When researching a topic, collecting and managing all the tidbits of information, such as bibliographic data and references, it can get chaotic. That’s where Zotero can help, since this free and open-source app specializes in research collection and organization. Let’s see how to use it.
Zotero’s creators only provide a generic download for every Linux flavor. It’s up to the users to install it on their computer. For Ubuntu, or any other distros that support snap packages, you can install Zotero in a snap.
Once installed, you will find Zotero among the rest of your installed software.
Windows and Mac users can simply download it from its official site and install it like any other app.
To better take advantage of Zotero, you may also want to install the Zotero Connector add-on for your browser. This will allow you to easily add items to Zotero while you are browsing.
Follow along to install a connector for your browser of choice.
With this second part over, you are ready to start using the application.
With both Zotero and its browser connector installed, you can begin collecting information about any topic you wish. Suppose you are researching Linux distributions.
To save a text snippet to your collection, select it, right-click on it, and choose “Zotero Connector -> Save to Zotero -> Create Zotero Item and Note from Selection.”
Another pop-up will appear on the top right, informing you that your selection will be saved to your main library.
It’s worth noting that you don’t have to keep extra notes about the source of every snippet you save – Zotero does that automatically.
Organize & Edit
When you return to Zotero’s interface, you’ll find a new entry waiting for you. In the entry, you’ll see the meta-information Zotero saved with your snippet displayed on an Info tab on its right. Next to Info, you’ll have three more tabs: Notes, Tags, and Related.
- The Notes tab presents all notes attached to an entry and allows you to add more.
- The Tags tab is where you can add keywords that can help you organize everything you capture into thematic sub-collections. This way, you can keep entries in different collections and folders connected.
- The Related tab allows you to add such connections manually by directly selecting other entries.
Where’s the snippet you saved, though? Zotero kept it as a text note inside your entry. The entry itself consists of your snippet and all related data you saw in the Info tab and the extra notes and tags you add. You can also attach additional links to URLs or files (right-click -> Add Attachment).
If you expand this first entry, you’ll see your note. Clicking on the note itself won’t present you with the same tabs as before. Instead, you’ll now be able to edit it in Zotero’s built-in text editor.
Below that, you’ll see a Snapshot. This is a saved instance of the web page where you saved your snippet. Zotero saves a complete version of it locally, so you’ll be able to access it in the future. To see this saved instance in your browser, double-click on Snapshot. To visit the source (site) instead, right-click on an entry and choose “View Online.”
You can click on the green plus icon to add more items to an entry or create new entries from scratch.
You can keep things organized by gathering research about particular topics under different collections/folders. To create such collections/folders, right-click in the navigational tree-view on Zotero’s left side. Then, choose “New Collection” from the pop-up menu that appears.
You can move existing entries from other collections to your new one, or as we saw earlier, save new notes there from the pop-up menu in your browser.
To create Citation/Bibliography for one or more entries, select them, right-click on them, and choose “Create Bibliography from item … ” You can select more than one entry by either holding down Ctrl (random selection) or Shift (range selection) when clicking on them.
Zotero will present a window from where you can choose among various Citation Styles and customize the output. You can incorporate it into your work afterward.
You can create Reports the same way, presenting information about your selected entries in a more human-friendly way.
Zotero can also help you when collaborating with others on large projects or when you want to share your research.
Share & Export
To share your content with others, you’ll have to set up a Sync account and visit the online version of Zotero. Start by paying a visit to “Edit -> Preferences -> Sync.” Click “Create Account” if you haven’t already set one up and register at Zotero’s site.
After activating your account, return to the Zotero app. Revisit the Sync options and enter the username/email and password you used to register. Then, click on “Set Up Syncing.”
The interface will update to present you with syncing options. You can select which libraries you want to share with others by clicking on “Choose Libraries … ” and whether you want that program to sync automatically. You can also choose to share the full content of your texts and any attached files.
Using a solution like Zotero is much better than trying to make sense of thousands of different notes, organizing your research, creatimg proper citations, and sharing them with others. If you prefer your notes to be organized in a network style, try Obsidian.