Getting Started

Getting Started


Zotero is both a desktop application and a browser extension that easily manages your sources. It collects citation information, organizes sources, and creates bibliographies in almost all citation styles.

This guide will take you through the basics of installation, capturing citations, creating bibliographies, and it will provide some tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of Zotero.





This is by far the most difficult part of using Zotero for most students. Depending on the preferred browser and computer (Mac or PC), the process will be slightly different.

Zotero was originally created as a browser extension for Firefox. Zotero is now only available as a standalone application that can work with Chrome, Safari, or Firefox browser extensions.

To download Zotero, go to, and select the big red button that says "Download Now." Then choose which version you want to install based on which browser you use. You can either follow the steps provided by the Zotero website or you can watch the videos below.

Watch the following videos for help with installing Zotero on your computer.


1.  Zotero Standalone with Safari Connector (Mac)




2. Zotero Standalone with Chrome Connector (PC)




It is a good idea to look through the preferences after downloading Zotero to get a better idea of how you can customize the application to better fit your needs. In order to view the preferences, click the gear icon on the top left of the Zotero panel.


Once you open preferences, browse through the different tabs to familiarize yourself with the options available. There are a few important things you need to change in order to get the most out of Zotero. Each important feature is shown below.


I. General

Check the box “Automatically attach associated PDFs.” This will store all available PDFs so you can access them at any time through Zotero.


II. Sync 

Create a Zotero account if you haven't already created one when you initially downloaded Zotero. Also make sure the box "Sync automatically" is checked. This will ensure that your library will sync up with your online account so you can access your citations from any computer, even if the computer doesn't have Zotero downloaded! Just go to and log in with your account information.


III. Advanced

Add the following line into the "Resolver" box as shown in the screenshot below:…. You can also simply click "Search for Resolvers" if you are on campus. Two options will show up, always choose the one that says "Cal State San Marcos." This will ensure that Zotero recognizes you as a student at CSUSM and allows you to access library items paid for by your tuition!


One you have updated the preferences, it is time to start capturing citations!

Saving & Organizing Citations

Saving & Organizing Citations


Saving individual citations

After you download Zotero, you may begin to notice little icons appearing in the URL. Zotero recognizes when you are looking at an item page for a book, article, webpage, music recording, newspaper article, and more! When you click on the icon in the URL, Zotero grabs the metadata for that item and saves it to your library. This metadata is stored and later used for creating bibliographies effortlessly! 



Saving citations with the folder feature

When you see the folder icon below, that means you are on a page that includes several sources. Clicking on that icon allows you to choose which items you want to save and then save them all to your library at once. This is a particularly useful feature when searching for journal articles in the databases!

Selecting the folder icon will bring you to the following screen.



Saving citations from webpages or pages without icons

This is a great option for those times when Zotero doesn't recognize an item page or when you want to save a webpage as a citation. Go to the website or item page that you want to save and choose the "Create Web Page Item from Current Page " icon as shown below.



Saving citations manually

Let's say you have a few items that you want to include in your bibliography but they do not exist online, such as a paper letter or an interview you captured on a cassette. You can still record the information for those items in Zotero by using the "New Item" icon shown below. This will allow you to manually input all the information you have for the item so you can include it in your bibliographies.



Organizing citations

You can easily organize your citations by creating collections and subcollections (think folders and subfolders) in your Zotero library. Use the "New Collection" icon or right click on "My Library" to create new folders. Similarly, right-click on existing collections to create subcollections.

Creating Bibliographies

Creating Bibliographies


Now that you have collected and organized your citations, it's time to create your bibliography. It's so easy, it's crazy.


Drag and drop

The easiest way to create a bibliography is to simply drag and drop the selected citation(s) onto a word document, google doc, or any other word processor. 

If you want to change the citation style output for the drag and drop feature, go to the Gear Icon --> Preferences --> Export --> and select which citation style you want from the "Default Output Format." 




Create bibliography from a collection or subcollection

If you want to create a bibliography from all items in one collection or subcollection, simply right click the collection name and choose "Create Bibliography from Collection." A pop-up will appear giving you choices for citation style and output format. Copy to clipboard and then paste into your document!





Tips and tricks

Things to remember when using Zotero:

  • It's free...which is great! This means your Zotero library can follow you throughout your college career and beyond. 
  • It's free....which can be not so great. Zotero can make mistakes and metadata for items can be incorrect. Remember to always check and double-check your citations with an authoritative and up-to-date citation guidebook.
  • If you can't find an option, right-click! Zotero often makes use of contextual menus that provide many options that can't be found unless you right-click. 
  • If something isn't working right, Zotero forums are a great place to get your questions answered. This is an open source project and tons of people devote their time to fixing Zotero bugs!



Feel free to contact the librarian listed on the right of the screen if you have any questions about using Zotero.