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M E 415: Mechanical Systems Design

Learn about tools for finding articles, books, standards, and prior art for the Mechanical Engineering capstone design class. This guide also includes tips and techniques engineering students need to know for conducting successful library research.

Bibliographic Management

You don't have to compile, organize, and annotate your references entirely on your own. Bibliographic, or citation, management software can help make the task of staying organized much easier. In this class we'll be using the open source bibliographic manager Zotero for this purpose.

Getting Started

The first step is to create an account with Zotero.

Once you have an account, you should download the Zotero software.

The final step in getting started is to set up data syncing. This will back up your collections to your account, allowing you to access and retrieve them from any computer. This takes a few simple steps:

  1. In Zotero, navigate to the preferences tab
  2. Enter your Zotero account information
  3. Choose whether you want manual or automatic syncing

That's it! If you're using Zotero on a shared computer, remember to sync and then unlink your account when you're done for the day.

Creating Group Libraries

Since you're working in teams, you may want to create a single group library into which you can feed citations. Zotero automatically deduplicates records in your collections, so you won't end up with multiple copies of the same resources.

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

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.

Adding References

The easiest way to add references into Zotero is to use the connector in your browser. This button, usually located near your navigation bar, will automatically detect bibliographic information from a webpage, which you can then export directly into Zotero with a click of a button. You can additionally attach the PDF of the item being referenced and any notes you may create to the bibliographic record in Zotero, allowing you to keep all your information in one place.

Staying Organized

As you accumulate more references, you'll want to think about how you're organizing those references so you can find and make sense of them later. Zotero allows you to create subcollections within a larger group library, which you can use as a hierarchical folder structure for organizing references. For example, you might want a separate subcollection for your IP search and another for your literature review.


Zotero can automatically generate a variety of outputs for you, using the data in your library. You can create a bibliography in the citation style of your choice at the click of a button, or export to Excel or a variety of other formats.

Zotero can also integrate into word processing software such as Word and Google Docs, allowing you to generate in-text citations and reference lists automatically as you write.

Zotero video tutorial

Below is a short video introduction to Zotero. If you have questions or run into trouble getting started, contact your librarian.