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Developed by the Center for History and New Media at the George Mason University, Virginia, Zotero is an open source easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources.

Adding References from Library Resources

There are many ways to get items into Zotero. If you become a frequent user, you are likely to use most, if not all of them. The different methods have different advantages and disadvantages and being aware of them will help you. In rough order or priority, you can add items:

     1. using website translators via the Icon at the top right corner of your browser

     2. by manually typing them

     3. importing them from many bibliographic data formats (RIS, bibtex, MODS, etc.)

     4. adding them using an “identifier,” i.e. a number like ISBN, DOI, or PMID

     5. adding PDF files and then retrieving the “metadata,” i.e the citation information, online

     6. adding a webpage with basic information from the browser.


1. Automatically capture bibliographic information

The most convenient way to add items into Zotero is from the web-browser, where you do most of your research. Whenever Zotero supports importing directly from a website, you will see a little icon at the right end of the URL bar (in Safari, the icon is to the left of the URL bar). The icon depends on the type of item Zotero identifies on the page. Most common are a lined sheet (article icon) for journal articles, a blue book for book (book icon) and a manila folder (multiple icon).

Make sure your Zotero window is open before you import your references.

For single items (i.e. all icons except the manila folder), Zotero will then import the citation information for the item on the page. A gray pop-up at the bottom right of the screen will let you know that Zotero has successfully imported the item. You can select the specific collection where you want to import the item before you click on the import icon.


On some web pages that list information about multiple items (e.g. a list of Google Scholar search results), Zotero will show a a manila folder (multiple icon).

2. Add item by Identifier (Digital Object Identifier)

You can quickly add items to your library if you already have the ISBN, Digital Object Identifier (DOI), or PubMed ID. To add an item via one of these identifiers, click the “Add Item by Identifier” button () at the top of the center column of the Zotero pane, type or paste in the identifier and press Enter.


3. Add references manually

No one likes inputting references manually, but at times—e.g. for primary sources from an archive—you may still have to. Moreover, frequently items imported in Zotero need manual touching up and it is helpful to understand manual data entry for that purpose.

  • Click the green “New Item” () button at the top of the center column.
  • Select the desired item type from the drop-down menu (the top level of the menu shows recently created item types; the complete list of item types, can be found under “More”).

Begin entering the complete bibliographic information in the right frame of your Zotero library:

4. Add PDF's to your references

This video shows how to work with PDFs using Zotero. First, it shows where the PDF files in your Zotero library are stored on your computer. Next, it shows at how you can highlight and make notes in PDF files. Finally, it shows how Zotero can extract the annotations from a PDF file for later reference.