You can use Zotero in several ways.
You can use the web version, which does not involve downloading anything to your computer. You simply register with Zotero to create a free account. Be sure to go into Preferences to set up syncing, so that you can access your Zotero web library from any computer.
You can also download the Zotero program from their download page (there are versions for Windows, Macs and Linux).
Be sure to also download the Zotero Connector for your chosen browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge). The Connector icon can be added to your browser to let you send items to your Zotero library.
Zotero also has an iOS app in beta development.
You can add items to your Zotero library using the Connector icon in your browser. The icon will change depending on the webpage you're visiting. If you're looking at a book record in a library catalogue, the icon will look like a book.
If you're looking at a listing for an article in Google Scholar or one of the library databases such as JSTOR, the icon will look like a sheet of paper.
Clicking on this icon will send the citation information for that book or article to Zotero. If there is a PDF available, Zotero will send that as well.
If you are looking at a list of search results, in a database, catalogue, or Google Scholar, the icon will look like a folder.
If you click on it, you will get a list of available items; you can select items to send to your Zotero library.
Zotero will also save citation information for websites.
Click on the Collector icon and Zotero will create a record for the webpage you're on.
You can add a PDF saved to your computer to a Zotero record for that item by dragging and dropping the PDF to the item record.
If you have a PDF for an item which is not listed in your Zotero library, you can drag the PDF into the Zotero window and Zotero will create a record from the PDF data. This record may not be as correct or as complete as a record created by using the Connector icon on a listing for the item in Google Scholar or a database. It is best to try to find a listing to use and then add your PDF to the new Zotero record if possible.
You can also add items by identifying numbers such as ISBNs, DOIs, Pub Med IDs or arXiv IDs, using the Add Item by Identifier button in the toolbar in your Zotero library window.
If you have an item which is not listed anywhere, such as an unpublished manuscript or a personal communication, you can create a record manually using the green New Item button in the toolbar in your Zotero library window.
You can choose the type of item (book, chapter, article, email..) and then fill in the fields with the information you have.
The first pane in the Zotero library lists your libraries and collections. The second pane lists the items included in whichever library or collection is highlighted in the list on the left.
If you click on one of these items, a third pane will show you the details about that item.
You can create a quick bibliography or reference list by highlighting items in a collection, right-clicking and choosing "Create Bibliography From Items."
A dialogue box will open and you can then choose your citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago...) and output format.
You can save your bibliography as a file, copy and paste it into a document or send it directly to a printer.
You can also use this same process to generate a list of formatted citations by switching from the default Bibliography to Citations.
When you download Zotero, the package includes plug-ins for Word, Libre Office and Google Docs which should install automatically when you first open Zotero.
When you open these programs after starting Zotero, you should see a Zotero tab in the program toolbar.
Zotero will work with these programs to help you format your citations in the body of your paper and add a bibliography or reference list at the end.
When you are ready to add a citation, put your cursor where the citation will go and click on the Zotero tab, then click on the Add/Edit Citation option which appears.
A window opens which will let you choose your citation style. Then, you will see this box, and can start typing an author's name, title, or keyword.
You can choose the correct reference by clicking on it and the citation will appear in the red box. If you need to edit the text or add additional information such as a page number, click on the drop down arrow beside the Z and choose Classic View. A window will open with options for customizing the citation.
Make your changes and click OK; Zotero will insert the formatted citation.
When you are finished with the body of your paper, click on the Zotero tab and choose Add/Edit Bibliography. Zotero will create a bibliography using the citations you have added.
As with any citation management system, Zotero is a computer system pulling information from other computer systems. You still need to proofread your work.
Collections are a way of organizing your references in Zotero.
Every item you add to Zotero will go into the "My Library" collection. You can create other collections and add any of these items to them. Items can belong to multiple collections; this does not create duplicates of the items.
You can create a collection using the New Collection button in the Zotero library toolbar.
Click on the button and give your new collection a name.
You can also create subcollections, either by creating a new collection and then dragging it onto an existing collection, or by right-clicking on an existing collection and choosing "New Subcollection."
You can save items directly to specific collections when using the Zotero Connector icon.
Tags are a way of adding information about a particular item. Some sources, such as library databases, may add tags automatically. You can edit these tags, remove them, or add your own to any item.
You can use Zotero's Groups function to collaborate with others or share your work with a larger platform.
There are different levels of public access in groups; they can be entirely private, available only to invited members, or range to entirely public, in which anyone can join and see the group's library. You can set the levels of permissions, invite members, and share your library with your collaborators.