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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Learn how to use Zotero, a free citation management tool.


Collections help you better organize your references. Collections are similar to file folders on your computer; however, in Zotero a reference can be in more than one collection at a time. For example, an article about Virginia Woolf could be filed in your "Women and Writing" collection, your "British Authors" collection, and your "Woolf" collection without having to make multiple copies. You can see your collection on the left side of your Zotero 6 Standalone or online.

  1. Open Zotero online or Zotero 6 Standalone.
  2. At the top left is a folder button with a green plus sign. Click the button that looks like a folder with a green plus to create a new collection. 
  3. Drag and drop references to the collection name in the left sidebar. 

Info, Notes, Tags, and Related

You will find information Zotero has collected about your references on the right side of your library. Bibliographic information, like author, journal title, page number, etc. can be found in the 'Info' tab. This includes the title, author, and publication year. By clicking on any field you can change the information or add to it. The only fields you cannot edit under 'Info' are 'Date Added' and 'Modified'.

screen capture of a zotero library

  • Notes - use the notes field to attach notes to your record, such as quotes, summaries, or why you chose to cite it.
  • Tags - tagging items with keywords makes it easier for you to search your citations. Tags are often automatically downloaded from databases and catalogs, but you can also create your own. 
  • Related - link to other items in your collection. This can be useful for managing which sources refer to a certain item.

Attaching Files and PDFs to Citations

If there is a PDF with an article citation, Zotero will often save the PDF automatically to the citation. If it does not save automatically, check your Zotero Preferences. To attach items in your Zotero library, you must change your Zotero settings.

  1. Open Zotero online or Zotero 6. 
  2. Click on gear icon on the left, then select "Preferences..." 
  3. Click on the General pane, indicated by a gear. 
  4. You will see a list of options under "Miscellaneous". Make sure that box is checked next to the option: "Automatically attach associated PDFs and other files when saving items".

You can also attach files and PDFs manually to citations. 

  1. Open Zotero Online or Zotero 6 Standalone.
  2. Navigate to the citation to which you want to attach files.
  3. Right-click the file and select "Add attachment," which will allow you to attach a link, screenshot, or file. 

Import Existing PDFs- Find Metadata

If you have a collection of previously downloaded PDFs on your computer, Zotero can help you add citation information for them. To add PDFs to Zotero and find their metadata, use the following steps:

  1. Open Zotero and select the "Add Item" icon.
  2. From the drop down menu, select "Store Copy of File."
  3. Select your PDF and click 'Open.'
  4. You will now see the PDF included in your Zotero library. Find it in your list of items, and right click it.
  5. From the menu options, select "Retrieve Metadata for PDF." 
  6. Zotero will search the web to attempt to find citation information for your document. You will see a dialog box where it indicates whether it has been successful. 
  7. If the search is successful, you will see your PDF is now attached as part of a regular citation in your Zotero library. Repeat as needed to get all of your old PDFs included in your collection!

For more on how this process works, read on Zotero's retrieve metadata guide.

Library Lookup to Access Full Text

Library Lookup is a feature in Zotero that attempts to link to the full text of an article in your library using the library's link resolver. The steps for how to do so are below.

1. In desktop Zotero, click on Zotero-->Preferences (Mac) or Edit-->Preferences (PC). Click on the Advanced button.

image of advanced option in Zotero preferences

2. In the OpenURL section of the Advanced options, copy and paste the link below into the box (by default, there is a WorldCat URL there), then close the preferences window.

image of where to enter the URL below

3. Select an item in your library, then click on the small green arrow on the right side of the Zotero screen. It will open a menu; select Library Lookup.

image of view online options in zotero

You should be passed through the library's authentication process (you may have to authenticate with your NetID and password if you have not already logged into a 2FA resource) and taken to the article.

You may see that no full text is available for an item. There are a few reasons why full text is not found in the library.

  • The library does not have full text available for this item (that is, we don't subscribe or our subscription does not cover the publication date of the article).
  • The citation information is incorrect, which does happen when citations are imported into Zotero. Correct the citation and try again.
  • The citation information is incomplete. Did you include the title, author, publication date, journal title, and ISSN/ISBN or DOI in your citation? The full text search may be unsuccessful without complete citation information.
  • Finally, mistakes happen. Sometimes the OpenURL resolver does not work perfectly with our subscription information. Not sure if we don't have something? Ask a Librarian!