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Learn to use the free reference manager Zotero to save time while writing and citing.

Using Zotero Desktop

The Zotero Desktop app is the best way to access your library-it has the most functionality of the three access points.

Desktop Library

All Zotero libraries look relatively similar, but variations come down to customization by each user. A Zotero (v. 6) library on a Mac will look something like this:

 Each library will have 3 panes:

  1. The left pane that shows your libraries (brown folders) and sub-collections (blue folders), as well as shared group libraries which follow the same file hierarchy.
  2. The central pane shows the contents of whichever folder is selected within the left pane. In this case, I've selected My Library, so the central pane is showing the contents of my entire library which includes the content of every sub-collection. Everything shown here is an individual citation.
  3. The right pane shows the metadata (the "about" data) for the citation selected in the center pane.

Navigation Bar

If we zoom in a bit, the navigation bar looks like this:

From left to right we see:

  • Add a new collection - this creates a folder under the library
  • Add a new group or new feed - this will add a new shared group under the "Group Libraries" section. You will need to have a connected online Zotero account for this to work.
  • Manual Add - to manually add any citation, select the green plus sign and choose the type of material your are citing from a drop down list. Use this only when the item has no online metadata that can be used.
  • Wizard Add - to instantly import any citation using a DOI, PMID, ISBN, or arXiv ID select the magic wand and paste in the digital identifier. This should automatically retrieve the available metadata and populate the citation. Be sue to check that nothing is amiss!
  • Add a note - You can create notes within your library either as "standalone notes," able to be seen in the center pane, or "child notes," which are nested under a citation.
  • Attach - You can use this to attach files to citations.
  • Advanced Search - This will open the advanced search window that will allow you to create a more complex logic search using keywords and fields.

Learn more about adding items here

Add Items from Zotero Connector

Once you have installed the Zotero connector and adjusted its settings, you can start importing items directly to Zotero from your browser. Depending on the metadata available, the connector will look different on different pages. Below are a few of the possibilities:

On a new tab, where there is no metadata to import, the Zotero Connector appears as a red "Z" icon in the navigation bar.


When a journal article is open in the browser, the connector displays as lined page icon in the navigation bar. Clicking on the paper icon will download the metadata for that item into your library, and depending on your settings, the PDF as well. You can choose which collection a saved item goes to from  the drop down by selecting your preferred collection name in the "Saving to" drop-down list. If you need additional information about the file structure, select the carat to the right of the drop-down menu.


When a search in a library catalog or a database like Web of Science is open in the browser, the connector displays a file folder icon. In this case, clicking on the icon will allow you to select which items to important from a list of detected items like this:


Import from Other Reference Managers

Migrating data from other reference managers to Zotero is easy! There are several standardized reference formats like RIS, BibTeX, and CSL JSON, all of which Zotero is capable of importing. Here is a full list of bibliographic formats Zotero can import.

Generally importing a file into Zotero will go like this:

  • Menu Bar → File → Import... → A file
    • Once you have selected a file you will be given handling options. Generally, placing the imported collections and items into a new collection will keep them organized together, and you can always move them. For file handling, you can either copy the files to Zotero's storage folder (recommended) or link to them in their original location (interferes with sync, not recommended).

Instructions for specific reference managers here