Zotero offers a Standalone application, which is a piece of software you install on your computer, and a Connector application, which is a browser plugin. While you can use just the Standalone client, Cowles Library recommends installing both, as they work together to help you create and manage citations. As you use SuperSearch, library databases, and websites for research material, the Connector makes it very easy to add citations to your Zotero library. The Standalone client is essential for organizing, editing, and exporting your citations once they’ve been added.
There are so many ways to customize Zotero to your personal preferences that we cannot cover them all here. Instead, take a look at Zotero's site for details on Standalone preferences and Connector preferences.
One preference you should customize is the OpenURL definition, which can be found in the Advanced preferences. Zotero uses this definition in its Library Lookup feature. Here's how to configure the OpenURL for Cowles Library:
If you plan to use Zotero on multiple devices, you should strongly consider setting up data syncing. This will ensure that changes made on one computer will automatically be reflected on all of your other devices.
The Zotero Connector makes it easy to save citations from web page content, whether you're viewing an online article from a database, a book listing on Amazon, or a blog post. (Note: Standalone must be running for the Connector to work properly.)
The Connector icon changes to reflect the type of content it detects on the current web page. For example, if you are reading a journal article online, the icon will change to a journal article:
For a book entry in SuperSearch or Amazon, for example, the icon changes to a book:
The Connector does its best to fill in all of the necessary information to create a complete citation. However, we recommend that you always review citations for completeness and accuracy.
Export citation(s) from a database
Most databases offer a way to export or save citations for the research material you find. Some may even be able to export directly into Zotero when the Standalone client is running. That process will look something like this:
If the database does not allow direct export, but simply allows you to download and save the file, follow the first two steps above, save the file, then follow the steps in the "Import a file of citations" section, below.
When importing a file of citations (for example, from another citation manager or a bulk file exported from a database), the file will likely be in RIS format. RIS is the standardized tag format that allows citation management tools to exchange data.
Add a citation manually
To manually add an item to your Zotero library, click the green “New Item” button at the top of the Standalone window, and select an item type from the drop-down menu. Recently selected item types display at the top the menu, and a complete list of item types can be found under “More”. An empty item of the selected item type appears in the center column, and you can enter the item's bibliographic information via the right-hand pane.
Note: Web Page is not available in the New Item menu, because it is easiest to visit the page in your browser and then save it to Zotero using the Connector (see Capture a citation from a web page, above). However, if you really want to create a webpage item by hand, simply create an empty item of another type and switch the item type to Web Page in the right-hand pane.
Take a look at Zotero's guide to adding items for additional details.
Just because Zotero is free and open source doesn't mean you're on your own if you get stuck. Zotero has been widely adopted and has a robust community of expert users. If you have a question or problem, chances are good that another Zotero user has had it as well. Search the Zotero Forums (which are also monitored by Zotero developers) for solutions.