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Citation Management with Zotero

Learn to use Zotero, a free, open-source citation management tool.

Organize With Collections

All your references live in My Library. You can organize those references into collections and subcollections, represented by a folder icon. When you add a reference to a collection, Zotero does not make an additional copy of the reference. It simply displays that reference in both My Library and the collection you've chosen. You can add a reference to as many collections and subcollections as you wish; the reference is still simply mirroring the My Library reference. In this way, Zotero operates like your music library on your phone, and collections are your playlists.

Create a new collection by tapping the New Collection button on the toolbar at the top of the navigation pane. This button looks like a yellow folder with a green plus sign.

By right-clicking a collection, you can rename it, delete it, or add a subcollection. Deleting your collection also deletes any subcollections, but the references themselves will still remain in My Library and in any other collections you placed them in unless you choose Delete Collection and Items.

You can reorganize your hierarchy at any time by dragging and dropping the folders, including making folders subcollections or promoting them to top-level collections. To do the latter, drag the collection into My Library.

To add an item to a collection, drag and drop it there from My Library or from any other collection it currently lives in. To instead move an item from one collection to another (adding it to one and removing from the other), hold down Cmd (Mac) or Shift (Windows/Linux) on your keyboard while dragging and dropping it. To remove an item from a collection, right-click it and select Remove Item from Collection. It is not possible to accidentally remove an item from My Library.

If you are currently in a collection when you use the Zotero Connector, it will automatically import into both My Library and that collection. You can change what's happening in the Saving box in your browser if you're quick enough, or you can go into Zotero and remove it manually.

To see which references your collections are in, select an item in the center pane and, on your keyboard, hold down Control (PC), Option (Mac), or Alt (Linux). Collections that include that reference will be highlighted in yellow. Press the key on your keyboard again if the highlights don't automatically disappear.

To see your references that are only in My Library, tap the Unfiled Items special collection.

Label Using Tags

Tags are descriptive keywords about references in your library. They appear in the Tag Selector box at the bottom of the navigation pane. Clicking on a tag will show you only references with that tag.

Why use tags?

Automatic tags can help you explore your library using the terminology preferred by databases you use. Manual tags can be especially useful to label references with things like "to read," "project name," "name of colleague who sent me this article/who might enjoy this article," etc. You can also create your own thematic tags.

Automatic Tags

Zotero frequently imports tags automatically, pulling in data like subject headings when you import a reference from a database. You can turn this off in your preferences. You can also hide or delete automatic tags by tapping the multicolored menu icon in the bottom right of the Tag Selector.

Manual Tags

To apply an existing tag or add a new tag to a reference, select the reference in the center pane and tap the Tags tab in the details pane. Manual tags will have a blue icon next to them, as opposed to the orange icon for automatic tags. Tap Add and begin typing. If there's already a tag in your library similar to what you're typing, it will show up as a suggestion. You can select that suggestion or create a new tag. To remove a tag, tap the minus sign next to it.

To tag an attachment, including a note, select it in the center pane. The tags option appears in the details pane, but at the bottom right instead of as a tab at the top.

Another way to add tags is to select one or more items in the center pane and drag it onto a tag in the Tag Selector. This works for anything in your library.

Manage Tags

Right-clicking a tag in the Tag Selector allows you to delete or rename it. Deleting a tag removes it from any reference it was previously associated with. Renaming a tag to the exact same text as another existing tag will merge the two, applying the revised tag to items that had the old tag.

You can also assign a color to a tag. This changes the color of the tag text, bolds it, and shows a colored square next to the tagged items in the center pane. It also prioritizes the tag, moving it to the top of the Tag Selector.

Searching Tags

You can search your existing tags using the search box at the bottom of the Tag Selector.

You can search for items using tags in quick search or advanced search, or by clicking on a tag in the Tag Selector. Selecting more than one tag in that box is an AND search: an item must have ALL of the tags in order to appear in the center pane.

Search Your Library

Quick Search

The search box at the top right of the center pane allows you to search your library quickly. Quick search works best with a word or short phrase.

The three quick search options are:

  • Title, Creator, Year - includes these three fields plus publication title
  • All Fields & Tags - searches all fields, tags, and text in notes
  • Everything - same as All Fields & Tags, but also PDFs

Advanced Search

Tap the magnifying glass in the toolbar above the center pane to access the advanced search. You can also get there from the Edit menu.

Here you can use multiple criteria in your search, such as a combination of words from the title of an article and the year of publication, or an author and when you added the reference to Zotero.

Zotero automatically truncates, or looks for any ending, of words that you search. You can also manually use the % sign as a wildcard to replace zero or more characters. In an advanced search, you can use % to search for items where a field contains any content at all.

Connect Related Items

You can create a relationship between items in your library using the Related feature. A few examples in which this might be useful would be to connect book chapters to the book in which they were published, conference presentations to articles about the same research study, or references to the article you found them in.

To relate two items, select one in the center pane and choose the Related tab in the details pane. Tap the Add button.

Select the second item in the center pane and tap OK.

If you find relating items helpful, you may want to install the plugin Zutilo, which allows you to select several references in the center pane and right-click to relate them all in a single step. See the plugins section of this guide for more details.