How To Use Zotero to Finish Your Research Paper FASTER

By Chris Landeros •  Updated: 12/04/21 •  11 min read

How to Use Zotero: The Ultimate Beginners Guide for Students

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How To Use Zotero to Write Research Papers Faster (thumbnail)

When it comes to writing research papers, there’s nothing more dreadful than organizing all your research articles, citing your sources, and wasting time sitting through another EasyBib ad just to get a proper bibliography.

But I’m going to blow your mind with this time saving app called Zotero.

This is an ultimate guide on how to use Zotero to save literally HOURS when writing your next college research paper!

Is there a video explaining how to use Zotero?

Yes there is. I highly recommend this one by Paul V. Galvin Library. It’s a little long but it details everything you need to get you started.

If it’s pretty clear, but if you get bored, just 2x speed the video! Trust me, it’ll help keep you focused (a low key on your feet)

Why use Zotero?

Zotero collecting your research results

Zotero automaticall captures your research items, allowing you quickly organize research, insert citations, and create bibliographies in 1 click.

Zotero is a personal research assistant that can:

I learned about this tool while hanging out with my friend, Diondraya Taylor, who uses it to write her papers in her PhD program at UCLA.

Who is Zotero Best For?

You need to download Zotero TODAY if you’re a:

Honestly, EVERY student, high school, college, or every writer should be using this tool!

Especially if you’re researching and organizing all your sources. I am not joking, you will save HOURS of your life!

Okay, hopefully I’ve convinced you to try it out!

Getting Started With Zotero

First Download Zotero

In order to get access to this free personal research assistant, you have to download Zotero on both your browser and your laptop.

I know, I hate downloading extra software onto my laptop, but it’s worth it!

How To Use Zotero to Finish Your Research Paper FASTER

If you’re not Boomer, then go ahead and skip to the Zotero Research 101 section to get started learning how to use Zotero to be a research paper writing BEAST!

Downloading Zotero on your Browser

Download the plugin directly from the site. The Zotero Connector Plugin is available on almost all popular internet browsers including FireFox, Safari, and Edge.

Zotero plugin available on firefox, safari, and Edge

There’s also a bookmarklet that works in any browser, including smartphones and tablets too.

This plugin will be your research paper swiss army knife, allowing you to quickly download the research paper, citation info, and even the pdf (if available) directly onto your Zotero profile.

Once you have the Zotero Connector installed, you should automatically see the Zotero option available in your Google Docs.

How To Use Zotero to Finish Your Research Paper FASTER

Image from Berkeley Library

Downloading Zotero on your Mac or PC

Downloading the Zotero app gives you unfiltered access to all of your research files, including author info, downloaded pdfs, tags, links, notes, and more.

Downloading the Zotero Desktop App

When learning how to use Zotero, the app will be your unabridged access to your files, helping you keep your research project organized from day 1.

Create a Zotero Account

Okay now create your Zotero Account! This will to keep all of your items organized all on your profile.

Register a Zotero account

Creating a Zotero account is necessary to use all of Zotero’s features

So even if you leave your computer at home, or it gets stolen (it happened to my friend RIP), you won’t lose your saved research files.

This will save your life! Especially if you don’t back up your laptop’s files. Which you should!

I made a guide on how to add extra backup storage to your Mid 2012 MacBook Pro (in case you need it).

Creating an account also gives you access to 300 MB of online storage for free. But if you ever need more you can simply buy more on Zotero’s site.

Zotero storage plans-prices and storage limits

Image updated as of Dec 2, 2021.


Sync Your Zotero Account With The Zotero App

Once you created your account, you can login in and sync it across all your devices by going in preferences and logging in:

Syncing Your Zotero Account

Zotero also has a detailed step-by-step article explaining how to login in.

Search for your research articles

Now that you have all the software setup, go ahead and research whatever is relevant for your paper!

How to Add Research Papers to Zotero in 1 Click

Zotero will literally capture all of your research results automatically with 1 click!

How to Add Multiple Papers at once

Once you have your research results, you can hit the folder icon in order to add multiple papers, articles, and journals at once.

Clicking on Zotero Connector folder icon

Once you clicked the folder icon, Zotero will automatically show a popup window, allowing you to select which research journals or items you’d like to download into your database.

Zotero collecting your research results

The Zotero Connector plugin automatically identifies and pulls information from your search results. Allowing you to collect tons of journals at once. Here it shows Zotero ready to add multiple articles at once on Google Scholar.

Here it shows Zotero pulling up multiple articles at once in Google Scholar. This feature works on any other research database like PubMed, Wiley, and ProQuest (to name a few).

You can download multiple articles at once, capturing important info like:

Simply click “Select All” or check off the articles that seem most relevant to your research paper.

Important Note: Remember to have your Zotero app opened before doing your research.

If not, you can click on the “Enable Saving to Online Library” in order to store your articles and journals to your online storage instead.

Is Zotero Running popup

How to Individually Add Research Articles

If you want to selectively vet each article before saving it to your library, you can download them individually.

*Video Example COMING SOON

Simply click any article from the search results. See if it’s relevant to your paper and hit the Zotero button on your browser tab.

Save Any Citations With Zotero

To save citations for books, newspaper articles, or websites, you simply have to repeat the steps outlined above.

The Zotero Connector icon tends to change depending on the format of the item you’re trying to save to your library.

But remember to follow these 3 main steps:

This video outlines how to do this:

After you’ve done your research, you can access all your items on your Zotero Desktop app.

Zotero library after capturing items

Here you can organize your items into folders and prepare to kick your paper’s ass!

How to use Zotero to Save Time on your Research Paper

Now that we got the setup out of the way, this is where you’ll start to reap the mangos from your research garden.

Use Zotero to Create In-Text Citations

Click on the Zotero shortcut on your Google Docs or Word page.

Then click on the “Add/edit citation…” tab from the drop down menu.

How to add in-text citations with Zotero

You can click on the Zotero tab or the Zotero button to add and edit in-text citations to your research paper

Now just search for the citation you wanted to add by either typing in the keyword or title of the item in your library.

Zotero's search tool to add in-text citations

Zotero’s search tool to add in-text citations

You can also pull up the entire library by clicking the Zotero “Z” button and clicking on “classic view” to open all of your library files.

Classic view on Zotero

Zotero’s classic view gives you access to your entire library, letting you pick which item you to need reference. You can also add in the page number you’re referencing.

After that, just select item or items you need to cite for your paper.

Zotero will automatically format them for you based on your selected citation style. Here you can also add in the pages you’re referencing by clicking on your items highlighted in blue.

Highlighted in-text citation before it's inserted in the paper

Zotero automatically formats the citation style for you. If you need to add the page your citing, click on the citation highlighted in blue.

*Video of adding in pages to citations COMING SOON

Now press enter and let Zotero do the rest.

Note: Keyboard Shortcuts To Quickly Access Zotero’s citation feature

On Mac, hold CMD + CTRL + C.

On PC, hold CTRL + ALT + C

How to Automatically add a Bibliography using Zotero

This is so easy and fast.

Just click the Zotero button and click on “Add/edit bibliography” from the drop down menu to add in the bib, works cited, or references page.

How to add or edit bibliography on Zotero

In the pop up menu you can add in or remove items from your bib.

Editing Bibliography on Zotero

How to add more citations styles like MLA or Harvard to Zotero.

How To Add More Citation Styles to Your Zotero

I bet you didn’t know APA stood for American Psychological Association. Bruh, I barely found out today. But nice to know it’s already preloaded for you on Zotero.

I bet you didn’t know APA stood for American Psychological Association. Bruh, I barely found out today. But nice to know it’s already preloaded for you on Zotero.

  1. Open the Zotero app
  2. Click on Zotero
  3. Open preferences
  4. Click on “Cite” Tab
  5. Click on “Add Citation
  6. Search for your paper’s citation style and add it in


Zotero style repository

You can search for any citation style you need and add it to your Zotero straight from the Zotero Style Repository

You can search for any citation style you need and add it to your Zotero straight from the Zotero Style Repository.

How to Add Research Items Manually

Sometimes your professor, faculty member, or lead may have access to physical files or media you unavailable online. You can still add your research items manually through the Zotero desktop app.

Open the Zotero app, click on the green icon, and add whatever item you need to your library.

Zotero is a College Research Paper GAME CHANGER!

Honestly, I found out about Zotero when I was a college freshman but it was always so hard to understand.

Now, after creating this extensive guide, I’m literally facepalming myself for all the hours I wasted organizing my research and writing bibs at the last minute.

Literally my tabs would look like this:


I really used to add each in-text citation and bibliography by HAND! Don’t mind me, I’ll be crying on top of the piles of college papers I wasted too much time on.

Don’t be me, download Zotero already.

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What if I only need a one bibliography?

If you just need a one off bibliography, you can use Zbib to create one quickly. All you need to do is:

How to Edit Your Captured Research Items?

Sometimes you’ll get lucky and Zotero will capture all the metadata for item in your library:

Zotero captures all research item metadata

But sometimes you’ll have to fill in any extra missing data. You can do this by clicking on the research article or item, and clicking on the meta data you want to edit or add.

*video of me editing meta description COMING SOON

Can you Collaborate in Groups with Zotero?

Yes. Zotero has an in-depth guide on how to create group folders.

Can I add footnotes with Zotero?

Yes. Here’s a video showing you how:

Chris Landeros

My name is Christopher Landeros but you can call me Chris. I started this website after struggling to find relatable and relevant info for first-gen college students. I kept learning the ropes and was wondering why there wasn't a resource to show you how to practically navigate college. So here I am, creating the most in-depth content for College Lighthouse.