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

What's Zotero?

Zotero (zoh-tair-oh) is a free, open source software owned by the Corporation for Digital Scholarship. There is a global community of users that create plugins and develop tutorials for its use.

As a citation management tool, Zotero helps you collect, organize, and manage research sources and cite them in your writing.


  • Compatible Operating Systems: OS, iOS, Windows, and Linux
  • Plug-In Compatible Browsers: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari
  • Word Processor Compatibility: GoogleDocs, Microsoft Word, LibreOffice

This guide aims to give you the basics to start using Zotero. Please use the Quick Start Guide or the other support documentation below to become a Zotero pro! If you have questions or need help with Zotero, contact your subject librarian.

Click to Download Zotero

Getting Started - Zotero Desktop

The Zotero Desktop app is the best way to access your library as it has the most functionality of the three access points. Zotero desktop does not require any other Zotero plug-ins or accounts to work, but they are recommended. Zotero desktop also does not require an internet connection to create citations or bibliographies from the items in your library. 

Once Zotero is installed, it's time to set up your preferences

To set up your Zotero Desktop, find the preferences menu.

On Mac menu bar: ZoteroSettings

On Windows menu bar: Edit → Preferences

Preference Options:

  • General: Adjust the appearance of Zotero and select basic settings including file handling.
    • Here you can control whether Zotero automatically takes snapshots of webpages, attaches PDFs to items in your library, or creates items from imported PDFs.
  • Sync: Connect your Zotero account and set up data and file syncing.
  • Search: Select settings for full-text search.
  • Export: Choose your preferred citation format for quick citations.
  • Cite: Manage citation styles and add additional styles.
    • Enable the Microsoft Word or LibreOffice add in here to generate citations while you write.
  • Advanced: Select a location for Zotero data and add a link resolver for automatic PDF download of journal articles.
    • Find the Dartmouth link resolver by selecting to Advanced General OpenURL  North America  Dartmouth College

Learn more about using Zotero, adding citations, and creating bibliographies in other sections of this guide.

Zotero Online

To make the most of Zotero, you should register for a free account. This gives you access to many of the features of Zotero, from anywhere with an internet connection. You will also need a Zotero account to:

  • Create a back-up your library through auto-sync.
  • To create shared group libraries & be added to group libraries.
  • Use the Zotero Connector when Zotero Desktop is not open (if you choose to enable this option).
  • Use Zotero iOS

Register for a Zotero account here

Once you've created an account, be sure to connect it to your Zotero desktop app in the preferences menu (Zotero  Settings Sync) here (screenshots from Zotero Desktop for Mac):

Create an account from the preferences window or add your Zotero account log-in here. Select "Set Up Syncing."

Once you add your account, you have data syncing options:

  • Sync automatically: Select this to back-up your Zotero desktop library to your Zotero online library. This setting will sync your items and their respective notes & metadata.
  • Sync full-text content: Select this to sync an item's PDF, images, or other attachments from your desktop library to your online library.

Learn more about sync options here


Zotero Connector: Browser Plug-In

The Zotero Connector allows you to add new items to your library as you browse online. With the click of a button, Zotero Connector will create an item of the appropriate type, populate the metadata, and download the PDF as available.

The connector is compatible with Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and Safari (the Safari connector installed from Zotero Desktop).

Install the Zotero Connector for Chrome, Edge or Firefox

To install the Safari Connector, navigate on the menu bar to Safari → Preferences → Extensions, and check the box to the left of "Zotero Connector."

You can ask the Zotero Connector in Chrome, Edge, and Firefox can work in two ways:

  1. Only when Zotero desktop is open
  2. When Zotero desktop is closed, enable a connection to online Zotero library

To mange these preferences, you will need to update the preferences inside the Zotero Connector. This should be accessible through your browser's Add-on menu (often shaped like a puzzle piece) in Chrome, Edge Firefox. These settings can be controlled under "General."

Inside the add-on menu, under "Advanced" is where you will enable the integration for Google Docs. We'll talk more about this when we talk about adding citations.

NOTE: The Zotero Connector for Safari does not include these options, and the Zotero Connector for Chrome automatically adds Zotero to GoogleDocs.

Zotero for iOS

If you like to use your phone or iPad to read or annotate papers, try the Zotero App for iOS. The free app is available in the App Store for both iPad and iPhone. It has much of the same functionality as the Zotero Desktop app but does require a account as it backs up to the cloud. For example:

  • Allows you to collect citations and connect PDFS
  • Organize and edit citations
  • Annotate PDFs
  • Generate citations in any citation format
  • Share in group libraries


You may need to change some of your sync preferences in your Zotero settings. You'll want the PDF to be accessible in your Zotero online library to use it via iOS Zotero.