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Citing Sources

Need to cite an article in APA? Figure out in text citations for MLA? Format footnotes in Chicago? These resources will go a long way in making sure your work is properly cited and professor-approved.

What is Zotero?

Zotero is a free citation management system where you can collect, manage, cite, and share research. You can use it to store citations, highlight and annotate webpages, and collaborate by using groups through Zotero's website. All your citations will be saved to the Zotero server.

Zotero works similarly to other citation management systems in that a browser-independent desktop application is used to access and organize your citations. The Zotero application can be installed on Windows, Macs, and Linux operating systems.

Along with the desktop application, Zotero also offers a browser extension (the Zotero Connector) that can be installed into the browser of your choice (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Opera) from the Zotero download page. The browser extensions allow you to easily add items from web pages to your Zotero library by clicking on the extension button to the right of the browser search bar. 

Installation and Preferences

First, you're going to need to download Zotero from You should first download the desktop application and then add the browser extension to your preferred browser(s).

Zotero Download Page

If you are planning to use Zotero with a word processor such as Microsoft Word, the necessary plugins should be automatically installed when you install the Zotero desktop application. If this does not happen, or if you need to reinstall the plugins for some reason, you can follow the instructions on their word processor plugin installation page.

Zotero Connector

Since Zotero is open-source, there are additional community-developed plugins listed on their plugin page. Most of these plugins aren't of much use to the general user but browse the options to see if something may be useful or fun for you.

Zotero Plugins

For mobile support, check their mobile page which has options available for both iOS and Android phones.


After you install the Zotero desktop app and the Zotero Connector, you will need to set up your preferences to allow for syncing and cloud storage of your citations. The first step is to register for a free Zotero account. You can do this on the Zotero website

Zotero Login

Once you have created an account, you can return to the desktop application and sign in. To do this, select Preferences under the toolbar tab Edit (on a Mac, select Preferences under the Zotero tab on the menu bar). 

Next click on the Sync tab of the Preferences window. Enter in your username and password to your account and select both the Sync Automatically option and Sync Full-Text Content option. 

If you would like to be able to access the attached files remotely, then select the Sync attachment files in My Library using Zotero. As of June 2022, Zotero gives all users 300MB of storage for free. Additional storage can be purchased on their website; however, other citation management systems such as EndNote offer more functionality if you are going to pay for the service. Most PDFs range in size from 100KB to 1MB, so Zotero's free storage can hold between 300 and 1,200 PDFs, depending on the size of the PDFs.


Additionally, this will allow you to access your library when you're away from your personal computer through the My Library section of You can manually add citations using their website and it will sync with your library on your personal computer. The web interface for Zotero is not as powerful as some other citation managers, but it will give you basic functionality to add a citation if you have the citation information handy. So, if you're in a lecture and your professor mentions a paper by John Smith about something to do with Asymmetry published in Nature in 2003, you can add a citation on the Zotero website and tag the article with "follow up" or "to-do" to remind you to dig up the actual paper when you have some free time.

Zotero Desktop App

Zotero Desktop App

To access the stand-alone client (the desktop app) on your computer, open it from the programs menu. If you have not yet added the Zotero connector for your browser, you can do so from the Download Webpage

The above image displays the layout of the Zotero pane. From left to the right the buttons are for:

  • Create a new collection: The first button to the left creates a new collection. This is useful if you are working on multiple assignments or projects and want to keep the citations for each project separate.
  • Create a new library/group: This button allows you to create different groups to let you collaborate with colleagues. If you are using a group to collaborate, the group will use the storage space of the creator. So, it may be a good idea to create a different account to create the group so that it has the full 300 MB of storage space for the group project. 300 MB is between 300 and 1,200 PDFs, depending on the size of the PDF.
  • Create a new item: This button allows you to add a citation to your library manually. It will ask you to choose a format (book, article, video, etc.) and will automatically format the data you enter.
  • Add an item by identifier: This button will allow you to add items to your library if you have an identifier for the item, like a DOI, PubMed ID, or ISBN. For more information on this process, see the Using Zotero page.
  • New note: This button will allow you to add notes to the citations in your library.
  • Add attachment: This button allows you to add an attachment to a citation. Use this button if you want to add a PDF or file copy of a citation in your library. Remember that Zotero only offers 300 MB of free storage, which roughly translates to 300-1,200 PDFs, depending on the size of your PDF.
  • Advanced Search: This button will allow you to search through your library using advanced features. The basic search bar is beside the advanced search button.
  • Simple Search: This is useful for doing a quick search of your library for tags, titles, years, and other info.
  • View PDF or full text online: This button will allow you to try to locate a copy of the citation using a number of options. The options include local PDF stored with the citation, link in the citation that leads to the full text, CrossRef Lookup (which is used for DOIs), Google Scholar, and UNC's databases (this feature requires you to edit the preferences, see the Advanced section for a walk-through on this).
  • Sync: This button will sync your library with Zotero's servers. Much like when working on a document in Word, be sure to save your work often!