“Collections” allow hierarchical organization of groups of items, in advance of adding items to your library. Item may be placed in multiple locations (sub-collections) in your library collection. Items may then be retrieved by “drilling down” into the hierarchy.
It is important to understand that items can be assigned to multiple collections, and that doing so does not duplicate the item. In this sense collections are more like iTunes playlists than folders in a computer filesystem: just as a single song can be added to more than one playlist, a single item in a Zotero library can be added to multiple collections. The library root—“My Library” for personal libraries or the group name for group libraries—always shows all items in the library, and items are duplicates only if they appear multiple times in that view.
For more information and specific instructions for creating and removing collections, adding and removing items to collections, and renaming collections, see the Zotero Collections support page.
Zotero also hosts a screencast tutorial video explaining the Collections feature.
As you build your Zotero library, you might introduce a few duplicated items. E.g. you could have saved the same item twice from a webpage, or imported items already in your library. Fortunately, Zotero can help you identify possible duplicates and allow you to merge them.
In addition to items and file attachments, you can also store notes in your Zotero library: child notes, which belong to a specific item, and standalone notes. Notes are synced along with item metadata, searchable, and support HTML formatting.
Other Useful Notes Tips
Items in the center column can be sorted by various properties, such as their title, creators, or the date they were added to your library.
To change the way items are sorted, click on any of the headers at the top of the center column. For example, if you click on “Title”, all your items will be sorted alphabetically by title. Clicking a header multiple times toggles between ascending and descending sorts (the header will show an upward and downward arrow, respectively).
You can change which properties are shown in the center column by clicking the sort icon (), found to the right of the column headers. Checking properties in the dropdown menu adds them to the center column, and unchecking removes them.
“Tags” (also called “keywords” in other contexts) allow for detailed characterization of an item, and have the unique advantage of allowing the formation of ad-hoc collections after adding items to your library (e.g., one can use tags to locate items tagged “Sumarian” + “history”, and so on.)
Tags are portable, but collections are not: copying individual items between Zotero libraries will transfer their tags, but not their collection placements. Both organizational schemas have unique advantages. Experiment with both to see what works best for your own workflow
The Tag Selector
In addition to collections and tags, another way to express relationships between items is by setting up “relations." Relations can set up between any pair of items in a library (it is not possible to relate items from different libraries).
To create a relation, select an item in the center column and go to the “Related” tab of the right-hand column. Click the “Add” button, and select one or multiple items from the same library in the pop-up window (hold down control or shift (Windows) or command or shift (OS X) to select multiple items) and click “OK”. The selected items will now show up as related items in the “Related” tab, and clicking an item will take you straight to that item.
Note that when you relate item A to B, B will be automatically related to A. But relations are not transitive: relating A to B, and B to C, will not automatically relate A to C.
Some suggestions of how you could use Relations to assist organization:
Zotero supports the ability for users to search through a library or collection.
Advanced searches offer more and finer control than quick searches, and allow you to make saved searches.