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Zotero – A free research citation manager + collaboration tool (and some other neat uses!)

Last year in a research methods course at UH Manoa, I was introduced to a citation management tool called Zotero.  If you have been out of the research loop for the last few years (like I was) you’re probably used to recording source citation information by hand.  Well, those days are no more.

Paid software options like Endnote and Biblioscape are great if you are willing to shell out a couple hundred dollars a year.  Fortunately, there’s a free tool that offers most of the same features and has served me (and many other) well for the last nine months.

Zotero!  It’s even fun to say out loud.


Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself.

After installing the Zotero Firefox browser plugin, give Firefox a restart.  you’ll see the Zotero logo show up in the lower-right corner of your window.  Give it a click, and a small section of your browser will open into your Zotero Library.  At first, you won’t have much in there, but adding items to your library is very simple.  Sign up for a free account and you can begin storing your citations in Firefox on your computer, also accessible from from anywhere.

If you are using a research paper database like ERIC or ScienceDirect, you can grab the bibliographical data from almost any article.  An icon will appear in the address bar in the form of a white paper or blue book (depends on what Zotero can ‘pick up’), and a single click will pull down the citation info.  If the full .pdf version of an academic paper if available on the page you’re viewing, Zotero will grab it, too.  Cool, no?

You can organize your citations into folders and even share these folders with other researchers, helpful when you are working on a collaborative research project. also hosts group libraries, which aim to connect researchers with similar interests that aren’t already working together.

So what do you do when you have a bunch of citations and need to put them into a paper?

There’s a Zotero word processor plugin for both MS Word and OpenOffice/LibreOffice, supported on Windows and Mac operating systems.  It works on Linux/Ubuntu, but installation will vary depending on which distribution you’re running.

Once installed, your word processor will talk to your Zotero library, allowing you to place citations into your paper.  Best part of the word processor plugin?  A couple clicks will allow you to “create a bibliography” from the citations you inserted into your paper.  Bam!  There it is.

But wait, there’s more.  Seriously.

Other cool things that Zotero can do for you:

  • Have hard-copies of books and the citation info for them?  Go to, look up the book and pull down the citation info in one click.
  • Don’t have the book in hand?  You can search for it using the ISBN number or DOI code.
  • Have a bunch of citations already in Endnote?  You can import them into Zotero without too much trouble.
  • Going to travel or be somewhere without internet access? Zotero can take a snapshot of any webpage you’re looking at, saving it to be read at a later time when you won’t be connected to the web. (Thanks to Paul McKimmey for that one!)

I’m also using Zotero to save copies of Craigslist ads (of things that I’ve purchased) as well as copies of discussion threads in a variety of user forums.  Zotero is proving to be helpful beyond collecting research references and I’m sure there are more great uses for it.  Keep in mind that Zotero is not perfect, but if you’re willing to do a little work to clean up your citations and manage a digital library, it’s well worth your time.

One thought on “Zotero – A free research citation manager + collaboration tool (and some other neat uses!)

  1. Pingback: Zotero, the Free Citation Manager Workshop Prezi – Use and Share! « Billy Meinke's Blog

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