Zotero – The Essentials

Never think about your citations and bibliography again. Zotero collects the information you need about your sources from the internet and then automatically creates citations and bibliographies in your documents.

my zotero

Here’s how to get started.

I recommend the Zotero Standalone package that you can download here: Download the .dmg file and click on your browser (eg. google chrome, Safari or Firefox) to download whats called ‘the connector’. You should have two files to install now. The first includes the software itself and the plugin for Word and the second includes a connector for your browser (it will become clearer what this is later). If you have Word open it will ask you to restart it for the plugin to become active.

After installing these files Zotero should appear in Word through the script icon in your menu bar.

zotero menu

In Word for Mac 2011 you should also find a small toolbar on your screen. Look very hard because it is easy to miss, don’t give up too soon!

zotero toolbar

IF YOU CAN’T SEE ANY OF THESE YET,  scroll down to the end of this post to my ‘troubleshooting section’.

Ok , we’re ready to get started. How are we going to make use of this software? First I am going to show you how to save sources into Zotero and then how to use them in a document.

The first thing to do is learn how to get your sources into Zotero. Below you can see what my Zotero library looks like. You can create folders and subfolders to organise your sources as I have done or you can keep them all in a big list. Zotero has fairly advanced features – you can add tags and make notes within the program and you can also save the PDFs of articles within the program but  I will not get into these things here. There are a number of video tutorials on their website if you are interested:

zotero app

Now, there are two ways to get sources into your library – manually and automatically.

Lets start with my favourite way – AUTOMATICALLY.

You should have installed a little connector into your browser when you downloaded and installed the two files at the beginning.

You’ll know if it’s there because when you search for something on your library catalogue (or jstor, or any website offering a catalogue of sources) a little icon should appear next to the URL. In different browsers it will look different. In google chrome it is on the right of the URL whereas in safari for example it appears on the left of the address bar next to the plus button.

Google Chrome

zotero browser


zotero safari

IF YOU CAN’T SEE THESE ICONS  YET, scroll down to the end of this post to my ‘troubleshooting section’.

Now once you have this working, the process is really simple. Zotero recognises any kind of material in a website which could be used as a source. Depending on the kind of source it is a different icon will appear. For example if you’re in a news article the icon is a newspaper.

zotero browser 1

Now all you have to do to save the source into your Zotero library is make sure Zotero is open and click on the newspaper, it will take all the necessary information from the website.

In a page with multiple sources a dialogue box will open asking you which sources you want to add to your library.  For example in your library catalogue:

zoter browser 3

Manually – you can also add the information for your articles manually  by clicking the plus button in the Zotero application and entering the basic information you need by yourself. However tedious this process, it is still useful when you’re writing your essay.

zotero manual

The question is how should you import your existing articles and books.

Zotero can search Google Scholar for your article and fetch the information for you. To do this just drag and drop your PDF. Right click it when it’s in Zotero and select ‘Retrieve metadata for PDF.’ It will prompt you to install something extra for Zotero – your preferences will open,  press the installation button under ‘PDF Indexing’.

The problem with this is that google scholar does not have a database of all academic articles and not all PDFs you download will be able to work this way . If this is the case, you can revisit the website you downloaded the article from and use the tool in your browser to collect the data for it. For books I recommend the same thing, just visit your library catalogue search for the book you are using as a source and press the Zotero button in your browser to save it into your library.

If that is also not possible (for example a scan of an article from a journal) you will have to enter the information manually, sorry.

Now how would we cite one of these sources in an essay we’re writing.

When you want to make a citation in Word make sure Zotero is open. Go to the Apple script icon in the menu bar and press Zotero > add citation. In Word 2011 you can also click on the first button in the Zotero toolbar: r”z.

zotero menu

A window will ask you how you want this document to be set up eg. which referencing you want to use, where you want the references to be etc…

zotero document

After you click ok if you’re in Word 2008 you will get a finder type window which will show your Zotero library. Here you will be able to choose your source, the page or chapter number, select multiple sources and more. In Word 2011 a red box will appear which will do the same thing (but it looks nicer).

Word 2008

zotero word 2008

Word 2011

zotero citing 2

When you need a bibliography at the end,  just go back to the Zotero menu (or toolbar) and press add bibliography. Zotero remembers all the sources you have used in the document and creates the bibliography for you.

Its just MAGIC!!


For the Word connector

If you can’t see the Word Connector:

1. Try going (in Word itself) to  Tools > Templates and Add Ins > check the the box saying Zotero

2. If that doesn’t work close Word. Open Zotero. Go to Zotero > Preferences > Cite and Install the Word Connector from there. Open word and it should now be there.

For Safari or Chrome

If the Zotero icons are not appearing in your web browser:

For Safari – go to and under ‘Zotero Standalone’ click the safari icon and install it again. Check if it works now.

For Chrome – download the connector again here from the Chrome Web Store.



Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

20th October 2013 at 9:37 pm

Dear Tashles,

You’re the best.



22nd October 2013 at 7:54 am

thanks so much for this! i’m about to switch PCs in a month..trying to work out if i should bother getting it now or just wait. any advice on how the transfer would work.. presumably just copy all files to zotero folder on new PC? thanks!

22nd October 2013 at 8:08 am
– In reply to: zenzo

Hey, I’m so glad you commented!!! Are you switching from Mac to Mac or PC to PC because if Mac won’t you transfer all your data using Time Machine or a cable? If not there seem to be 2 ways to transfer your Zotero library: you can transfer the library files onto the new machine. There are some instructions here. That should transfer everything. Or the easier way is to sync your Zotero over the internet, it can do that. You just have to create a username and password, then all your material will actually be available online. In this method attachments won’t be synched though.

Catherine Kannemeyerreply
22nd October 2013 at 8:56 am

Have you tried using Mendeley?

Why would you switch to Zotero?

22nd October 2013 at 9:50 am
– In reply to: Catherine Kannemeyer

I had never heard of Mendeley but I just read up about it on their website and downloaded it. Looks like its a lot more advanced than Zotero in the sense that its a PDF organiser as well. I guess I wouldn’t switch to Zotero if I was already happy using Mendeley. I do think however that for basic users needing a software just to do referencing Zotero might be easier. In my degree a lot of my reading material wasn’t available in PDFs and for people who don’t want to write notes on their computer and share research with their colleagues mendeley would have too many features maybe?

24th October 2013 at 10:05 am
– In reply to: chikaboo

nah, fuck mendeley, the only benefit i see is if you have a whole bunch of unnamed pdfs on your computer. but if you’re doing new research, the chrome/safari add-on is way easier because when you download a new pdf you can just click on the little zotero file thing and it adds it to your zotero library anyway.

10th December 2013 at 8:38 am

Hey, I try to get this working, but I’m stuck here:
“You should have installed a little connector into your browser when you downloaded and installed the two files at the beginning”
The icon isn’t there. Next, you write that if it isn’t there, I should go back to the webpage. And then do what? 🙂

Thanks for this guide though! I really hope that it will work out eventually!

Natasha Natarajanreply
10th December 2013 at 8:47 am
– In reply to: Benedikte

Hey Benedikte,

What browser are you using? For chrome you can download the connector here. Restart chrome before you try again and make sure you’re on a website where there is content that zotero understands eg. news website, your library catalogue etc..

Let me now if you have other problems.

10th December 2013 at 8:57 am
– In reply to: Natasha Natarajan

Thanks! I’m using safari though..

Natasha Natarajanreply
10th December 2013 at 9:02 am
– In reply to: Benedikte

Ahh sorry! Then when you’re back on the zotero download page. Under ‘Zotero Standalone’ click the safari icon and it should start downloading the Safari ‘connector’ again. Then try installing it again and restart safari.

10th December 2013 at 1:02 pm
– In reply to: Natasha Natarajan

Ok, now that part worked out 🙂
Other problem: the tool-box and the ‘Zotero’-option when pressing the script icon are not there. When I go to tools>Templates and Add Ins > there is not box saying zotero?

Natasha Natarajan
10th December 2013 at 1:59 pm
– In reply to: Benedikte

oh no! ok close Microsoft Word (Which version are you running by the way 2008 or 2011?). Then open Zotero. Go to Zotero > Preferences > Cite > Word Processors and install the word add in from there. Open word again and see if its there.

I’m sad that I made it sound so easy in the post and you’re having all these problems! Don’t give up though. I promise it will be worth it :).

10th December 2013 at 3:26 pm
– In reply to: Natasha Natarajan

Wow, thanks!! Excellent!
I literally used hours figuring this out!
I’ll get back to you when next problem appears 😉

Natasha Natarajan
10th December 2013 at 3:46 pm
– In reply to: Benedikte

I’m glad it finally worked. I am going to add a troubleshooting section to this post in your honour :).

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