to content.
A Newspaper article
A Journal
A Book

3. When you click on the icon on the browser, the article gets saved into My Library, the Zotero on your Desktop, or to the Zotero collection or group (more about that later).

The article should be reflected in the My Library tab on the desktop app. Zotero should sync the files automatically if not click on the sync button on the top right corner of the desktop app.

4. Certain links that are pdfs will have to be manually added by clicking on the green plus sign and creating a a citation by entering the details manually.


You can organise your references further by creating Collections (folders) and sub-collections (sub-folders). This is highly helpful while collecting different references for parts of a journal article or a book you are writing.

  1. In Zotero, folders are called collections. To create collections click on the folder icon on the top left of the Zotero app on desktop.
Then give a title and click OK

A sub-collection can be created by clicking on the already created collection and then following the same instructions as above.


Simply put, Zotero works in the same way as Bookmarks do, and Zotero groups let multiple people save articles. Think of it as a sharing Bookmarks Bar.

Although there is a group icon in the app on desktop, the link redirects you to the Zotero login page.

To create a group →Login to Zotero →go to groups in the website→create new group (However Zotero groups like usernames, need to be unique, once created you can also decide whether the membership of the group is private or public as well decide the authority you would like the members to have. Think of it as similar to Google Docs with sharing features as well as link to add members.

In order to add members click on the member settings and invite members by adding their Zotero login id or registered email. An email will be sent to them they can access the group after they accept.

The groups are then also reflected on the desktop app.

Now all the files that the group members add to Zotero will be reflected in the group folder. Click on the sync icon if you do not see it files.While adding references into the folder make sure that particular group folder is selected on the desktop app. Otherwise the references get saved in the Library or whichever folder has been selected.

You can also create a new sub-collection within the group. By clicking on the group collection in the desktop .

Zotero as a citation generator

One thing that gives me cold feet while writing an academic article, is maintaining a citation style. The best part about Zotero is the citation generator which lets you seamlessly cite scholarships on Word. Sadly, the citation generator does not work on Google Docs yet.

Citing Footnotes

Open a word document and keep the Zotero app running on the background. Then click on the Zotero Icon in Word (the Scroll icon). Then click on add citation.

After this, a menu with different citation styles will appear.

If you can’t find the style you are looking for, you can download them from the Zotero Style Repository and then run it on your computer. The style will then be integrated into Zotero. And will be reflected in the menu mentioned above.

For this example I’ve used OSCOLA style of citation.

After selecting the citation style a tab will appear and you can either type in the article or use the Classic view and search for it. To open the Classic view, click on the drop down arrow next to the Z on the bar and click on Classic view.

After selecting the article you can add more details such as the page number as well add annotations by clicking the Prefix or Suffix tab or the Show Editor tab.

After clicking Show Editor you can then add more annotations to your footnote.

Then click OK, and your citation should be generated and look something like this:

The best part about Zotero is that it picks up the ‘ibid’ and ‘Supra’ and keeps updating the document as you cite. See for example:

Citing Bibliography

Generating a Bibliography is similar to generating citations. Once you have cited the document just click generate Bibliography.

These are the two basic uses of Zotero and a walk through on how to use them. In my next blogs I’ll explain how to use some more advanced features of this wonderful software.

I leave you with two Zotero hacks.

Zotero has a limited free space of 5MB and if you would want to use Zotero for some heavy duty work then here are two ways to save space.

1. Delete snapshots by clicking on the arrow down button of the reference and then clicking on snapshot and then click on move to trash.

2. Another hack is a bit time consuming, though it works well if you want to save space.

Download the pdfs into your Google Drive

Get a Google Drive link of the reference/pdfs

Open Zotero app and click the reference you want to save

Click on Add attachment →Attach Link to url→paste and save

This also works for students who want to save references in case that you might not get access to it later on.

I hope you will find this guide useful. Do let me know your comments/questions/suggestions. You can also reach me at says_shweta


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I explain Intellectual Property Rights issues in the only way I know how to - with pop culture references.