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Zotero is, at the most basic level, a reference or citation manager. It is designed to store, manage, and cite bibliographic references, such as books and articles. In Zotero, each of these references is referred to as an "item." More broadly, Zotero is a powerful tool for collecting and organizing research information and sources.
Every item contains different metadata, depending on what type it is. Items can be everything from books, articles, and reports to web pages, artwork, films, letters, manuscripts, sound recordings, bills, cases, or statutes, among many others.
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Zotero stores data locally on your computer by default. Zotero Sync allows you to access your library on any computer with internet access. Zotero stores a copy of your library and checks for updates when it is opened on a different computer. All computers must be running the same version of Zotero. Zotero syncing has two parts: Data syncing and file syncing.
To sync your account:
The Zotero Connector's save button is the most convenient and reliable way to add items with high-quality bibliographic metadata to your Zotero library. As you browse the web, the Zotero Connector will automatically find bibliographic information on webpages you visit and allow you to add it to Zotero with a single click.
If the Save icon is a book, article, image, or other single item, clicking on it will add the item to the current collection in Zotero. If the save icon is a folder, the webpage contains multiple items. Clicking it will open a dialog box from which items can be selected and saved to Zotero.
Zotero uses bits of code called translators to recognize information on webpages. There are generic translators which work with many sites and translators written for individual sites.
If the Zotero Connector does not recognize data on the page, you can still click on the "Save" button in the browser toolbar to save the page as a Web Page item with an attached snapshot. While this will save basic metadata (title, URL, access date), you may need to fill in additional metadata from the page by hand.
Zotero can add items automatically using their an ISBN number, Digital Object Identifier (DOI), or PubMed ID. This is done by clicking the Add Item by Identifier button () in the Zotero toolbar, typing in the ID number, and clicking OK.
Subscribe to RSS feeds from your favorite journals or websites to keep up to date with the latest research.
Items can be added manually by clicking the green New Item () button in the Zotero toolbar, then selecting the appropriate item type. Metadata can then be added by hand in the right-hand pane.
Right-click on "My Library" or click on the "New Collection" icon (the yellow folder with a green plus sign) to create a new Collection, a folder where you can save items relating to a specific project or topic. The same item can belong to many collections at once.
Items can be assigned user-created tags to help with finding resources. An item can be assigned as many tags as is needed. Tags are added or removed with the tag selector at the bottom of the left pane or through the "Tags" tab of any item in the right-hand pane. Up to 6 tags can also be assigned colors. Colored tags are readily visible in the item list and can be quickly added or removed using the number keys on your keyboard.
Items can have notes, files, and links attached to them. These attachments appear in the middle pane underneath their parent item. Attachments can be shown or hidden by clicking the arrow next to their parent item.
Rich-text notes can be attached to any item through the "Notes" tab in the right-hand pane. They can be edited in the right-hand pane or in their own window. Click the "New Note" button (a yellow box with a green plus sign) in the toolbar to create a note without attaching it to an item.
Web pages can be attached to any item as a link or a snapshot. A link simply opens the website online. Zotero can also save a snapshot of a web page. A snapshot is a locally stored copy of a web page in the same state as it was when it was saved. Snapshots are available without an internet connection.
To use Zotero groups, you must have Zotero Sync enabled.
Of the different ways to automatically generate bibliographies (as well as in-text citations and footnotes), the easy-to-use word processor plugins are the most powerful.
You can also build bibliographies in Zotero in two different ways.
Simply select items in the center column and drag them into any text field. Zotero will automatically create a formatted bibliography for you.
Zotero's plugins, available for Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs, create dynamic bibliographies: insert a new in-text citation in your manuscript, and the bibliography will be automatically updated to include the cited item. Correct the title of an item in your Zotero library and with a click of a button the change will be incorporated in your documents.