Zotero Advanced: Collaborations and Citations

Zotero Advanced: Collaborations and Citations

This post will give you an insight into two of the most used and most helpful features of Zotero; collaborative works and citation management. If you are completely new to Zotero, I suggest you to go through this link, which explains in detail, how to install and setup the preliminaries of Zotero as an amazing reference management software.

Let’s dive in.

1. Collaborate and share resources

Collaborative work is part of most research. You may not be the only person who need to find and read a paper or wath a video. You might want to share it with some of your teammates. You want them to see the highlighted text in some journal paper which you found interesting. You want them to know what you know so that you can discuss over it. And it is cumbersome to share/send files each time you find some document and each time you find something. Haven’t you ever felt like there was some possibility that whatever files you add to your computer, whatever changes you make with them; automatically reflects in your partner’s or collaborator’s system. Well….you are in for a treat. Zotero does exactly that.

Zotero allows the creation of group libraries which can be shared with and made to collaborate with many other people at the same time. This is completely apart from the individual library that we have already aware of and learnt about. All the members of the group, if given permission, can share files through the group library and everyone in the group can access these files as well through zotero sync. Zotero allows for three types of group libraries

  1. Private Group – Group page visible only to members. Only invited members can join
  2. Public, Closed Group – Group page visible to everyone. Joining only through invitation or request
  3. Public, Open Group – Group page and joining possible for everyone. Only admins can file share.

Let’s see how to create a group library.

Step 1 : Login to your Zotero Account

Click on your username on the top right corner and select ‘My Profile’. This will bring you to a web page like this.

Step 2 : Click on the ‘Groups’ tab

to reach this page. This page will list all the group libraries that you are a part of. It also allows you create a new group or to search for open groups in topics that you might be interested in and join.

Step 3 : Click on ‘Create a New Group’

This brings you to a page where you can create a new group library. It gives you the option to name your library and select the type of library that you want it to be. If you are unsure, go forward with the defaults because you can edit it anytime later. For representation, I have given a very thoughtful name ‘new_group’ to my new group !

Step 4 : Group Settings

Once you have created the group, you will be forwarded to a settings page for the library. There are 3 different settings options;

Library Settings allow you to control the overall type and permissions of the group
Group Settings give you the options to update group name, description etc… and even the option to delete the group
Member Settings show you the current members of the group and the option to invite others and update the roles of existing members. Roles include Owner, Admin and Member.

Step 5 : Finish up, Open Zotero and Start Sharing Files

Verify that you had indeed created a library by checking the Groups tab in your profile.

Now, open zotero in your desktop and allow some time to sync automatically or manually sync the library. You can see that the newly created group library has been added to the Zotero on left bottom. It is completely independent of your individual library.

Now you can start adding files to your group libraries and share it with your teammate(s) and work together !!!

Managing Citations through Better Bibtex

Reference Management Software such as Zotero or Mendeley not only helps you to store and access your files in an organized manner, but also allows you to have control over citations and bibiliography editings when you are writing a document. Zotero can be directly integrated with MS Word where you can cite your documents by using a graphical interface and get the entire bibliography with just a click on the mouse. But, citiations and bibilographies are entirely different when you are using the LATeX environment for document making and editing. You will need citation keys and a .bib file to do the work. This section deals with introducing the use of Zotero to properly do citation in LATeX based documents.

Although Zotero, by default, allows us to do all these functionalities; we are going to make use of an extension named ‘Better BibTex’ which is more powerful and provides more features.

Step 1 : Download the Better BibTex .xpi file from here

Step 2 : Install Better BibTex (BBT)

Open Zotero –> Tools –> Add-ons –> Extensions –> Gear Button –> Install Add-on from file.
Now choose the .xpi file that you have downloaded for BBT. Click Install and Restart Zotero.

Step 3: Clean BBT

When a file file is exported from Zotero using BBT, it will consist of so many details, most of which are unimportant and makes our referencing file looks like a mess. So to get a clean file, we need to update the preferences of BBT.
We are going to remove the following fields from BBT as they are unimportant for bibliography.

series, issn, abstract, urldate, file, language, note

Open Zotero –> Edit –> Preferences –> Better BibTeX –> Export
Now set the fields as shown here

After updating this, go to Export tab in Zotero Preferences and set the default format to be Better BibTex

Step 4 : Citing inside LaTeX

Once BBT is properly installed, you can notice that on the Info section of every document in Zotero, there is an added field titled Citation Key.

This key is used inside the latex file in the form /cite{citationkey} to cite an article of interest. Once the latex file is compiled and the .bib file containing this citation info is also called, the document will update itself with a reference to the article in the bibliography.


Step 5 : Generating .bib file

The .bib file is the most essential file to cite and create bibliography in latex. It is the bibliograpy file consisting of all fields and records of the articles that we need to use in our document. The .bib file holds records of each article that is being exported to that file. It looks something like below. Note that the entry for each article begins with it’s Citation Key.

  title = {Isogeometric Analysis: {{CAD}}, Finite Elements, {{NURBS}}, Exact Geometry and Mesh Refinement},
  author = {Hughes, T.J.R. and Cottrell, J.A. and Bazilevs, Y.},
  year = {2005},
  month = oct,
  volume = {194},
  pages = {4135--4195},
  doi = {10.1016/j.cma.2004.10.008},
  journal = {Computer Methods in Applied Mechanics and Engineering},
  number = {39-41}

  title = {Robust Topology Optimization for Dynamic Compliance Minimization under Uncertain Harmonic Excitations with Inhomogeneous Eigenvalue Analysis},
  author = {Zhang, Xiaopeng and Kang, Zhan and Zhang, Wenbo},
  year = {2016},
  month = dec,
  volume = {54},
  pages = {1469--1484},
  doi = {10.1007/s00158-016-1607-y},
  journal = {Structural and Multidisciplinary Optimization},
  number = {6}

To generate the .bib file, you can follow two approaches.

  1. Open Zotero. Select all the files that you want to cite/include in the bibliography. Click Shift + Ctrl + c. This will copy the contents needed for the .bib file into the clipboard.
    You can further tidy up the content from here.
    Copy and paste the contents into a text file and name it something with a .bib extension. eg : references.bib
    The disadvantage of this method is that you have to do everything manually.
  2. This is a more automatic way that utilizes the power of Better BibTeX. With this approach, the .bib file will get automatically updated if you are adding more files to the folder in which you are making the .bib file from. This is a recommended method.
    Simply add the required files to a folder/subfolder. Right-click on the folder and select the Export option

Use Better BibTeX format and make sure to select the Keep updated option. This will ensure that the .bib file gets updated whenever new files are added to the folder. Clicking OK will pop out a window that will enable you to save the .bib file.


Whichever approach you choose, make sure that the .bib file is saved and the LaTeX file is given the appropriate path to this file. Otherwise, LaTeX will produce an error and the citations and bibliography won’t be displayed correctly.

Categories: Research Tools

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