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HONR 212: Exercise is Medicine: Organizing Your Zotero Library


Collections are a Zotero feature that helps you better organize your references. They are similar to file folders on a computer (and even share a similar icon), but a Zotero reference can be in more than one collection at a time. As an example: an article about personal data privacy can be found in your general Library, a collection on data, and a collection on social media. 

To create a a collection, click on the button that looks like a folder with a green plus sign. You can drag and drop references you already have into that collection. 

Import Existing PDFs

Do you have a collection of PDFs on your computer from old classes or another project? Zotero can help you add citation information for them. To add PDFs to Zotero and find their metadata, use the following steps:

  1. Open Zotero and select the "Add Item" icon.
  2. From the drop down menu, select "Store Copy of File."
  3. Select your PDF and click 'Open.'
  4. You will now see the PDF included in your Zotero library. Find it in your list of items, and right click it.
  5. From the menu options, select "Retrieve Metadata for PDF." 
  6. Zotero will search the web to attempt to find citation information for your document. You will see a dialog box where it indicates whether it has been successful. 
  7. If the search is successful, you will see your PDF is now attached as part of a regular citation in your Zotero library. Repeat as needed to get all of your old PDFs included in your collection!

For more on how this process works, check out Zotero's retrieve metadata guide.

Info, Notes, Tags, and Related

You'll find the information Zotero collected about your reference on the right side of your library after selecting a reference. Citation information is in the "Info" tab, and you can edit any field by clicking on it except for "Date Added" and "Modified." 

Notes: These are for your personal use. Some suggestions for what to put here are quotes, summaries of the resource, or why you chose to save and cite it. 

Tags: Tagging references can make it easier for you to search for them. Especially with database articles, tags are often automatically downloaded. 

Related: This allows you to link a resource to another item in your collection. This can be especially useful for tracking which sources refer to each other. 

Attaching Files and PDFs to References

If there is a PDF with an article citation, Zotero will often save the PDF automatically to the citation. If it does not save automatically, check your Zotero Preferences. You may need to change some Zotero settings. 

  1. Open Zotero online or Zotero Standalone. 
  2. Click on gear icon on the left, then select "Preferences..." 
  3. Click on the General pane, indicated by a gear icon.
  4. You will see a list of options under "Miscellaneous". Make sure that box is checked next to the option: "Automatically attach associated PDFs and other files when saving items".

You can also attach files and PDFs manually to citations. 

  1. Open Zotero Online or Zotero 5.0 Standalone and navigate to the citation you want to add a file to.
  2. Right-click the file and select "Add attachment," which will allow you to attach a link, screenshot, or file.