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Guide to using Zotero reference management software

Setting preferences

You will find the Preferences option either under 'Edit' (Windows) or 'Zotero' (Mac). The Preference window is divided into the following six panes as shown below. Follow the instructions below to set up the preferences before you start using Zotero.

  1. General: Adjusts the appearance, import settings, and other general features
  2. Sync: Sets up data and file syncing.
  3. Search: Manages PDF full-text indexing and provides relevant statistics.
  4. Export: Sets default settings for generating bibliographies and citations.
  5. Cite: Adds, removes, edits, allows previews of citation styles and installs word processor plugins.
  6. Advanced: Sets file locations, library lookup and has other advanced settings.

1. General

To save time, it is advisable to set your preferences in Zotero. There are three sections to the General preferences in Zotero: File Handling, Miscellaneous and Groups. 

The File Handling option allows you to select the following options:

  • Zotero will automatically take snapshots when creating items from web pages. If you are using a lot of resources that are from the web, it is advisable to check this box. This is because web pages are regularly updated and this ensures you have evidence of a resource existing on the web at the time you accessed it.
  • Zotero will automatically attach associated PDFs when saving a reference.
  • Zotero will automatically retrieve metadata (bibliographic information) and rename attachments using the bibliographic information.
  • Zotero will automatically rename a PDF. For example, if the file downloads with the filename 'FULL TEXT', Zotero will rename it with the Author's name, date and first few words from the title, e.g. Smith_1999_Using Zotero.  This is a useful feature as it is difficult to search through a list of files called FULL TEXT.
  • Zotero has a built-in PDF reader. It is normally set as the default. You can change this to select the reader that is the default on your computer (select 'Default') or another reader (select 'Custom').

Screenshot of Preferences Page, General Tab

The Miscellaneous section has the option to download the keyword and tags used in databases. This can be useful for searching your Zotero Library so we recommend you check this box.

It is recommended that you check all the boxes in Groups section. This will ensure that notes, snapshots, links and tags are copied across if you move the reference from the main folder 'My Library' to a sub-folder.

2. Sync

Zotero provides 300 MB of free storage space for your full-text PDFs, but unlimited storage for bibliographic data.

Data syncing allows you to copy all your references ('My Library') including any notes and tags you have added to the Cloud (Zotero's server). The space for data is unlimited unless you sync full text. If you sync the full text, you will quickly run out of the free space allocated by Zotero. 

You may want to purchase extra space if you use a number of different devices. However, you will need to make sure that the file path and names (see Advanced) are identical on all versions of Zotero on different devices. Alternatively, you may want to save your full-text files on the N:\drive which is the network drive on the computers at UCL.

  • To Sync your Zotero references to the Cloud, type in your email address and password (the same one you used to register with Zotero).

Desktop preferences sync 1 screenshot

  • In order to set up Data Syncing, simply tick the relevant box.
  • In order to set up Full-text Syncing, tick the relevant box.

Desktop preferences sync 2 screenshot

3. Search

Indexing on Zotero enables a full Search of your PDFs. If you index the PDFs, the PDFs will become searchable.

If you don't, Search uses only the metadata (the bibliographic information, that is, title, author, abstract if this has been downloaded and publication details) that you have entered or imported.

4. Export

Quick Copy: this option allows you to select the default referencing style that you want your citations to appear in when you Export your library or a single reference.

Desktop preferences export screenshot

5. Cite

The Cite option allows you to select the default style for your citations and bibliography. The list may be styles that have previously downloaded or the defaults that Zotero provides.

Screenshot of Preferences, Citation Styles Tab

If you want to include URLs of the papers (DOIs or web addresses), check the 'Include URLs of paper articles in the references' option. You can preview the styles by selecting the 'Style Editor' and 'Style Preview' options.

Click on the Get additional styles link to find other styles in Zotero's Style Repository. Type in a subject e.g. History and you will get a list of styles used in journals on the subject; type the name of a publisher, and you will get all the styles recommended by the publisher.

Screenshot of Zotero Sytle library

You can use Zotero with Microsoft Word or LibreOffice. If the plugin has not installed automatically (which it should), use the option to install the plugin for the Word Processor you use.

Check Use Classic Add Citation dialog to ensure that when you use Zotero in Word or Office Libre, a window opens allowing you to see your complete library of references rather than a thin narrow red box.

6. Advanced

The Advanced section has four submenues: General, Files and Folders, Shortcuts and Feeds.


If you would like Zotero to find the resource in Explore, UCL's catalogue, under Open URL click on the arrow down and then navigate to Europe, Unitied Kingdom and then select University College London. You can also add the URL exactly as it appears here in the Resolver field:

New resolver library lookup.

Once you have done this, you can use the Library Lookup function in Zotero (which is the green arrow on the right-hand side of the menu bar on Zotero Desktop) to go straight to the library catalogue Explore.

Screenshot of the library lookup

Files and Folders:

You can set up the 'path' which tells Zotero where (i.e. in which folder) you want to save the full text if you are automatically attaching the full text of the document in the Files and Folders submenu. If this is not of concern to you, leave the default option.


The Shortcuts tab allows you to change Zotero's default keyboard shortcuts.


You can keep updated with published research on Zotero by using the RSS Feeds option. Here you can either keep the defaults or decide how often you would like the feeds to be updated and choose to see the newest or oldest items first.