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Zotero: Getting Started

Wrestle control of your references with Zotero

What is Zotero?


Zotero logo


Zotero is a free open source reference management tool that makes saving and citing resources, including websites, YouTube videos, news articles, journal articles and scholarly database results, a breeze. Because of Zotero's open source nature and large user communities, new features are often developed and added. Some of Zotero's strengths include its ability to capture a multitude of resource types with the click of a button, and its group library function, with no limit on group membership.  This guide will help you get up and running on Zotero.

A few good things to know about Zotero:

  • As a CMU affiliate, you can create an account using your CMU email address, which will give you unlimited cloud storage through the Libraries' institutional subscription. When you leave CMU and change your email address, Zotero will no longer sync and will remove storage exceeding the 300 MB limit after a grace period. You can pay for your own additional storage at that point to ensure that this does not happen.
  • You can collaborate with other researchers using Zotero Groups.
  • Zotero is currently developing an app for iOS devices, but in the meantime, visit the Zotero for Mobile support page to learn more about mobile options.
  • Zotero has many advanced features that facilitate PDF storage and annotation, bibliography sharing, and more. Please get in touch with the CMU Libraries to learn more or get help with the basics, or view our video tutorials to get up and running.

Setting up Zotero

The following three steps will get you ready to start using Zotero for reference management. 

  1. Download the latest version of the application. You should also download the connectors for the browsers you use.

  2. Set up an online Zotero account by clicking Register in the upper right-hand corner of the Zotero download page.

  3. Connect your downloaded Zotero desktop application to your cloud account. When you first open your Zotero application, click on the Set Up Syncing link in the middle pane. This will open the Syncing Preferences, where you can enter the username and password you used to set up your online account in Step 2.

Using Zotero to Cite Sources

One of the biggest benefits of using a reference management tool like Zotero is the ability to cite sources, in virtually any citation style, while you write and create quick formatted bibliographies. When you install Zotero, a set of new tools should automatically be added to your Microsoft Word application to make this possible. These will appear in a new tab when you open a fresh Word document.

Occasionally, this installation will not happen automatically. Visit this Zotero support page to troubleshoot the installation of the Zotero Word integration.
For more information about using the Microsoft Word plug-in, and other word processor integrations, to create in-text citations, footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies, visit the following Zotero support pages. Note that if you're working in LaTeX, Zotero can easily export bibliographies and citations in BibTeX format. You can also explore various other plug-ins and options for working with Zotero and LaTeX.

Setting up Library Lookup

You can set up Zotero to look for a citation in the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries' Catalog.  This can facilitate finding and requesting the full text for items that you find online. Here's how to set up the Library Lookup feature:


1. Select Preferences from the Zotero menu.

Zotero preferences from menu


2. Under the Advanced tab in Preferences, find the Resolver box and enter this URL:

Enter resolver URL in Advanced preferences


3. Use Library Lookup from Zotero to run a search in the CMU Libraries' catalog. Log into the catalog to view options and make interlibrary loan requests.

 Library lookup feature

Set up Library Proxy

The CMU Libraries' proxy server is a tool that allows off-campus library users to access subscription library resources, such as research databases, journal articles and e-books. The proxy is automatically activated when you click on resources through the library website or catalog. If you are using Zotero off-campus and access a library resource through the proxy, Zotero will ask you if you want to save the proxy and route through when you access the resource in the future. It will likely appear as a yellow bar at the top of the page:

Example of zotero proxy notification on Oxford Scholarship Online database


If you accept and save the proxy, the next time you access the resource, even by going to it directly and not through the Libraries' website, you should be authenticated through the proxy thanks to Zotero.

To set up the proxy settings manually, do the following:

  1. Right click on the browser plug-in icon in the upper right-hand corner of your browser window
  2. Choose Preferences or Options
  3. Choose Proxies from the left-hand manu
  4. Check the box next to Enable proxy redirection and add the following to the Configured Proxies list by clicking on the + (plus) button:


Zotero proxy configuration preferences
More information about the proxy settings and other Zotero Connector preferences can be found on the Zotero support page.

Backing up your Zotero Library

Syncing to your Zotero cloud account is not a good substitute for backing up your library. Instead, make sure that your routine computer back ups include your Zotero Data Directory. More information about how to find where Zotero stores data and how to backup this library, visit the Zotero Data Directory information page.


ZoteroBib is a handy, Zotero-driven tool that allows you to create quick formatted citations and bibliographies in thousands of citations styles, with no need to download and install software. Simply add an item identifier like a DOI, ISBN or URL and generate your citation.

Upcoming Library Workshops

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Additional Citation Management Options