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Cowles Library


Citation Management Tools

Guide to help you choose, install, and use citation managers like Zotero, Mendeley, and EndNote Basic.




Zotero is designed to store, manage, and cite bibliographic references, such as books and articles. It can easily collect and organize a wide array of research information and sources.


  • Free, open-source application available as Zotero Standalone (client software) and Zotero Connector (browser plugin). 
  • Works with Mac, Windows, and Linux. View specific system requirements.
  • Has word processor plugins for Microsoft Word (Mac and Windows versions) and LibreOffice.
  • Connector plugin automatically senses book, article, and other web objects and generates formatted citations with one click.
  • Cloud storage limit is 300MB.
  • VIew other features in our comparison chart, and take a look at Zotero's Quick Start Guide for an overview of what Zotero can do.

Installing Zotero

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.

Standalone works with Mac, Windows, and Linux. Connector works with Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Head over to Zotero's site for installation instructions and system requirements.

Configuring Zotero

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:

  1. In the Standalone client, go to Edit > Preferences
  2. Click Advanced
  3. In the OpenURL section, click “Search for resolvers”
  4. If "Drake University - Cowles Library" isn't found, select Custom… from the dropdown and enter the following in the Resolver field:
    The OpenURL section should look like the image on the right.
  5. Click OK

Data Syncing

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.

Syncing requires you to create a free Zotero account. Then, open the Sync tab in Zotero's preferences and enter your login information in the Zotero Sync Server section. More about Zotero Syncing.

Adding Content to Zotero

Capture a citation from a web page

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:

  1. On the database's citation page, select a file format for the exported citations. The file formats offered will depend on the database, but RIS will almost always be one of them, as it is the standard citation format.
  2. Export the citation(s). The button may say Export or Download or Save; again, this depends on the database platform.
  3. If the database offers direct export, you may see a dialog window like the one below. If so, select Zotero as the "open with" option.

  1. If Zotero Standalone is running, it will immediately begin the import process and confirm that you want to import the file. If you check the "Import into new collection" box, Zotero will create a timestamped folder for the citations. If you uncheck the box, Zotero will import the citations into the "Unfiled Items" folder.

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.

Import a file of citations

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.

  1. Go to File > Import..., select the type of file being imported, and click Next.
  2. Navigate to the file you want to import and click Open.
  3. If you select "Place imported collections and items into new collection," Zotero will name a new folder in your library and place the imported citations into it. You can rename the folder at any time. If you uncheck this box, Zotero imports the citations into the Unfiled Items folder.
  4. Click Next, and Zotero will display the list of imported citations.

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.

Zotero Support

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.

You can also consult the Zotero support site for documentation, or choose from hundreds of user-created video tutorials.