Zotero is, at the most basic level, a reference manager. It is designed to store, manage, and cite bibliographic references, such as books and articles. In Zotero, each of these references constitutes an item. More broadly, Zotero is a powerful tool for collecting and organizing research information and sources.
Every item contains different metadata, depending on what type it is. Items can be everything from books, articles, and reports to web pages, artwork, films, letters, manuscripts, sound recordings, bills, cases, or statutes, among many others.
Items appear in Zotero's center pane. The metadata for that item is shown in the right pane. This includes titles, creators, publishers, dates, page numbers, and any other data needed to cite the item.
Left pane includes My Library, which contains all the items in your library. Right-click on My Library or click on the New Collection button ( above the left pane to create a new collection, a folder into which items relating to a specific project or topic can be placed. Think of collections like playlists in a music player: items in collections are aliases (or “links”) to a single copy of the item in your library. The same item can belong to many collections at one time.
Items can be assigned tags. Tags are named by the user. An item can be assigned as many tags as is needed. Tags are added or removed with the tag selector at the bottom of the left pane or through the Tags tab of any item in the right-hand pane. Up to 6 tags can be assigned colors. Colored tags are readily visible in the item list and can be quickly added or removed using the number.
Quick searches show items whose metadata, tags, or full text content match the search terms and are performed from the Zotero toolbar. Clicking the spyglass icon to the left of the search box opens the Advanced Search window, allowing for more complex or narrow searches.
Advanced searches can be saved in the left pane they are similar to collections, but will update with new matching items automatically
Items can have notes, files, and links attached to them. These attachments appear in the middle pane underneath their parent item. Attachments can be shown or hidden by clicking the arrow next to their parent item
Rich-text notes can be attached to any item through the Notes tab in the right-hand pane. They can be edited in the right-hand pane or in their own window. Click the New Note button ( ) in the toolbar to create a note without attaching it to an item.
Any type of file can be attached to an item. Attach files with the Add Attachment (paperclip) button in the Zotero toolbar, by right-clicking on an existing item, or by drag-and-dropping. Files do not need to be attached to existing items. They can simply be added to your library. Files can also be downloaded automatically when you import items using the Zotero Connector in your browser
Web pages can be attached to any item as a link or a snapshot. A link simply opens the website online. Zotero can also save a snapshot of a web page. A snapshot is a locally stored copy of a web page in the same state as it was when it was saved. Snapshots are available without an internet connection.
With the Zotero Connector for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, it's simple to create new items from information available on the internet. With the click of a button, Zotero can automatically create an item of the appropriate type and populate the metadata fields, download a full-text PDF if available, and attach useful links (e.g., to the PubMed entry) or Supplemental Data files.
If the save icon is a book, article, image, or other single item, clicking on it will add the item to the current collection in Zotero. If the save icon is a folder, the webpage contains multiple items. Clicking it will open a dialog box from which items can be selected and saved to Zotero.
Zotero uses bits of code called translators to recognize information on webpages. There are generic translators which work with many sites and translators written for individual sites. If a site you're using does not have a translator, feel free to request one on the Zotero
If the Zotero Connector does not recognize data on the page, you can still click the save button in the browser toolbar to save the page as a Web Page item with an attached snapshot. While this will save basic metadata (title, URL, access date), you may need to fill in additional metadata from the page by hand.