Untangling Research Through Zotero

Untangling Research Through Zotero

If you are reading this, then you might be someone who is in the beginning phase of his/her research life or an active web surfer who just wants to keep track of his/her progress in the vast ocean of web resources. Either or neither, you have come to the right place, because I am going to teach you something about the best Research and Reference Management software out there, an aptly named Zotero.

Image Courtesy : contentcreatorz.com

Now if you know anything about research, you will know that the first step and the only continuous step in every type or stream of research is READING. You start your research by reading hundred’s of journals, articles, web-pages etc… and you pursue your research by doing the same thing. Until you reach the end, where you might have came across or read a million things. Among them, only a few articles/journals will be useful for you in their entirety, some might support you partially, and many you don’t even need. How do you sort them through ? How do you remember which one was which and what was in which and where ? How do you give your courtesy in the form of citation to the journals which supported you to write one of your own ? VOILAAAA….. You have the Reference and Research Management Software.

Reference/Citation/Bibliographic software assists a scholar or an author by completely taking up the huge task of collecting, organizing and managing the entire literature related stuff. You just need to add/save the relevant documents and plugins and WHOOSH….the software does the rest for you. There are several such software available today such as Citavi, EndNote, Mendeley, RefWorks, Zotero etc…The most commonly used are Mendeley (by Elsevier) and Zotero, because of the very obvious reason that they both belong to the Free Software category, and of course they are both amazing and user-friendly as well.

Now if you ask me which manager to use, I would suggest, hands down, Zotero. Firstly, because it is open-source. Secondly, because of the many awesome features that I am going to detail in a bit. I have used Mendeley before and one good feature I felt it has over Zotero is the in-built document viewer; but that again comes with several drawbacks.

Zotero Desktop Interface (Image Courtesy : zotero.org)

So. Let’s get started.


Step 1 : Installing Zotero

Install the latest version of Zotero for your OS from here.

Step 2 : Zotero Connector Extension

Install the Zotero Connector for your favorite web browser from the same page.

This extension helps you to add and organize web pages and documents to your Zotero interface as you browse. A very helpful feature for later referencing and later reading.

Step 3 : Zotero Account

Creating a Zotero account is optional. You can use Zotero without a registered account as well. But it is highly suggested that you have one because a registered Zotero account helps you to sync libraries, join groups etc..

Create your account here.

Step 4 : Data Syncing

Once you have created your Zotero account

Open Zotero —> View —> Preferences —> Sync which will show a display as shown here.

(Kindly note that all the screenshot images are from Ubuntu. But minus the screen color, everything is same in Windows as well.)

Enter your Zotero Account Credentials and click Set Up Syncing.

This will sync all of your library files (notes, links, tags, file information etc…) from your local system(s) to the server. There is no limit to data sync and you can access any of it from anywhere using your Zotero account.

Selecting the Sync Automatically option will automatically sync your data each time a change is made on your local system(s). If conflicting changes occur between multiple systems, Zotero will ask for a conflict resolution. Additionally, you can manually sync using the green arrow option on the upper right side of Zotero interface

Step 5 : File Syncing Through WebDAV

While Data Syncing achieves sync for all library items, it doesn’t sync files and documents such as PDF’s, images, audio, videos etc.. so that remote access can be achieved. For that you need to do file syncing.

We can sync files through Zotero itself, but Zotero offers only a mere 300 MB as free storage and you will have to buy higher storage options for an annual price. Some Institutes and Labs provide unlimited Zotero storage for its scholars. So first check whether your Institute is subscribed to Zotero. If not, you are on your own. But don’t worry, I have a solution that gives you 10 GB of data to start with, WebDAV.

In simple terms, WebDAV is a file sharing/storage setup. The list of WebDAV services that Zotero supports can be found here. I personally prefer and suggest the pCloud service since they offer a 10 GB free storage to start with and also unlimited file size and referral options.

  • Sign up for a free pCloud account here. It’s very simple and quick.
  • Return to the Sync tab in Zotero preferences, which will now be something like below
  • Select the WebDAV option from the drop-down list near to Sync attachment files in My Library using after which the tab will turn out to become
  • Enter webdav.pcloud.com:443 in the URL box and enter your Username and Password for the pCloud (or any other WebDAV) account.
  • Verify server. A pop-up window might appear saying that the ‘Zotero’ folder does not exist. Click Create. This will create a Zotero folder inside your pCloud account where your files will be synced. Verify server again.

All the files in your personal Zotero library will be synced to your pCloud account. You will now be able to access your documents and stuff from anywhere. In comparison to Zotero storage, WebDAV suffers from the inability of syncing Group Libraries (Libraries where you collaborate with other people and shares documents between each other)

Step 6 : The Zotfile plugin

Zotfile is a third party plugin for Zotero that gives you enormous power as a researcher. It can be used as an alternative sync tool, renaming PDF, sending PDF attachment to your tablet/iPad etc.. But the reason why I suggest to install this third party application is because of its amazing capability to extract annoted texts from your document as a seperate note !

Yes, you read it right ! You don’t have to scroll through your large documents ages after to recollect what was important. Zotfile does it for you.

Let me show you how.

  • Download the Zotfile xpi file from here.
  • Open Zotero —> Tools —> Add-ons Click the gear icon and select Install Add-on From File.
  • Browse to the downloaded xpi file and Open it. Zotfile plugin will be installed on to your Zotero and will be reflected in the Add-ons Manager

Now its time to feel some power !

  • Inside Zotero, open any document with an application that has the facility to annotate or highlight text in the document. You can add comments as well, if there is a provision. Save the file and close.
  • Right click on the file —> Manage Attachments —> Extract Annotations
  • The highlighted text (and comment if any) will be added as an attachment to the document file in Zotero, along with the link to that particular portion inside the document.

If that is not a super cool and useful feature, I don’t know what is ! 🥶


So I think that is enough of Zotero to start with. Zotero has so many other useful features as well. But let me reserve them for another post.

So ! Don’t Wait ! Add your files to Zotero. Save your links and documents to Zotero. Start reading. Do some amazing research !

Categories: Research Tools

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