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Organizing and Creating Information

Participate in the scholarly conversation ethically and efficiently. Learn more about citation management and attribution in the production of new knowledge.


This page was created to help you:

  • Import, edit, and organize references using Zotero
  • Select and change citation style in a document
  • Manage references throughout the research process
  • Describe why you would choose Zotero over other software

About Zotero

What can it do?

Zotero is a free tool that helps you collect, organize, cite, and share research sources.

This page provides information on how to download, install, and use the basic functions of this software. There is extensive online documentation and an excellent Quick Start Guide if you’d like to dig deeper and explore options for customizing your Zotero library.


Think you know Zotero already? Check your knowledge with our Zotero Checklist.


Citation or reference managers can do the following:

  • Manage citations/references
  • Organize PDFs and notes
  • Generate and format references, footnotes, and bibliographies
  • Share your library and collaborate with others
  • Save you time and frustration when wrangling research sources

Zotero is open source, meaning it was created by a community of researchers and developers, is available for free, and the code is available for anyone to inspect. Many libraries, including the Brown University Library, support this tool because it is flexible and easy to use, and you will be able to take it with you when you leave Brown.

The Library also supports EndNote, a subscription citation manager used primarily in the sciences.

Setting Up Zotero Desktop

To use our recommended setup, follow these four steps:

  1. Install Zotero software on your computer
  2. Install a browser plugin
  3. Create an account
  4. Sync your account to the software on your computer

After you install and sync your account, you can read on to learn about file storage and the basic components of the Zotero window.


This site has download options for both the software and browser connector.

  • Software: Download options are available for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  • Connector: Options for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge.

Create an Account

You set your own username and password. You may want to use your personal email rather than your Brown email account as a primary account, so you can easily take your references with you after Brown. You can add a secondary email using your account to access unlimited file storage while you are at Brown.


When using the desktop version of Zotero, you will need to sign in to connect to the account you created online. This will allow you to sync your references between your computer and the Zotero cloud.

Zotero sync options highlighted with black boxes


There are three main sections of the Zotero window.

  1. Collections: Folders to organize your references
  2. Items: A list of all items in your library or the selected collection
  3. Item Details: Contains four tabs:
    1. Item information, citation metadata
    2. Notes
    3. Tags
    4. Related documents

3 black boxes around each zotero pane

File Storage

Zotero Storage provides online storage space for your Zotero files, allowing you to synchronize PDFs, images, web snapshots, and other files among all your devices, share your Zotero attachments in group libraries, and access files via your online library on

The Brown University Library provides unlimited storage to institutional users. To access this service, make sure that your email is listed on your account. It can be a primary or secondary email address. 

To add an email to your account:

  • Sign in at
  • Click Settings
  • Then click Account 
  • Look for the heading "Manage Email Accounts" or similar, and add an alternate email.

If you had a personal account prior to coming to Brown and were paying for storage, your subscription will be paused as long as the Brown email address is associated with your account. Your subscription will resume once you depart Brown. If and when you leave Brown, if you are currently using more space than Zotero provides for free, you'll have the option to pay for storage from Zotero, or download your files and save them in an alternate location. Your citation information, notes, collections, and tags will always be available to you even if you do not pay for storage.

Storage in Group Libraries

Storage in a Group Library draws from the account of the group owner. If they have unlimited storage, the group library, and all shared members, will also have unlimited storage in that library.

Adding & Collecting References

There are four basic ways to add references to your Zotero library.

  1. Manual Entry
  2. Upload/Import a list
  3. Drag and Drop Documents
  4. Add from the Browser with Zotero Connector

Manual Entry

You can manually type in bibliographic information for each item you want to add to your library. Select the type of source, then enter information onto the form.

In Zotero:

  • Use "Add New" button
  • Select item type
  • Manually type in the citation information in the "Item Details" pane, which is the panel all the way to the right on the screenanimation of clicking add button and selecting item type.

You can change the item type and item details at any time. For example, a book will have different fields available to you than a film.

When you start writing, you may notice that a citation doesn't look right. Check the item details to address the errors you see.


You can upload a list of references that you have or that you exported from a research database. The list needs to be in a format that Zotero recognizes, such as RIS, Zotero RDF, or BibTex.

In Zotero:

  • File → Import
  • Select file Type
  • Select file from your directoryanimation of pubmed citation export, importing into zotero

Drag and Drop Documents

You can drag and drop files into your Zotero library, and it will create a record for you. For newer PDFs, Zotero can even retrieve and auto-fill some of the metadata. If Zotero can't determine the metadata, you can then update or enter the information manually.

  • Position your file directory so you can see your files and Zotero at the same time
  • Select the files to bring in
  • Drag and drop the files into the Zotero item list pane, in the middle of your screenanimation of drag and drop action from directory to zotero item pane

Zotero Connector

The Zotero Connector is a plugin that automatically captures citation information from your browser and saves it to your Zotero library.

This is the easiest way to add references to your Zotero library while you are actively searching or researching.

You can save a single reference, like a journal article or webpage, or multiple items at a time if the connector recognizes multiple items on the page, like Amazon search results or a list of articles from a search on Google Scholar.

Note: The connector icon will change depending on what type of document Zotero thinks you are looking at.

Here are some examples of what to look for:

  • article icon for zoteroArticle
  • Book icon for ZoteroBook
  • folder icon for ZoteroFolder

For a single reference, like an article or book, you will see a note that the connector is saving the reference to your library.

connector save screen

If there are multiple items recognized on the page, you will see a pop-up where you can select which references to save.

selection screen for multiple zotero references

More options for saving references to your library are outlined in the Zotero documentation.

Organizing References

Zotero offers multiple options to organize references. You can mix and match these features to find an organization system that works for you — and stick to it!


Every reference that you add to your library will appear under the "My Library" tree. It's up to you to organize the references into collections and subcollections.

Some people use collections to organize their collection by topic, while other people find it useful to organize collections by paper or assignment. If you delete an item from a collection, it will still be saved in your library, so you can add it to a different collection in the future.

black box around collection and subcollection


The "Item Details" pane has a tab to add notes. You can attach multiple notes to an item.

It's important to know that the search bar does not search your notes.

The first line of your note will appear in the Item Details pane for easy browsing.

note highlighted in Zotero


Unlike notes, you can search your Zotero library for tags.

You can manually add or delete tags from the "Item Details" pane. You may notice that some references have tags that you didn't input. When you import your references from a research database or high-quality PDF, Zotero will import metadata, like tags, too.

Group Libraries and Sharing

Zotero lets you share references using a feature called "Groups." Groups are a good way to share references with a class, work closely with research collaborators, and keep track of conversations happening in your field.

Groups are separate from your personal library and are created online, rather than in the software you downloaded to your computer. You will be able to see references in a Group locally, but permissions are set online, in the Group settings. You can drag and drop items from your library to a Group and it will make a copy of the item.

Refer to the full documentation for details on permissions and adding members to a Group.

Writing with Zotero

There are a few options to know about when you are ready to start writing. There are quick options for generating a bibliography, but the full word processor integration is the most powerful and will save you time and reduce the stress that comes with formatting and keeping track of citations, footnotes, and references in your document.

Simple Bibliographies

Zotero has two options for automatically generating a simple bibliography: "Quick Copy" and "Right-Click to Create." Details are available directly from Zotero:

Quick Copy

  • Highlight the reference to include in your bibliography
  • Drag and drop into the text editor of your choiceanimation of drag and drop from zotero into word and gmail

Right Click

  • Select the items to include in your bibliography
  • Right click and select "Create Bibliography from Item"
  • Choose the style
  • Choose the export format (the example is "Copy to Clipboard")
  • Paste in the text editor of your choiceanimation of right click in zotero to export bibliography to clipboard


Google Docs

Other Writing Tools

Zotero officially supports Word, Google Docs, and LibreOffice.

There are third-party integrations available for LaTex and other text editors, statistical software, and web development tools.


If you are looking for a way to instantly generate a bibliography, but are not interested in building a shared library or reusing sources across different projects, ZoteroBib is a great option.

Zotero Checklist

In Practice

Use this checklist to check your knowledge of using Zotero to manage references.

Adding References Checklist:

  • Create a Collection in "My Library"
  • Add a reference manually
  • Add a reference by dragging and dropping into the item pane
  • Add a reference using the Zotero Connector

Writing Checklist:

  • Choose Google Docs or Word
  • Activate the Zotero plugin
  • Select your citation style
  • Add two in-text citations
  • Create a bibliography

Learning Objectives

This page was designed to help you:

  • Import, edit, and organize references using Zotero
  • Select and change citation style in a document
  • Manage references throughout the research process
  • Describe why you would choose Zotero over other software
Did this page help you meet these objectives?
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no: 16 votes (40%)
Total Votes: 40