Getting Started


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Some Introductory Resources

Just a few good starting points:

Jason Puckett has also written a book (for those who like that sort of thing):

*NB: The GSU Guide is published under a Creative Commons license as a template for librarians to copy and re-use (selectively or in full) with amendments to suit their own institutions’ needs.

There are more tutorials and guides in the Zotero bibliography, but the above will cover much of what you need to know to get going.


If you want to carry on using Zotero on your own machine after the course:

Instructions [zotero] - covers both Firefox plugin and Standalone version

First Reference

Go to: British Library

You should be able to see a Z next to a small blue icon in the Firefox toolbar. Just click on the icon…

[NB: as you may know if you’ve encountered Zotero before, the icon used to be in the address bar until quite recently and many online tutorials - even on! - are still using older screenshots. The look of the icons has not changed.]


The Zotero Client

To find your saved reference you need to open up the Zotero client in the browser.

Accessing the Zotero pane


  • browser Tools menu
  • Zotero/Z icon in toolbar
  • keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl-Shift-Z on Windows/Linux or Shift-Command-Z on Mac OS X

NB: There are often (at least) two different ways of doing the same thing in Zotero, useful for people with different work habits. When you have an item(s) selected, try right-clicking on it to see what options come up; or you may often be able to access the same actions via the top-row buttons (including the gear button); or there are likely to be keyboard shortcuts (check out the Shortcuts tab in Preferences if that’s your thing). Try them out and see!

The buttons along the top row give access to a number of key functions including:

  • new collection/group
  • access to preferences and export functions
  • add new item/note/attachment
  • search

The three sections from left to right show increasing detail, from the broad overview of collections to individual item metadata.

  • Right: My Library; Group libraries I belong to; Tags library
  • Centre: List of items in selected library/collection. Icons denote item type; Arrows indicate attachments
  • Left: Item level metadata: info, notes, tags, related

The summary list of items in the centre section of the Zotero pane: you can order by different columns and choose different elements to show.

Item Metadata: the Info tab

  • Some fields are universal and available with any item type (eg: Title, Author, Date, URL)
  • Others will vary depending on the item type.
  • Most are free text fields, but there is at least one crucial exception (item type).

Key fields

  • Item Type
    • click on this to see the list of all the available types.
    • if changing this will cause a loss of data in existing fields you’ll get a warning message
  • Title
  • Author
    • arrow indicates other creator types are available - exactly what they are will depend on the item type
    • click on the + button or hit Shift+Enter to add more creators
    • you can toggle between a single field and two fields (surname, given name)
  • Date
    • Zotero does its best to auto-detect date formats
  • URL
    • where there is one, clicking on the ‘URL’ label will open the webpage

The Web Page item type is one of the simplest in Zotero: you can explore the available fields for different item types by changing item type.

The limits on item types and fields within them are among the few absolute constraints in Zotero - you cannot have custom item types or custom fields within item types. In practice, for the vast majority of possible uses, this is not an issue. (Although I’ve been thinking recently there ought to be a “dataset” item type…)


Click on the gear icon and select Preferences.

There are a lot of available options (most of which you’ll probably never change!). The ones most likely to interest you are:

  • General - adjust appearance and set a number of useful features.
  • Sync - for your zotero user account details to enable syncing functions
  • Search - turn full-text indexing of PDFs on and off (you might want this on)
  • Export - specify how bibliographies and data exports are generated
  • Cite - install word processor plugins, add and remove citation styles


General preferences

Noteworthy settings:

  • Automatically take snapshots (a copy of the complete HTML code) when creating items from webpages
    • this can be useful for searching and to ensure you have an archived copy of the page
  • Automatically attach associated PDFs when saving items
    • if this is checked Zotero will attempt to download and attach PDFs, for example when saving from Google Scholar or an online journal.
  • Automatically tag items with keywords and subject headings
    • some catalogues and websites will add a lot of keywords that aren’t necessarily relevant to your interests, so your mileage may vary with this one!
  • Options for copying tags, notes and attachments when copying items between libraries

Sync preferences

If you want Zotero to sync with a account and across multiple devices you will need to fill in your account details here.

You have the options to sync attached files as well as bibliographical information: bear in mind that if you turn this on it can eat into your storage allowance very quickly!

Your basic bibliographical references aren’t included in storage allowance limits though - syncing those is unlimited. And if you run out of storage space, Zotero doesn’t delete anything - it just stops syncing attachments beyond that point.

Zotero website

It’s quite possible to use Zotero effectively without a account. But you won’t be able to use the file storage, syncing and group collaboration without one.


Registration form

After registering

You can do many things interchangeably between the website and your Zotero client, so long as you have automatic syncing turned on (see the note below about where your stuff is).

Yyou can choose whether to make your library private (this is the default on registering) or public.

NB: accounts can be deleted from within the user account settings.


On most pages on there is a quick search bar in the navigation menu, which changes according to context between ‘people’, ‘groups’ and ‘support’. (In the search results you get the option to change to a different type of search if you want to.)

When viewing a library, you can use the search bar to search that library.

Where is your stuff?

The Zotero client is installed, and saves references, locally on your computer. If you don’t turn on syncing, that’s where it stays.

When you turn on automatic syncing, your references are all copied to Zotero’s storage servers in the cloud. You will be able to access them, make changes, add more, delete and so on in your personal library at, and any changes you make there will sync back (within a few minutes, usually) to your local installation.

You can then install the Zotero client on other computers, put in your account details and turn on syncing, and it will mirror your stuff across all those computers.

Syncing can’t necessarily be relied on as a perfect, complete backup of everything in your library (for example, as already noted, if it runs out of storage space it will stop syncing attachments). The safest way to ensure you get a backup of everything in your Zotero installation (including things like plugins, customisations, additional citation styles, and so on, as well as the database of your references), is to regularly backup your full Firefox or Standalone profile as part of your backup routine for your computer (and if you’re not doing that, then you should start right now!).

See: Locating your Zotero Library [zotero]

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This page was last modified on August 22, 2015, at 08:48 AM