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M E 270: Introduction to Mechanical Engineering Design

Learn about tools for finding research materials for student projects in ME 270. This guide also includes tips, strategies, and techniques engineering students need to know for conducting successful library research.

Zotero logoWhat is Zotero?

Zotero is an open source citation manager that describes itself as a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research. Available for Mac, Windows, and Linux, it integrates with Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs; supports thousands of citation styles; flags retracted items; and more.

Zotero has very robust documentation. If you don't find what you need on this quick guide, be sure to check the official documentation. If you would like one-on-one assistance, you can schedule an appointment to meet with me.

Getting started with Zotero

decorative image.Download & Install

Zotero consists of the Zotero program itself, a Connector that allows Zotero to connect with your browser of choice, plus optional third-party plugins. Start by downloading and installing Zotero and the connector for the browser you use most often: Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.

decorative image.Register

If you wish to sync your reference data to your library on, or if you will be using your library on more than one computer, you will also need to register for a Zotero account to enable data syncing. This is free and includes unlimited storage for references, plus the option to enable file storage for PDFs and other attachments. (300 MB of file storage is free, with more available for purchase.)

decorative image.Sync

Once you have installed Zotero and your Connector of choice and have set up your Zotero account, navigate to the Preferences tab in Zotero and enter your login information to enable data syncing. Now you're ready to start collecting references!

Adding References to Zotero

Adding from browser

If you installed the Zotero Connector for your browser, Zotero can automatically detect reference information on websites you visit. The icon for the Connector should appear somewhere in the toolbar of your chosen browser, and will change form depending on what Zotero is currently detecting. For example, a typical webpage will produce a page icon, while a page of Quick Search results will produce a folder icon.

To add a reference to Zotero:

  1. Open Zotero
  2. In your browser, navigate to the page you want to add
  3. Click the Zotero icon
  4. Zotero automatically adds reference information to your library

If you are using many search tools, including Google Scholar and the ISU Library's Quick Search, Zotero can detect information about multiple resources at once.

If you are using Quick Search:

  1. Make sure Zotero is running
  2. Click the Zotero icon while viewing Quick Search results in browser
  3. Use check boxes to select references
  4. Click OK
  5. Zotero automatically adds reference information to your library


Importing from another tool

If you are switching from another citation manager to Zotero, or have selected multiple references in a database:

  1. Export your citations from your previous software or database
  2. In Zotero, choose Import... from the File menu
  3. Select your file
  4. Click Open

If you wish to add a large number of citations to Zotero from a database, such as Google Scholar or one of the Library's subscription databases, you may want to batch export the items you want from the database and import that file into Zotero rather than using the Zotero connector. Most databases allow for citation information to be exported in a .RIS file, which can easily be imported into Zotero using steps 2-4 above.

Importing from a PDF

If you wish to extract bibliographic information from a PDF:

  1. Open Zotero
  2. Drag PDF into Zotero pane
  3. Zotero will automatically retrieve metadata for the PDF, if available

Attaching notes

To add a note to a reference:

  1. In Zotero, right click on the item and choose Add Note

Using references

One of Zotero's most useful features is its ability to generate dynamic bibliographies within word processing documents. Changes and additions (including switching to a new citation style) are reflected at the click of a button, making it much easier to manage references in a document.

Start by installing the plugin for your word processor of choice. An official Zotero plugin is available for Word and LibreOffice, but users have developed additional plugins that enable you to use Zotero with LaTeX ,Google Docs, and other commonly used writing software.

Zotero needs to be running for the plugins to work properly. The Word/LibreOffice plugin will create a Zotero tab in your word processor, from which you can add citations, generate a bibliography, choose a citation style, etc. Other plugins may work very differently.

Using Zotero with Word

To add a citation from your Zotero library in Word:

  1. Place your cursor where you want to insert your reference
  2. Choose the Zotero tab in the Word ribbon
  3. Click Add/Edit Citation
  4. Start typing an author name or keyword
  5. Select your choice from the list that pops up
  6. Hit the Enter key to insert the reference

To change the citation style in use:

  1. Choose the Zotero tab in the Word ribbon
  2. Click Document Preferences
  3. Choose the citation style you wish to use - for M E 270, choose Elsevier - Harvard

If the citation style manual you wish to use is not in the available list:

  1. Follow steps 1 and 2 above
  2. Click Manage Styles...
  3. Click Get Additional Styles...
  4. Find the style of interest and click its name to install

When you're done with your document:

  1. Choose the Zotero tab in the Word ribbon
  2. Click Unlink Citations

This will unlink your citations from Zotero and remove the field codes. This may be helpful if you are getting unexpected outputs in your final documents. However, unlinking is permanent (you cannot easily re-link to make changes or updates), so proceed with care!

Using Zotero with Google Docs

Installing the Zotero Connector for Chrome and Firefox also installs a plugin for Google Docs. This creates a Zotero tab in your Google Doc and allows you to search and use your citations, and will add a bibliography to your document, among other features.

This means that you and a team can collaborate using a shared Zotero library and a shared Google Doc. (You and each member of your team will still need to download and install Zotero, not just the browser connector, for this to work.)

Collaborating with Zotero

decorative image.Creating groups

There are 2 ways to create a group with Zotero:

  • In Zotero, click the New Library... icon and choose New Group... (this will take you to
  • On the Zotero website, log in and navigate to the Groups page, then choose Create New Group

Groups can have a variety of privacy settings, and enable you to share references with a select group of people or the world.

decorative image.Using groups

In order to use groups within Zotero, data syncing must be enabled. When syncing is enabled, group libraries will appear in the left pane and can be used in exactly the same way as the personal library.

Groups may use file storage to store and share files among members... however, this counts against the group owner's 300 MB file storage limit. Zotero's recommended workaround for this is to create a separate account for the group leader role.

To add members to a group:

  1. Navigate to and log in
  2. Click Groups and create a new group if you do not have one already
  3. From your Groups page, choose Manage Members
  4. Choose Send More Invitations
  5. Enter the email addresses or Zotero usernames of the people you want to invite