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Zotero: Importing Citations

This guide will help you use the free online citation and research management tool Zotero to organize citations from Library catalogs and databases.

Options for importing records

Importing from an online source

When searching article databases, library catalogs, web search engines, and other resources, different icons will appear in the menu bar of your browser.

The article, book, or page icons in the address bar indicate you are viewing a single item, and clicking on that icon will import the information into your library.      If a folder appears in the address bar when you view a list of results, click on the folder to reveal a list of the items that appear on that page, then check the ones of interest and click on OK. This imports those multiple results into your library.
example of article icon showing in browser     example of folder icon appearing in browser


All the necessary bibliographic elements must be included in the records or the bibliography you output later will be wrong. Double-click on a field to make it editable and make your corrections.







Adding manually

Importing citations into your Zotero collections does not always work without a hitch. If for some reason an icon doesn't appear in the address bar or if the information isn't importing properly, you may want to use another option.

add item icon Use this option to manually add an item. Select the item type from the drop-down menu and enter the item's bibliographic information in the item details pane.
add item by identifier icon If you already know the ISBN, Digital Object Identifier (DOI), or PubMed ID of the item, enter it using this option.

Importing from other tools

To import libraries from other reference management tools into Zotero, start by exporting the bibliographic data from your other software program. In Zotero, you will find the Import option under File in the menu bar.  Browse to your file, select it, and click the “Open” button. 

Zotero can import the following bibliographic file formats:

  • Zotero RDF
  • MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema)
  • BibTeX
  • RIS
  • Refer/BibIX
  • Unqualified Dublin Core RDF
  • Endnote XML
  • XML ContextObject
  • Web of Science Tagged
  • MEDLINE/nbib

If you want to transfer entire Zotero libraries between different Zotero installations, you should use Zotero's sync functions, rather than the import/export function. You can also manually copy the Zotero data directory.

Importing web pages

Not all the websites you visit will provide Zotero with what is needed for the application to recognize the bibliographic information on the page.  If the page cannot be "recognized," you'll see a gray page icon:

If “Automatically take snapshots when creating items from web pages” is enabled in the General tab of the Zotero preferences, a copy (or snapshot) of the webpage can be saved to your computer and added as a child item. To view the saved copy, double-click the snapshot.

Right-clicking the Connector save button offers the option of saving a snapshot of the web page or saving the web page without a snapshot. Saving it with the snapshot will allow you to see the page as it was on the day you captured it.

Adding PDFs

In the General tab of the Zotero preferences, check the boxes for "Automatically retrieve metadata for PDFs" and "Automatically rename attachment files using parent metadata."  When a PDF is dragged into the middle pane, the program will attempt to retrieve bibliographic information for the item through a variety of searches. It will create an entry for the file and then attach the PDF to that entry. If this is unsuccessful, save the citation from another catalog or database, then drag the PDF onto the citation to make it an attachment.

A quick way to do that is to search for the item in Google Scholar, then click on the quotation mark symbol under the entry. A pop-up window with citation style examples includes different exporting options. Choose the Endnote to save the citation and use the Import function in the File menu.

Adding references from an already-created bibliography

This blog post describes some options for extracting references from bibliographies you have already created and adding them to your Zotero library.