How to capture, manage, and cite sources with Zotero 4 (basic)

As scholarly authors, we are expected to support our claims with evidence and to provide a “paper trail” for readers to trace and reexamine our sources. But students are often confused by the varying norms for presenting citations across academic disciplines — APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. — and it confuses scholars, too. Citation management tools, such as Zotero (a free and open-source application from the Center for History and New Media), make the mechanics of citing sources much easier, and integrate nicely with an increasing number of online search platforms. Read the tutorial below and/or view the video screencast I created for my students at Trinity College.

Download Zotero (currently version 4.0) and choose the options that match your preferred browser. For example, I prefer the Chrome browser on a Mac, so I download Zotero Standalone for Mac, with the Chrome browser extension. Follow the installation instructions. (Note: Zotero does not work easily with a Chromebook. Ask me for advice.)

ZoteroDownload4.0Start up Zotero. If you choose Zotero for Firefox, click on the icon in the bottom-right corner of your browser. If you chose Zotero Standalone, look for the Zotero application.

Zotero for Firefox (left) and Zotero Standalone App (right).

Zotero for Firefox (left) and Zotero Standalone (right).

Capture Sources in your Browser with Zotero
When searching many scholarly websites, your browser will display special symbols (such as a miniature book). Click on the symbol to automatically capture the source in Zotero. At Trinity College, try to capture sources from Zotero-friendly sites, such as:

If no special symbol appears, you can still capture partial information in Zotero in one of these ways, then manually insert any missing data (author, title, date, etc.):

  • In the Firefox version, click the “Create New Item from Current Page” button. 
  • In the Standalone version, right-click and select “Save Zotero Snapshot from Current Page.” (To right-click on a Mac, press down with two fingers on a trackpad, OR press the Control key while clicking.) 

You can also add personal reading notes and PDF attachments, and sort Zotero entries into hierarchical folders. But remember that Zotero is not fool-proof. As the author, it’s your responsibility to check, correct, and fill in key data that may be missing.

Choose your Citation Style

Once you have created entries in Zotero, you can export them into your writing using any academic citation style. Some authors prefer APA (American Psychological Association) or MLA (Modern Languages Association) in-line citations, where the body of the essay contains parenthetical references that match up with a full list of works cited at the end. Other authors (like me) prefer Chicago-style footnotes, where numerical references in the body of the essay direct readers to individual citations at the bottom of the page.

In my interdisciplinary courses, I accept work submitted using any of the major academic citation styles, but other faculty require students to use a particular format. If you’re unsure which format works best for your writing, view sample papers (from Hacker and Fister) that illustrate leading citation styles across different academic disciplines.

Click to view sample papers using different citation styles.

Set Zotero Export Preferences to your Citation Style

Click the gear symbol to select Preferences > Export > Default Output Format:

In my writing, I prefer “Chicago Manual of Style (full note),” rather than the shorter default “(note)” version, because I wish to display the full citation in the footnotes to avoid forcing readers to search for this information in a separate bibliography.

Many Ways to Automatically Import Citations into your Writing

To create an APA/MLA bibliography at the end of a Word/Google/WordPress document, select all of the relevant entries in Zotero, then drag-and-drop them into the document, where they will be alphabetically sorted and formatted.

To create a Chicago-style footnote in a Word document, select the Insert > Footnote menu, then press the SHIFT key + drag-and-drop the Zotero entry into the document footnote. To do the same in a Google Document, press CMD + SHIFT + C to copy the Zotero enty, then paste.

Or connect Zotero directly to Word or OpenOffice with the Word Processor Plugins.

Here’s a video screencast to demonstrate how I install and use Zotero Standalone for Mac with the Chrome browser on my computer.

*More to come: To import a word-processed document (using any citation style) into WordPress, save it into Word format, select and copy the entire document, then select the “Paste from Word” button in WordPress. 

For intermediate users, see how to create interactive footnotes in WordPress, using the SimpleNotes plugin (*to come, needs updating*)

Next step: How to sync your personal Zotero data and share group libraries with others

One Response to How to capture, manage, and cite sources with Zotero 4 (basic)

  1. Pingback: Bibliography building software | Gordon F. M. Rakita

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