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College of Humanities & Sciences

Department of History

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.

Installing Zotero

To make Zotero work fully, you’ll need to install a few things on your computer, in this order:

  1. Either Chrome or Firefox as your web browser
  2. Either MS Word or LibreOffice as your word processor
  3. Zotero Standalone
  4. The Zotero plugin for your preferred browser (See point 1)

There is a YouTube video that demonstrates how to download and install Zotero Standalone and the Chrome Browser extension.


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!

Video tutorial:
Zotero Capturing from 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 handThis 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.

Video tutorials:
How to organize with tags 
How to use folders 
How to work with PDFs 
How to add your own notes, web links, or cross-references 


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. 

Video tutorials:
Insert Chicago citations using Zotero (use the second method)
Generate a bibliography in Chicago style using Zotero


Changing Your Citation Style for Other Disciplines

In case you need a different style, you can use Zotero to change from one citation style to another in a document you have already created.

Video tutorial: Change your reference style


Further Support

What you find here is just the basics.  For more information, here are two options:

  1. The full documentation and support for Zotero
  2. YouTube is full of Zotero support videos, and a quick search using keywords related to your specific concern is likely to turn up a video that can help you!
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