Skip to Main Content

Zotero User's LibGuide: Organize Content with Zotero

A pathfinder for students and faculty to learn about using Zotero at FSU


“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.

Duplicate Detection

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.

Finding Duplicates

  • Clicking on the “Duplicate Items” collection in your library or right-clicking the library in the left column and selecting “Show Duplicates” will show the items Zotero thinks are duplicates in the center column.
  • Zotero currently uses the title, DOI, and ISBN fields to determine duplicates. The algorithm will be improved in the future to incorporate other fields.

Duplicate item titles selected with cursor over "Merge 2 items" button

Merging Duplicates

  • In the “Duplicate Items” collection, select an item in the center column. Zotero will automatically co-select the other items that it thinks are duplicates. Click the “Merge # Items” button in the right column to merge the items.
  • You can also select a group of two or more items of the same item type anywhere in your Zotero library, right-click, and select “Merge Items…” from the context menu.
  • Merges are automatically recognized by the word processor plugins and don't affect your automatically generated citations and bibliographies


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.

Child Notes

  • To create a child note, select an item in the center column. Then either click the “New Note” button at the top of the center column (File and plus sign icon) and select “Add Child Note”, or go to the “Notes” tab in the right-hand column and click the “Add” button. You can also right-click an item (ctrl-click on OS X) and select “Add Note”.
  • A note will be created as an attachment to the item (it will also show up under the “Notes” tab), and a note editor will appear in the right-hand column. You can create a dedicated window for the editor by clicking the “Edit in a separate window” button at the bottom of the editor. Text in notes is saved as you type.

Note editor box

Standalone Notes

  • Standalone notes work the same as child notes, but are not directly related to any item in your library, and will appear alongside any other items in your library. To create a standalone note, click the “New Note” button and select “New Standalone Note”.

Other Useful Notes Tips

  • Notetaking and Highlighting in PDFs: Zotero syncs updates to copies of all of your attached PDFs, too. This means that if you highlight or add notes to a PDF included in Zotero as an attachment, these enrichments will be saved and re-displayed anywhere you access your Zotero library.
  • Tagging and Relating:  As with any other item in Zotero, notes can be tagged and related to other items. Both features can be accessed via the bottom of the note editor.
  • Searching Notes:  While it is not possible to search notes while using the note editor, their contents is searchable by using the regular Zotero search.
    • To search the text of a single note, there is a workaround for Zotero for Firefox: right-click the note, and select “Generate Report from Selected Item…”. The note report, which will open in the current Firefox tab, can then be searched using the standard Firefox text search tools.


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 (Lined box 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.

Drop-down menu beneath sort icon


“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

  • What and where is it?  The tag selector is located at the bottom of the left column. It shows all the tags that have been attached to the items shown in the center column (to show all the tags present in the library, click the multi-color button and select “Display All Tags in This Library”).
    • By selecting one or multiple tags in the tag selector, only those items carrying the selected tags are shown in the center column. Clicking a selected tag again will deselect it. To deselect all tags at once, click the multi-color button and choose “Deselect All”
    • The filter box at the bottom of the tag selector can be used to search tags. Only the tags containing the search string are shown.
  • Useful Tip:  The tag selector allows tags to be globally renamed and deleted. To rename a tag across all items, right-click the tag (control-clicking on OS X) and choose “Rename Tag…”. To delete a tag from all items, right-click the tag and choose “Delete Tag…”. To assign a tag to multiple items at once, drag a selection of items from the center column onto a tag in the tag selector

Example folder title selected

Using Tags

  • Manually Adding Tags:  To add a tag to an item by hand, select an item in the center column. Then select the “Tags” tab in the right column and click the “Add” button. Name the tag and press Enter. You can rename a tag by clicking on it, and delete it with the minus-button. Once you have added the tag it will also appear in the tag selector in the left column
  • Colored Tags:  Up to 6 tags can be assigned colors and numbers. Numbered tags can be quickly added or removed using the corresponding number keys on your keyboard. For further documentation see this manual referred to by Zotero support.
  • Automatic Tags:  When items are saved to a Zotero library via a web translator, tags are sometimes automatically attached. For example, OPAC library catalogs provide subject headings for their records, which are saved as Zotero tags. Automatic tags behave the same as manually added tags.
    • Automatic tags can be hidden from the tag selector by clicking the multi-color button to the right of the tag selector's Filter field and deselecting “Show Automatic”. To prevent Zotero from adding automatic tags, uncheck “Automatically tag items with keywords and subject headings” in the “General” tab of the Zotero preferences.

"Show Automatic" selected from menu in the multi-colored boxes icon

  • Zotero Videos
    • Zotero hosts two informational screencast tutorials about Tags generally and the Tag Selector specifically (flash player required).

Relating Items

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:

  • Connect book chapters to their parent volume
  • Connect book reviews to the book reviewed
  • Connect different versions of a work (a lecture that became an article and then a book)
  • Link associated items from different collections
  • Link items that form parts of a single work
  • Link one item to another discussed in the Abstract or Notes fields
  • Link items that have similar comments in the Abstract or Notes fields


Zotero supports the ability for users to search through a library or collection.

Quick Search

  • Running a Quick Search:  To begin searching, click inside the search box at the top-right of the center column and start typing your search terms. As you type, only those items in the center column that match the search terms will remain.
  • Quick Search Options:  Quick search can be used in three different modes:
    • "Title, Year, Creator" - matches against only these three fields.
    • "All Fields & Tags" - matches against all fields, as well as tags and text in notes.
    • "Everything" - matches against all fields, tags, text in notes, and indexed text in PDFs (this requires PDF Indexing is enabled).
    • Tip:  When you have very large collections, the quick search's “search-as-you-type” search might become slow. To speed things up, place your search term in quotes. This prevents searches from taking place until you type in the second quotation mark.

Search box for "All Fields & Tags"

Advanced Search

Advanced searches offer more and finer control than quick searches, and allow you to make saved searches.

  • Running an Advanced Search
    • To open the Advanced Search window, click on the magnifying glass icon () at the top of the center column.  In this window, you can filter items by the content of specific fields or by other properties, like item type or the collection an item belongs to. Multiple filters can be set up by clicking the plus button.
    • You can filter items by the collections they belong to by searching by “Collection”. To include items in subcollections of matching collections in the search results, check “Search subfolders”.  To hide non-matching parent items with child items that do match the search criteria, and to collapse matching parent items with matching child items, check “Show only top-level items”.
    • By default, items only show up in the search results if they satisfy all search criteria. To match search criteria against both parent items and their children, check “Include parent and child items of matching items”. In this case, all search criteria still have to be satisfied, but parent/child items still show up if just part of the criteria is met by the parent item, and the other part by a child item.
    • It is not currently possible to search group libraries from the Advanced Search window. Instead, create a saved search or the group by right-clicking on the group name and choosing “New Saved Search…”.

Advanced search box

  • Wild Cards:  The % percent sign character acts as a wild card in advanced searches, substituting for zero or more characters. E.g. the search term “W% Shakespeare” will match “W Shakespeare”, “W. Shakespeare” as well as “William Shakespeare”.
  • Saved Searches:  When you save an advanced search, it appears as a collection in your library (but with a saved search icon, File and magnifying glass icon, instead of the regular collection icon). Saved searches are continuously updated. E.g., if you set up a saved search for “Date Added” “is in the last” “7” “days”, the saved search will always show the items that have been added in the last 7 days. Saved searches only store the search criteria, not the search results.
    • To save a search, click the “Save Search” button in the Advanced Search window and provide a name for the search. Saved searches can be edited or deleted by right-clicking (ctrl-click on OS X) the saved search and selecting “Edit Saved Search” or “Remove Saved Search…”, respectively.
    • To create a saved search in a group library, right-click on the group name and choose “New Saved Search…”.
The Florida State University Libraries

© 2022 Florida State University Libraries | 116 Honors Way | Tallahassee, FL 32306 | (850) 644-2706