Here's a real-life example of Zotero for graduate studies: 

DeVan Ard, a PhD candidate in English at the University of Virginia, is writing his dissertation on the devotional lyric poetry of William Dunbar. Over the years, he has cataloged over 8,000 journal articles, books, and other documents related to his research in Zotero.

He takes advantage of Zotero's tagging functions to find and filter citations quickly. 


Zotero for Graduate Students  

If you're starting to gather citations, here is how to put Zotero to best use. 

  1. Install Zotero
  2. Create folders
  3. Add citations
  4. Attach files to citations

  5. Organize citations with tags
  6. Search and filter citations

1. Install Zotero

Go to the external Here, you can download and install Zotero by following the instructions for your operating system. We're using the desktop version of Zotero in this walkthrough.

Once you've installed Zotero, we can create folders to organize citations. 

2. Create folders

We generally recommend using tags to organize content instead of a complex folder hierarchy. Nevertheless, you may want to use folders to separate projects in different disciplines.

Zotero calls folders "collections" or "sub-collections." To make a folder, click File, then New Collection in Zotero. 

A popup window will ask you to name your collection. When you're finished, click OK.

Your file will show up under "My Library" under the sidebar. You can repeat this process to add more folders. In the example below, we've made two folders: "Landscape Architecture" and "Contemporary Poetry."

Now let's make a subcollection.

Right-click on a folder in the sidebar, then New Subcollection. You'll see the same popup window as when you created a collection. Click OK when you're finished. Here, we've made a "Lyric Poetry" subfolder.

You can repeat this process to add a subcollection for any folder.

Now that we've added folders, we can add citations to them.

3. Add citations

Let's add citations manually first. Once we've done that, we'll show you a quicker way to add citations.

First, open the folder where you're adding a citation. Then click File, then New Item, then the type of media you want to cite. Here, we're citing a Journal Article.


You'll see a blank citation entry in the folder, and blank metadata fields in the right sidebar.

Enter the information for your item. Now you've stored your citation. Here's an example of what it would look like:

As you can tell, this would be tedious if you had a lot of documents to cite. Luckily, there's an easier way using Virgo through the UVA Library. Now we'll add the same journal article quickly.

First, open Virgo at Search for your journal article in the search bar. 

Open the result you want to cite. We're using Toward Ecosystem Services as a Basis for Design, by Windhager et al.

Click Item Actions above the title, then Export to Zotero.

A .ris file will download to your computer. We'll now import it into Zotero.

First, click File in the top Zotero menu, then Import... the file.

Your computer's file browser will open. Find the Virgo .ris file and open it.

You'll see a "ris" folder on the left sidebar. Click this folder to see your citation.

Drag and drop your citation into the right folder on the left sidebar. Then delete the empty ris folder. To do this, first right click the folder, then Delete Collection. Delete Collection again to move this folder to the trash.

Now that you've added your citations, we'll show you how to link to files of the text.

3. Attach files to citations

Electronic resource citations you add from Virgo link directly to the resource URL. Double-click the citation to go to the resource. You may have to log in with Netbadge to access UVa resources.

If you want to add new links to a citation, first click on the citation. Click the paperclip icon in the toolbar, then Attach Link to File...

You'll see a file browser: choose a file to link to the citation.

Now you'll see a new entry underneath the citation name. Click the entry to go directly to the linked file. 

4. Organize content with tags

Tags are perfect for organizing content without spending too much time constructing and editing vast folder hierarchies.

To add a tag in Zotero, first open the citation. Then click Tags in the left sidebar. If you imported your tags from Virgo, you'll see a list of tags assigned by the catalog. Delete those tags by clicking the (-) icons next to them.

Now Add your tag. A blank field will open. Enter your tag and hit enter.

You can add as many tags as you need. We suggest you use only one word for tags whenever possible. For example, use lyric and poetry instead of lyric poetry. By searching for both lyric and poetry, you can reconstruct the term lyric poetry without worrying about tag consistency.

You can also add tags to improve your workflow. For example, use "noted" to tag works you've looked through.

Next, we'll show you how to search and filter content.

5. Search and filter citations

We'll make simple searches first. Then, we'll use the Advanced Search function to make complex queries.

Click the Search icon at the top of the page. Select Everything.

Then type in "landscape". All your results will appear in the main citation pane.

Now select a tag in the sidebar to the left. Here, we've chosen aesthetics.

As you can see, this returns one citation from the "landscape" search. You can select as many tags as you want: for example, selecting lyric and poetry would return all results with both search terms.

Now we'll perform an advanced search. Click the search magnifying glass icon above your citations.

The Advanced Search popup window will open.

First, let's find all the citations we haven't read. Since in our example we used a noted tag for work we've read, this means searching for all work that doesn't have the tag noted.

Fill in the fields like this:

Match all of the following:
Tag | does not contain | "noted"

Then Search your citations. You'll see only the sources you haven't annotated.

You can stack search criteria or filters. For example, say you want to search for all Journal Articles tagged with Ecology. First, make your search "Match all of the following". (Matching any would return every journal article alongside every citation tagged with Ecology, not just journal articles that were also tagged Ecology.)

Then, add you first filter:

Item Type | is | Journal Article

Now click the (+) button next to the criteria.

Now you can add your next filter:

Tag | contains | "Ecology"

Search your citations with these filters to see your results. 


These basic Zotero techniques for cataloging will help you through graduate school. But this walkthrough isn't exhaustive – check out this Knowledge Base and Zotero's external help guides to learn more.  

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