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Zotero Citation Software

A Guide to Getting Started and Using Zotero

Zotero Basics

As we've said throughout this guide, Zotero is extremely robust and customizable. There's no way we could cover everything Zotero is capable of doing, but we did want to provide an introduction to some of the basic functionality provided. This includes:

  • Adding Citations
  • Adding Collections
  • Adding Notes
  • Using Tags
  • Related Notes

Adding Citations

This section will cover how to add new citations to My Library in Zotero. My Library is the default database that holds everything that you put in Zotero including Notes, Citations, Collections, and Attachments. Later we will cover how to organize My Library using Collections and Tags.

There are several ways to add a new citation.

  1. Using the Zotero Browser Connector to grab the citation data from a website.
  2. Adding Items by Identifier such as DOI, ISBN, etc.
  3. Adding them via direct input.

To add citations via the browser connector:

  1. Make sure you are on the page that you wish to cite. 
  2. Make sure your Zotero desktop software is open and in the collection you want to save the citation to. If you have no collections created, it will automatically be saved to My Library.
  3. Click the browser button to save to Zotero while on the page you wish to cite.
  4. Check Zotero to make sure it saved and that the citation information is correct.


Zotero can only save the info that is provided on the website. If they do not provide the author but one is listed, you will have to add that manually afterwards. Make sure to double check the citations Zotero saves because they are often missing or have incorrect information.

To add citations by identifier:

  1. Make sure you have the ISBN, DOI or other identifier you will be using. These are the two most often used identifiers.
  2. Click the icon that looks like a magic wand.
  3. Enter the identifier.
  4. Check the citation information to make sure it is correct.


ISBNs are often used for the same edition but in different printings thus it may not be the same book you actually are using. Be careful when using these to make sure they are the correct editions.

To add citations manually:

  1. Click the green plus "+" button at the top of the screen.
  2. Select the resource type (book, article, newspaper, etc.). What you select will give you different fields to enter information in for that resource.
  3. Fill out the information in the fields that are provided. You should try and fill out as much of the information as you can to help with the citation later, but none of it is technically required by Zotero. However, this does not mean your citation style does not require it so entering it now will save you time later.

Adding Collections

Collections are used to group citations in folders that help you keep them organized. All your collections and thus citations are still kept in the parent My Library so even though you put the citation in a collection, it is still going to be found under My Library as well. You may put a citation in more than one collection. You may also created collections within other collections. Below you will find basic instructions on how to create a collection.

To create a collection:

  1. Click the Yellow Folder icon at the top left of the screen just above My Library. You may also right click on My Library and select "New Collection" from that menu.
  2. Name the collection and click "Ok."

That's all there is to it. Now you can drag and drop citations from My Library into that collection. To add a subcollection to the collection you just created, right click on the collection you want the subcollection in and select "New Subcollection".

Adding Notes

Adding notes to a citation/source is a great way to record your thoughts on the information in that source or about the source itself. Because it is a plain text note, you can add anything you want to it including links (not photos or other files but you can link to them).

To add a note:

  1. Right click on the citation you wish to add a note for.
  2. Select "Add Note".


  1. Click on the citation you wish to add a note for.
  2. Next to the Info tab there will be a Notes tab. Select Notes.
  3. Click the Add button found there.


  1. At the top of the screen is a yellow box with a small green plus "+" symbol. Click that.
  2. Select Parent Note or Child Note. Parent Notes are not added to a citation and exist alone. Child notes must be attached to a citation. Whatever citation you have currently selected will become the parent of your child note.

You can add as many notes as you want to each citation. 


Notes are "stuck" in Zotero. You are not able to view them using any other software and you cannot export them in any way. The only way to see them is in Zotero. Most of Zotero's other data including citation data can be exported so it is important to remember that notes will not be exported.

Adding & Using Tags

Tags are another way besides Collections to organize your citations. You can tag anything in Zotero from the citations themselves to the notes or the attachments. Typically, most users will only tag the citation or parent citation rather than tagging the notes/child notes and attachments. Each scenario is different so do what works best for you. Tags will allow you to connect citation/sources across collections by topic, subject, project, or however you want to organize your information. It is entirely up to you but having a standard way to use tags will help keep things clear as the number of tags you have increases.

To add tags:

  1. Select the citation/source you wish to add a tag to.
  2. Select the "Tags" tab next to Notes and Info.
  3. Click "Add" to add a tag. 
  4. As you begin typing, Zotero will suggest tags that you already have. If you are adding a new tag, simply click the "Enter" key once you have finished typing it.

To edit an existing tag:

  1. In the bottom left corner of the Zotero desktop software you should see a tag pane. You can search or scroll through all the tags you have assigned to a citation/source. Scroll or search for the tag you wish to edit.
  2. Right click on the tag and select "Rename".
  3. Type in the new name you wish to give it.
  4. OR you may select "Delete" to completely remove that tag from all citations/sources in Zotero.

Related Sources

Using the "Related" tab is a great way to show that citation/sources from different places are somehow related. This creates a link between the two. This can be used for notes or citations/sources.

To create a relationship between sources/citations:

  1. Select the first citation/source.
  2. Select the "Related" tab next to "Tags".
  3. Click the "Add" button.
  4. Scroll or search for the second source/citation you wish to link to this one.
  5. Click "Ok".

You can add as many citations/sources as you want this way. The useful part about this is that Zotero will also "backwards link" the citation/source meaning that after you link source 1 to source 2, you can click on source 2 and it show under the "Related" tab that it is linked to source 1 without you having to make that link again.