Online Citation Management Tool Review: Zotero

Not all citation management tools are created equal

In a world of copyrights, citations are incredibly important to understand and to know how to use. Without citations, individuals run the risk of committing plagiarism and of losing respect for their works. In order to help prevent this, there exists a plethora of online citation management tools available that help individuals properly cite information; however, not all citation management tools are created equal. Within this blog, we will review the pros and cons of Zotero and whether or not it is a respectable, safe tool for easy use.


Zotero claims to be “ a free, open-source research tool that helps you collect, organize, and analyze research and share it in a variety of ways…[Zotero has] the ability to store author, title, and public fields…to export that information as formatted references, [and] to organize, tag, and search in advanced ways. [Zotero can also] sense [when] you are viewing a book, article, or other project on the web [and] automatically extract and save complete bibliographic references. [Additionally, this online management tool] effortlessly transmits information to and from other web services and applications, and…runs both as a web service and offline on your personal devices.”

Zotero is produced by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at the George Mason University and by the Corporation for Digital Scholarship. Zotero has also received fundings from the United States Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

First Impressions

Site: Upon first visiting the site, there appears to be a lot of information thrown at you as there are many different links, pictures, and blurbs. The site could definitely benefit from a more stream-lined, professional initial page. Secondly, as a skeptic of downloading things from the internet, I was slightly worried by the idea of viruses and hacking due to the presentation of the site in conjunction with the requirement of downloading something in order to use the tool.

Management Tool: It was easy to locate where to download the software, it did not take too much time to download, and the tool itself appeared easy to use and to navigate. It did take me some playing around and fiddling to get a complete grip of its uses, but nothing too strenuous or difficult.

More In-depth

Pros: Zotero is a free, open source software that is compatible with numerous operating systems (including: Mac, Windows, and Linux). By being an open source software, Zotero is able to give free support, to have open standards, to have fewer bugs, to have faster fixes, and to, in general, have better security.

It is pretty easy to use after downloading the software as the tool is straightforward with clear labeling/directions on how to use. The user simply has to click the “plus” icon, choose which kind of medium the citation will be from, and submit the information about the work (that it clearly asks for). There doesn’t appear to be any cumbersome, irrelevant steps required as the process overall appears to be rather simple. It is also appears rather easy to get support on how to use the tool. On their site, there is an entire page dedicated to supporting users with clear categories and subcategories so that the user can easily get the exact help they need.

Zotero also has some special features that seem greatly advantageous for its users. First, there exists a plethora of forums for users to participate in in order to get connected with other users to create an online community. These forums are easy to navigate as Zotero provides the option to search for specific forums, to search for different categories, and to search for general discussions. By having this option, it allows users to get help from other more experienced users, to discuss how to better the site, to give/get feedback on current research endeavors, and to get connected with other people who have similar interests. Secondly, Zotero also provides the option to sign up for groups so users may interact together on similar research endeavors, to get involved with things they may not know about else wise, and to, in general, collaborate remotely with ease. It appears to be quite simple to sign up for such groups (it does not cost any money to do so) and it also appears quite easy to navigate the different kinds of groups that exist. Thirdly, there also exists the option to search for Zotero people. In fact, there is a whole page (clearly linked and labeled) for users to search for Zotero people based on discipline. The list of disciplines itself appears incredibly extensive, an extensivity which allows users to get involved with a magnitude of unique fields. Such an ability allows users to discover researchers working in similar fields, to be able to browse other libraries, and to allow individuals to discover you and your own work.

Cons: There is a lot going on with Zotero as the amount of information available to users can appear to be overwhelming at times due to the fact there are many different pages with different links leading to other pages with more links and information. Indeed, such complexion makes it less appealing for those who simply want to create a citation from doing so as there are various steps required by the individual to get to that goal that don’t exist in other online management tools. For example, on Easybib, the user can easily choose the style of citation and type of medium the information is from, simply submit a URL or the work’s title (for automatic citing), provide some additional information that the automatic tool couldn’t find, and then receive the citation all without having to download any forms of software or navigate through a magnitude of different pages.

Additionally, in Zotero, there is no search tool (or way to add references) without using a web extension, setting up the tool can be confusing at times (especially for new users) as there are a lot of steps between downloading the tool and creating a profile that others can view, there is no built-in PDF viewer, and the desktop application is based off of Firefox so it doesn’t always run as smoothly as desired. Zotero also, in comparison to other online management tools, has more limited online storage capabilities. The only way to obtain more storage space is to actually pay for more.


For individuals who simply want to create a quick citation, this is not the site I would recommend for you. That being said, I believe Zotero to still be a powerful citation management tool that is ideal for individuals who want to be members of online research groups, for individuals who want to share their research with others, and for teachers who want to monitor the works of their students. It can be difficult to use and navigate initially as there is quite a bit of information presented on the site, but there exists a plethora of ways to get support in order to make the experience smoother.

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