How to Use Zotero: The Ultimate Beginners Guide for Students
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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 is a personal research assistant that can:
- Rapidly store all your research articles straight from Google Scholar or any Research Database
- Automatically download any online pdf that comes with your article, journal, or research paper (Great for you PhD candidates and professional scientists)
- Quickly adds references for your in-text citations!
- Automatically create properly formatted bibliographies for your Works Cited or References Page in 1-Click!
- And Sync all your PDFs, images, audio clips, and folders!
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.
I'll send you an academic planner and more of these awesome articles!
Who is Zotero Best For?
You need to download Zotero TODAY if you’re a:
- College Student writing a paper
- College Grad Student (Masters or PhD students)
- Academic Researcher (PhDs, Deans, Advisors)
- Professional Researcher (Clinical Researchers, JD’s, Etc.)
- BIG fan of using software tools like Notion to make your college life easier
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
- Author names
- Journal info
- Pdfs (if available)
- and more
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.
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:
- Find the item you want to add to your library
- click the Zotero Connector icon (the image can vary)
- Review your new captured item in the Zotero app
This video outlines how to do this:
After you’ve done your research, you can access all your items on your Zotero Desktop app.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
In the pop up menu you can add in or remove items from your bib.
How to add more citations styles like MLA or Harvard to 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.
- Open the Zotero app
- Click on Zotero
- Open preferences
- Click on “Cite” Tab
- Click on “Add Citation
- Search for your paper’s citation style and add it in
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:
- Add a URL, ISBN, DOI, PMID, arXiv ID, or title and Zoterobib will generate a citation for your bibliography
- Or add items manually
How to Edit Your Captured Research Items?
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and Zotero will capture all the metadata for item in your library:
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 LanderosMy 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.
I'll send you an academic planner and more of these awesome articles!