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Create Bibliographies

How to use citation managers to collect, organize, cite, and share your references

What Is Zotero?

Zotero is a bibliographic manager that works as a standalone application in conjunction with a web browser connector.  The connector captures bibliographic information in your web browser and sends it to the app.  Zotero is popular among researchers who want a quick, stream-lined tool for saving references and citing sources while writing.  You can download and install Zotero for free.Once you download the app, be sure to download the proper connector for your web browser as well.

The primary features of Zotero are:

  • Quick capture of bibliographic data from a web page, whether you're looking at a list of search results or a single information source
  • Organizational file structures
  • Bibliography formatting in the most-used citation styles, with more styles available via download
  • Quick in-text citation with a plug-in for MS Word or LibreOffice
  • Reference and file sharing with other Zotero users
  • File attachment and storage capabilities

Alternatively, you can use ZoteroBib to generate quick bibliography items from sources' URLs, ISBNs, and titles.

Getting Started with Zotero

Zotero can only be used with the Firefox, Chrome, Edge, and Safari web browsers.  You can download and install Zotero for free.

You will have to install the standalone Zotero app as well as a connector for your browser.  Once both are installed, you can capture bibliographic information from web pages and view, organize, and edit your references in the Zotero application.

Adding References to Your Zotero Library

The main method of adding references to your Zotero library is via the "Save to Zotero" button on your web browser toolbar.  Click the button, and Zotero will analyze the data on the page you're viewing.  If there are multiple information sources (such as when you're looking at search results), you will be able to choose which sources are added to your library.  You will notice that the icon will first appear as a Z, but it then changes depending on what type of information you're viewing (e.g. search results, video, article, etc.).  If multiple sources are available on the screen, as with a BU Libraries Search results list, the icon will look like a manila folder.

If you're using Firefox, the button appears here:


If you're using Chrome, the  button appears here:


If you're using Safari 12 or earlier and have downloaded the browser extension, the Save to Zotero button will be located here:


For Safari 13 or later, you will have to use the Save to Zotero bookmarklet.

To view your references, open the Zotero standalone app.

Additionally, you can sync your Zotero libraries to an online account.

Note: Zotero only provides 300MB of online storage.  If you want to use Zotero as a cloud-based storage system for your files, you can upgrade to more storage for a fee.  Deleting attachments and snapshots of web pages will greatly reduce the amount of storage you're currently using.

Citing with Zotero

You can integrate Zotero with Microsoft Word using the Zotero plug-in.  The plug-in is installed automatically when you install Zotero, but if needed, can be re-installed from the Preferences menu in the Zotero app.  Once installed, you can cite any reference in your Zotero library using the Zotero tab on your Word toolbar (Mac users: depending on your version of Word, this may appear as a floating toolbar near your Word window).  Place the cursor where you wish to add a citation, then click Add/Edit Citation in the toolbar.  A search box will appear, and once you start typing the title or author of the paper you wish to cite, citation options will appear from your Zotero library.

When you have finished your paper, including all in-text citations or footnotes, you can place your cursor where you would like to position your bibliography, then click Insert Bibliography in the Zotero toolbar.  Your bibliography will contain all the sources you've cited in your paper.

Alternatively, you can create quick bibliographies by selecting one or more sources (holding the control or command button while clicking will select multiple items) in your Zotero library and right-click them.  Select "Create Bibliography from Item" to produce a bibliography in the format and style of your choice.

Sharing References with Others

To create a group folder, click the brown folder icon in the upper left corner of the Zotero app interface and choose New Group. This will direct you to the web page, where you can create an account or sign in to your existing account.

There, you will be able to determine the membership settings for your group.  You can also invite members (please note: these members must have accounts to interact with the group folder.

Your group folder will appear in the left pane of your Zotero app, where you can move or save references to it.  The references will also appear in account of all group members.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I'm trying to grab a citation from my browser, but I can't find the Zotero button.  Where is it?

A. If this is the first time you're using the Zotero connector, the button will appear as a Z in your browser's toolbar.  After you first use the Zotero connector, the button will change to reflect what you're seeing on your screen.  Its icon could appear as a book, a rolled-up newspaper, a page, a web-cam, or something else entirely.  Hover over it to determine what type of source will be saved in Zotero.

Q. When I save a source, Zotero sometimes saves an associated PDF or image file.  How do I stop this from happening?

A. By default, Zotero will save any PDF associated with the source you're exporting.  Some databases and web pages allow this; others don't.  Likewise, if you save a source as a web page, Zotero will create a snapshot image file of the page and save that as well.  If you're synching your Zotero app with an online Zotero account, this may cause you to hit your free storage limit.  If you don't want this to happen, open your Zotero app, click on the Zotero menu, and choose Preferences.  In the General tab, you can change what types of information are stored in Zotero.

Q. I'm writing a document using Google Docs.  When I try to input a citation with Zotero, it stalls indefinitely.  What's going on?

A. It may be that some issue is preventing communication between your hard drive and the Google Drive site.  If you have encrypted your computer, this could be the source of the problem.  Contact BU's Information Services & Technology Department for expert help on configuring your computer to work with Zotero.  They can be reached at or at 617-353-4357.


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JD Kotula
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