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Zotero - Collect, Organize, Cite and Share your Research Sources: Organizing Research

Zotero [zoh-TAIR-oh] is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share your research sources.

Organize your research

Zotero offers many ways to organize your research in addition to creating collections:

  • Search your Zotero Library
  • Create and tag notes about items;
  • Remove duplicates from your Zotero Library
  • Create Saved Searches within your Zotero Library

This video may help clarify what Zotero can do when it comes to organizing your references.

Organizing your Zotero Library

Zotero organizes your research into collections that act like iTunes playlists. You can add a citation to any number of collections or subcollections. Create a new collection by clicking the folder icon above the library pane. Create a subcollection by right clicking on an existing collection and selecting New Subcollection.

You can drag and drop any citations already in My Library onto the new collection or from one collection to another. Items will now be in both My Library and the new collection. When a collection is selected any items you save will automatically be filed into that collection.

One of the most important steps in organizing your Zotero Library is to remove duplicates.

Having duplicates in your Zotero Library can confuse Zotero and cause Zotero to cite the reference wrongly.

To remove duplicates:

  1. Open Zotero and click Duplicate Items on the left panel
  2. If there are duplicates, Zotero will show them. Please compare the references to see if they are indeed duplicates
  3. If there are duplicates, click on Merge Items to merge the references. Zotero will delete the duplicate reference

Tags are keywords you can assign to items that allow you to characterize items and group them together outside of collections. Tags can be imported from databases along with citation information or they can be added manually. All tags are searchable through the Zotero search box.

Disabling Automatic Tagging

If you do not want to use tags or only want to use tags you have created manually, in General Preferences, you may uncheck the box next to Automatically tag items with keywords and subject headings.

Manually Adding Tags

To tag items yourself, select an item in Zotero and then select the 'Tags' tab in the column on the right. Click on 'Add.' Enter the word or phrase you want to use and press Enter. Tags can be renamed by clicking on them and deleted by using the 'minus' button. Your tags will now appear in Zotero's bottom left window pane.

Adding Multiple Items to a Tag

You can add items in bulk to an already existing tag by selecting all of the items within a collection that you want to assign that tag and then dragging them onto to tag in the Tag Pane.        

Tagging with Colors

Notes are an easy way to record your thoughts directly in Zotero while reading your research materials. You can also use them as to-do lists, brainstorming materials, or for any other reason. 

Notice that when you open Zotero, it shows three panes:

To add notes to items in your Zotero library, click on the notes tab in the right pane.

Why would you want to create saved searches in your Zotero Library?

With saved searches, you can create smart collections that automatically fill with relevant materials as you add them to your library. Click the magnifying glass to use the Advanced Search. Enter your search terms and click Save Search.

Note that you can also create saved searches for two or more tags. This search might be particularly helpful when aggregating sources for a journal article or a dissertation chapter.

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