Zotero: A Starter Guide for History Students
Zotero is a software tool for managing research materials. It holds and organizes citation data; PDFs, images, web snapshots, and other digital forms of source; and your notes and tags on those materials. It can also interface with your word processor to produce your citations in virtually any style you desire. Historians strongly prefer Chicago Note-style citation, but Zotero can also produce APA, MLA, AMA, Chicago Author-Date, and many others – and switch a project from one style to another, as well.
This guide is intended to help students in History to get started using the software in their writing.
To make Zotero work fully, you’ll need to install a few things on your computer, in this order:
- Either Chrome or Firefox as your web browser
- Either MS Word or LibreOffice as your word processor
- Zotero Standalone
- The Zotero plugin for your preferred browser (See point 1)
Using Zotero for Gathering Research Materials
Zotero allows you to gather and store as much citation data is available about a resource you are investigating with one click of a web browser button. The software interfaces relatively well with almost all library catalogues and research databases, and with Google Books, Google Scholar, Amazon.com, and many more platforms. In platforms such as JStor, which hold content as well as citations, Zotero will even attempt automatically to append a PDF of the cited material directly to the citation. (It does not always work, but there are ways to do this by hand!)
NOTE: This method of gathering information is only as trustworthy as the web site you are gathering data from. For this reason, a critical part of using Zotero is that you must always double-check every citation you gather for errors, typos, or missing information. If you take the time to check and correct citations as you gather them, the rest of your writing process will be much quicker, and far more professional!
Here is a video which offers a demonstration on how to use Zotero to gather citations from library catalogues and databases.
Sometimes, the material you need to cite will not be available from a digital database, but that’s ok! You can also enter citations it by hand. This video shows you how.
Here’s how to edit citations already imported, so that you can correct errors.
Using Zotero to Organize Your Resources
Zotero allows you to organize the things you gather in a variety of ways. You can make folders containing only the sources you need for a given project or topic; you can add research materials to the citations; you can add your own notes and tags, as well. Here is a video that shows you how to use tags. This video shows you how to use folders. This video explains how to store PDFs of the material along with the citation. And finally, here is a video showing you how to add your own notes, web links, or cross-references to a citation.
Using Zotero to Generate Citations and Bibliographies in Papers
Zotero is remarkably helpful in the process of generating citations and bibliographies. Again, all of these citations must be checked for accuracy, but assuming you’ve gathered clean data, you can also place accurate, correctly-formatted citations in your papers, in the style of your choice, with only a few clicks. Those functions are most easily found under the “Zotero” tab in your word processor. The following videos show you how:
To insert Chicago citations using Zotero, use the second method shown in this video! (It’s the sensible, easy one.)
This video shows you how generate a bibliography in Chicago style using Zotero.
Changing Your Citation Style for Other Disciplines
In case you need a different style, here’s a video on how to use Zotero to change from one citation style to another in a document you have already created.
What you find here is just the basics. For more information, here are two options: