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Zotero and Other Citation Management Tools

Downloading Zotero

You can download Zotero (for free!) directly from the website at

Organizing Resources With Collections and Subcollections

When you first open Zotero, you will see that you are automatically set up with a primary folder titled "My Library." All of your resources will exist within this main library. You can further organize your references by creating collections within your library. To add a new collection, click the icon on the left hand side that looks like a folder with a green plus sign and add the name of your new collection.

You can further refine by having subcollections within a collection. To add a subcollection, right click on the main collection and select "New Subcollection" and, when prompted, enter the desired name of the new subcollection.

Now you are ready to upload your references into your topical collection or subcollection. Note that references can exist within multiple collections at the same time.

Importing Citations from a Website Using a Browser Extension

The easiest way to import citations from online resources is by using the Zotero browser extensions. Download of these extensions is available for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari (from within Zotero you can go to Tools > Install Browser Connector and will be taken to the download page). Once you have downloaded the extension, importing a citation to an online news article, blog, or other webpage is as easy as a click of a button.

Note that once you have imported a citation, you should take a brief moment to look at the data and make sure it doesn't need any tweaking or editing. This will ultimately save you time and hassle when you later need to generate captions. Be especially vigilant when importing citations of web pages as they often do not include key information like the page's author. Any missing or incorrect information can easily be added or adjusted manually by clicking into the appropriate field in the Zotero entry.

How to Import

Once you've downloaded the Zotero browser extension, an icon will appear next to the top url/search bar. The form this icon takes will change depending on the type of resource you are importing. If you are importing a journal article and the browser attachment recognizes that it is a journal article, the icon will look like a document. If it is a book, the icon will look like a book. This icons for various resources may also look different appearance depending on your operating system and/or the browser you are using.

When you find an item you want to save to your Zotero library, click on the icon and confirm the collection ito which it will be saved. Note that, where available, Zotero will also save a PDF of the document or a snapshot of the webpage.

You can also just right click on any webpage and select the Zotero option to import the citation and PDF/snapshot.

Importing Citations Directly from an Article Database or Library Catalog Entry

If you don't have a browser extension downloaded or if it doesn't work for a particular database or article, you can also import citations directly from the database.

Importing citations from the subscription article databases available through UW Libraries is easy. Although this feature is a bit different for each, you'll generally want to look for a link or button called "cite" or something similar. Once you've clicked on this link/button, you may be given the option of exporting to a certain citation management tool (often RefWorks or EndNote or both), but Zotero is rarely listed. If that is the case, find the option that mentions exporting the citation as an RIS file (RIS stands for Research Information Systems). Below are a few examples from commonly used databases.


When importing an article citation from HeinOnline, go to the "Cite" button in the upper left hand corner and then select "Export RIS file"

EBSCO Databases (Academic Search Complete, Criminal Justice Abstracts, Business Source Complete, etc.)

To import citations from EBSCO, click on the "Export" link on the right hand side (NOT the "Cite" link) and then select Direct Export in RIS Format.

UW Libraries Catalog

To import from the UW Libraries catalog, click on the "Export RIS" link under the "Send to" section within the catalog entry and then select "Download" and open the downloaded file. You do not need to make an encoding section.

Manually Creating Citations (Including Legal Citations)

If for some reason you are unable to simply import the citation information for your resource, you can instead create a new entry and enter the relevant data manually. To do so, select the green circle with a plus sign in the ribbon at the top of the screen. Next, select the type of item you wish to add the enter the information in the blank reference entry provided. For example, if you want to add a journal article, select that type of item and enter the pertinent information.

Westlaw, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law

Unfortunately for law students and legal practitioners, the commercial databases Westlaw, Lexis Advance, and Bloomberg Law do not allow seamless integration with Zotero and, depending on the type of reference you hope to import, you may need to do so manually as described above using the applicable reference type. If you go this route, you can attach a screen shot or PDF of the document by saving a copy and dragging it over the related entry in Zotero.

There are MANY different types of items you can add to your Zotero library. You can see the full listing by selecting "More" as shown below. Types that may be particularly useful in the legal realm include cases, hearings, patents, and statutes. 

Google Scholar and Case Law

There is, however, a work-around for case law. You can take the citation to Google Scholar (be sure to select the "Case Law" radio button under the search bar) and import the case information by clicking on the scales of justice that appears in your browser.

Using Notes & Tags

Another useful feature offered by Zotero is the ability to add notes and tags to your references. Below is an explanation of each and instructions on how to use them to your advantage.


Notes give you the ability to give yourself little reminders as to why a particular resource is useful or important for your research. If, for example, you find a journal article that makes a point that you want to refer to in your paper, you can write yourself a quick reminder in the notes section. This type of note (i.e. one that is associated with a particular reference) is called a "child note" (and presumably the reference you are attaching to is the "parent"). You can add a child note by clicking on the reference and then adding a note using the icon that looks like a sticky note with a green plus sign or by navigating to the notes portion of the citation reference on the right hand side of the screen. Be aware that child notes are sometimes automatically attached to a reference with additional resource information.

As an added bonus, the text of the notes in your library are searched when you use the main search box at the top of the page.

You can also add standalone notes if you have general information or reminders that you want to keep within your library.


The tagging capability in Zotero lets you easily find all resources related to a particular topic or idea. You can use tags in many ways. For example, maybe you want to designate which resources you will use for the section of your paper associated with standard of review. You can then assign those items with a tag that associated with that concept ("standard of review" or "SOR" or whatever works for you). Be sure to use the exact same tag for each, though. Zotero makes this easy by suggesting already-used tags when you start typing in the new tag field.

To remove a tag, simply hit the "minus" button right next to the entry.

Once you've started to add tags, a listing will appear in the bottom left hand side of the screen. If you click on a tag, it will filter all of your references and display only those that are associated with that tag.

Saving Copies of Documents / Webpages

Where available, Zotero will automatically import a PDF copy of the article you are interested in when you import its citation from a database. For websites, Zotero will also automatically save a snapshot of the page you import.

Once imported, you can view the attached PDFs and screenshots by expanding the citation within your folder.

If a PDF copy does not automatically attach, you can save a copy to your computer and then drag and drop it onto the citation you want to attach it to. This can also be done with images or other files to link them to a particular resource.

Inserting Citations into Your Writing

Installing the Plugin

Depending on the type of paper you are writing, you may be using footnotes, endnotes, or need to generate a bibliography. Zotero has the capability to conform to all of these reference formats. To start, you will need to make sure you have the appropriate plugin to connect your word processing software with Zotero. Note that your initial download of Zotero already includes the Microsoft Word plugin. If you don't see it when you open a Word document, go to Edit > Preferences > Cite and make sure it is installed (or reinstall it).

Additional information on troubleshooting word processor plugin issues is available here.

Inserting Citations in Microsoft Word

Once you are ready to insert citations in Microsoft Word, open a Word document and you will see the Zotero tab in the top ribbon (it may also be available under "Add Ins"). You may need to first enable macros before you can see the Zotero tab.

When you are ready to add a citation, click on the Add/Edit Citation button (be sure that you have Zotero open on your computer). The first time you select this button, a dialog box will appear and will prompt you to select the citation style and format to use in this document.

After you have selected your citation style and format, a red box will appear. When you start typing a portion of the title of the article or author's name, a list of the relevant sources you have in Zotero that match your terms will pop up. Select the one you wish to cite. You can include multiple citations within one footnote/endnote.

Clicking on the "Z" in the red box will give you the option of opening up the "Classic View" dialog box. Doing so gives you the ability to scroll through your Zotero library and find a particular citation.

The above only scratches the surface of all of the capability associated with the Zotero/Word capabilities. In addition to the help available on the Zotero website, there are a plethora of tutorial videos available on YouTube if you need additional instruction on using the word processing plugins. Just search for "Zotero citation Microsoft Word" (or Google Docs or whatever word processing software you use).

Adding Bluebook to the Available Citation Formats

Zotero allows you to create citations from the items you've uploaded. While these citations can be created using any number of formats, if you want to use Bluebook, you will need to add it to your list of available styles. Below are instructions on how to do so.

1. Go to  
2. Search for Bluebook in the search box - this should bring up three style options
3. Select the style of your choice and click on the hyperlink. When prompted to add citation style, select "okay" and the style will added.
4. Now when you go to create a bibliography, your new Bluebook citation style will be available 


Synchronization / Group Libraries

Synchronizing your Zotero account will make it accessible on multiple computers (e.g. your laptop, home computer, and work computer). Before you can use the sync feature, you will need to create a (free) account through the Zotero website. Once you have set up your account, you will be prompted to follow the instructions to validate your account and set up the syncing.

Once you have set up your account, you will also be able to create group libraries. This feature allows you to share your library with other Zotero users, making collaboration easier. To create a new group, go to and follow the prompts to create a public or private group, depending on your needs.

Note storage on the Zotero servers is capped at 300 MB for the free account (there is unlimited storage for citations). You can purchase additional storage space through the website. You can also store your PDFs elsewhere, such as in your personal OneDrive folder or Google Drive. You can find out how much of the allotted storage capacity you are using by logging into your online account.

The auto-import capability for PDFs and webpage snapshots can be turned off and on by going to Preferences as shown below.

More detailed information about using the syncing feature and group libraries is available in Chapter 5 (p. 95) of Jason Puckett's Zotero: A Guide for Librarians, Researchers and Educators.