Quickstart Guide to Using Zotero


Zotero is a free, open-source tools for collecting, managing, and sharing research. Its functionality can be used through both an online interface to shared collections between groups and when using a desktop application.

When working with certain compatible web browsers, Zotero can also be used to more easily import different resources into a collection through automatically filling in certain citation information based on the type of resource and other available metadata.


When visiting the Download page for Zotero, it will try to guess the operating system and suggest a download appropriate for it.

After downloading Zotero and following its default instructions for installing it, Zotero will then be ready for use.

Using Zotero

When first opening Zotero, it will have three main areas: the Library, its contents, and information about a particular entry.

Note: Moving left-to-right across the program visually in Zotero means getting more specific about an item.


Like many programs, Zotero has its own terminology for things. It’s helpful to begin to understand these terms before seeing how they connect to each other.

Collections: a set of items. These can be books, articles, documents, maps, or anything else Zotero understands. When working with Libraries, these are “collections” of things. It is often useful to think of collections as “folders” containing the items within them.

Items: any resource Zotero understands. Through different models and citation formats, Zotero has structures for 30+ types of items including the more general books and articles to even things like podcasts and law statues.

Notes: textual information added to items. When thinking it terms of books and articles, “notes” are literally that: notes. Zotero gives the user the ability to add their own information to items in their collections to better organize their thinking and connections between works.

Returning to the move from left-to-right across Zotero, collections are in the first pane. Items (those things in a collection) are in the middle. The last, right-most pane contains information about an item (when selected) or the text content of a Note (when selected).

Managing Collections

A Library can have one or more collections. As “folders,” these help a user organize the items in better ways. Depending on the user, it might be more helpful to organize around themes, courses, topics, or other categories. Collections are purposefully left vague in Zotero to empower the user to find a way that best helps them organize their thoughts, items, and the relationships between them.

Adding Collections

Looking slightly different across operating systems, the “Add Collection” button is the top, left-most button in Zotero. After clicking the button, it prompts the user to name this collection and then adds it to the current Library.

Adding Items

Once a collection have been created, items can be added to it. The top, left-most button above the middle pane is the “Add Item” button.

Clicking the “Add Item” button opens a drop-down menu for selecting the type of item.

After selecting the type, Zotero will proved the Item Type and prompt the user to enter more details about the Item. Moving to a new entry will save the data previously entered.

Adding Items By Identifier

One of the most useful aspects of Zotero is the ability to quick populate Items based on their identifiers. In Zotero, an identifier is something like its ISBN, DOI, or other unique way to find an Item.

Through typing or copy-and-pasting this identifier and pressing Enter on the keyboard, Zotero will use online services to automatically populate details about the Item.

Adding Notes

The third button from the left in the middle pane is the “Add Note” button. Clicking this will prompt the user to choose between Standalone or Child Notes. A Standalone Note is an Item that exists alongside other Items like books and articles in a collection. A Child Note is a note “in” another Item.

Child Notes can be useful when adding more information about an Item such as connections to other works or the location like the page numbers of an important quotation.


Inn the right-most corner above the right-most pane is the “Sync with zotero.org” button. When working an account on Zotero.org, collections and their items can be synced to the cloud storage Zotero provides for free.

Note: Zotero limits its storage. Free storage starts at 300 MB with greater amounts requiring paid accounts.

When working between devices or collaborating with people, the ability to synchronize collections and items can be very helpful in organizing across accounts and in splitting up larger projects.

Working with Groups

Group Libraries provides a way to synchronize collections across accounts. They share collections, items, and notes. They allow for annotating works between different parties, collaborating on citations, or simply organizing resources around a theme or topic for easier sharing.

Joining a Group

Zotero groups are managed through its website and require having an account. Groups are joined through either searching for them or through a direct link to the group.

Note: Groups are either public or private. If a group is public, anyone can joining without asking permission. Private groups require asking to join and the creator of the group allowing the user to join.

Joining a group adds the library to an account. Through using the “Sync with Zotero.org” button (for manually updating) or setting up a scheduled time through its Setting, Zotero will update the collections, items, and notes in the Zotero Group from the cloud to the local version.

Making Changes in a Zotero Group

Adding anything or making other changes to the Zotero Group through the desktop application will update those changes to all accounts who are part of the group.